First there was a workshop about basic electricity and then one on computer programming. These were followed by game design, security and binary number systems.

It didn’t take long for girls at the Boys and Girls Club of Muncie to pick up basic technology skills during workshops conducted by Katelyn Zehner, a 29-year-old student enrolled in Ball State’s Center for Information and Communications Sciences (CICS) graduate program.

Two computer science students look at a notebook together

Samaria Chicas and Katelyn Zeher (right) review their notes before delivering a presentation at the Boys and Girls Club of Muncie, teaching youngsters how to learn basic technology skills during workshops.

“My biggest goal during the workshops was to spark interest for technology in these young girls,” said Zehner, a member of the center’s Women Working in Technology team who will graduate in July. “It also encourages them to learn more about science, technology, engineering (STEM) as they progress in their education.”

Learning about technology at a young age may spur the club’s members to consider career opportunities in STEM fields, said Tony Benford, the organization’s teen program director.

“I know the girls really enjoyed the hands-on activities,” he said. “When they were hooking up electrical systems, you could see the light bulbs come on in their heads.”

Giving back is encouraged

CICS encourages all its graduate candidates to get involved in giving back to the community, said Kirsten Smith, the center’s associate director.

Over the last decade, hundreds of CICS students have upgraded computer systems, taught IT workshops and rewired entire buildings. Others have worked in food kitchens, served as mentors to disadvantaged youth and been on call around the clock, providing technical experience to various organizations.

Two computer science students look at a laptop computer together

CICS students Matthias Tankersley and Brennan Bookmyer (right) work together to assist a local nonprofit. Over the last decade, hundreds of CICS students have upgraded computer systems, taught workshops and rewired buildings.

“We believe engaging with nonprofits in Muncie and Delaware County provides opportunities for our students to expand their world view by working alongside people of diverse backgrounds,” Smith said. “Volunteering gives students a chance to practice skills they may not use in graduate school.”

Students learn that making a difference in their communities is highly valued by a growing number of companies, said Steve Jones, CICS director.

“What really matters is that most of the graduates of our program seek out and become involved in their communities wherever they land in their careers,” he said. “From working with inner city youth in Chicago, to being involved with organizations that feed the hungry and homeless, the seed is planted here. It grows as we graduate the best and brightest from Ball State.”

Sharing expertise builds skills

Tom Stevenson, a CICS graduate student from Brighton, Michigan, has been working with Muncie’s Youth Opportunity Center (YOC), which provides education opportunities for troubled youth, upgrading the organization’s computer systems and sharing their IT expertise.

Two computer science students greet each other at a doorway for their department's office

Jennings Banter (left) and Tommy Stevenson meet in the offices of the Center for Information and Communication Sciences, located in the Ball Communications Building.

Like many CICS students, the 23-year-old wants to motivate young people to become interested in technology-based careers.

“It is our goal to get a few of the students that we teach to become interested in technology and start to develop their own learning in this area,” Stevenson said. “Through developing this process and the other projects that we have worked on I feel as though we are putting all the learning we have been obtaining over the last year into a real and beneficial practice.”

Stevenson says he strongly believes in the value of volunteering.

“We are not only seeing how the subject matter works in real life, but we are doing so with an excellent organization that allows us to indirectly help kids get on their feet and continue a good path,” he said. “I have had a significant amount of community service ever since I started high school, and so it is nice to be able to continue that by benefiting the YOC in a way that I have never been able to do before.”