Mountain House junior gains recognition in pursuit of technology education | Tracy Press

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Huda Siraj

Huda Siraj


As a young woman interested in computer science, Huda Siraj was worried that she would be an outsider the field that she loved.

That’s changing, and a recent national award from the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) has helped convince the Mountain House High School junior that she’s on the right educational and career path.

Huda was one of 400 young women across the U.S. to receive the Aspirations in Computing Award from NCWIT, affirming her aptitude for and dedication to technology and computing. The awardees included 40 winners, and Huda was one of 360 honorable mention recipients, chosen from 3,300 applicants.

In addition to the national award, Huda was selected as the regional winner in computing for the San Francisco Bay Area. The awards were announced in March, and Huda collected her trophy at a ceremony on May 12 at the University of Santa Clara.

Her application for the award, including essays and a computer game that she developed to teach other students about artificial intelligence, got the attention of the national judges. The application process also required a summary of her educational goals. While Huda hasn’t picked a college yet, she has a good idea of the types of programs her ideal college will offer.

“A lot of the majors I’ve been looking at have been focused around three things — video game development, data science, and computer science — so I’ve been focusing on technology and specifically with the NCWIT award, it provides lots of opportunities and support.”

She has also found support on Linked In, where NCWIT has an active presence and she’s been able to connect with women of all ages who share her interest in artificial intelligence, its potential effects on society and the ethical implications. She especially appreciates the chance to interact with other high school students and college students.

“It’s really cool to see where they’re going in their careers. Some of them are really similar to me. We have similar cultural backgrounds. It’s really cool to find so many people interested in computing,” she said.

Huda said that she had been looking for a pathway that encourages young women to pursue technology education and professions, browsing the Internet for resources, when she found NCWIT, a non-profit that helps promote gender diversity in the field.

One of the featured programs of NCWIT is the Aspirations in Computing award, which is available to high school and college students and to educators. Huda said that the application process gave her the opportunity to express her enthusiasm for computer science (CS) and learn the different directions it could take her, as well as how to overcome the obstacles young women face those pathways.

“I talked about my experience in my local CS clubs and my hackathon clubs,” she said, summarizing the topics of her essays. “It wasn’t exactly pleasant because it was kind of male dominated. It’s hard to get leadership positions in those types of clubs.”

But it was never enough to discourage her. By her freshman year at Mountain House High Huda had started to develop her own computer game that would require players to engage in scenarios involving artificial intelligence and AI ethics.

“That was a really big part, not just on my application but in my story in general,” she said.

“Synthoria” is a role-player game aimed at middle schoolers, where two characters, sisters Sana and Yasmeen live in Synthoria, a fantasy world run by a robot. The robot controls activity in the city, and is the only thing taking care of everything in the town.

The sisters have a day out in Synthoria, and their adventure is the experience of seeing the robot going rogue.

“They have to go and fix mistakes, but along the way they start learning these machine-learning concepts,” The girls must become detectives, and they must try to catch up with the robot to repair its malfunctions.

“Toward the end it’s kind of like a bot fight where it gives you two options and you have to pick which one is more ethical. That way people learn about the ethical use of AI,” she said. “This one is aimed at middle school kids, but I’ve reached out to many high schools and other computer science classes around the Bay Area and they’ve actually had it played in their class.”

She added that while Synthoria solidified her application for the Aspirations in Computing award, she enjoyed writing about her passion for technology and computer science.

“I’m also a really avid writer. I really enjoy journalism as well. I enjoy submitting for awards just because I like writing essays and reflecting on things. Just applying to this felt really natural. In this community I feel there’s a lot of people like me who struggled with male-dominated computer science based learning.”

• Contact Bob Brownne at [email protected], or call 209-830-4227.


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