Baheen Huzan-Award Winning ProjectCSGIRLS Coder and Aspiring Computer Scientist

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Ever since 6th grade, Baheen Huzan has wanted to use her newfound passion for computer science to have a positive impact. During her Middle School years, Baheen began to look for local STEM activities and clubs, but to her dismay found that many of the girls around her lacked similar interests. Huzan claims that a lot of this has to do with the media’s portrayal of women, “When girls learn about computer science in movies and television, it often shows a socially inept man staring at a blank screen. Girls soon associate computer science with this image, and are deterred from pursuing a career in it”. Huzan also discusses how the media confines women to domestic careers, distressing over the potential so many women have to be incredible scientists.

During her 7th grade year, Baheen and her mother discovered ProjectCSGIRLS- a non-profit competition for middle schoolers in the United States which nurtures a passion for computer science and works to close the gender gap prevalent in tech jobs everywhere. Soon immersed in the world of comp sci, Huzan adored the competition. “I finally understood what I had been missing” Baheen says in our interview. Baheen also discusses how she benefited from the mentorship that the program provided. “My parents both had jobs in fields other than computer science, so having a mentor really helped introduce me to the world of programming”. During her first project, Baheen learnt from her mentor, Parneet Kaur, as she worked to create easily accessible Braille worksheets. “I wanted to do a project helping those with physical disabilities” Huzan says, describing the inspiration for her first project. Baheen mentions how hard it is for those with physical disabilities to get the education they need in a low-income setting. Her project allowed teachers to take a screen shot of the worksheet students might be completing in class, and develop the software needed to code for a Braille copy. This code could then be sent to a traditional Braille printer, creating a fast and cheap version of the worksheet.

But the story doesn’t stop there: Huzan decided to enter ProjectCSGIRLS again her 8th grade year with an entirely new project, this time with the help of family friend and Lockheed Martin Roboticist Aron Rubin. “I wanted this one to focus on global heath” Baheen says. “Many individuals in my family have allergies or asthma. I wanted to make something that could help us all out”. Baheen soon developed an air-quality sensor that could measure the levels of gases like nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and ammonia in the atmosphere as well as the dust quantities, humidity, and temperature. The device also measured what direction the pollutants were traveling. Sending reports to a cloud collected platform (which allowed anyone anywhere to access the data), the prototype can be held in one’s hand and costs around thirty-five dollars to make. In comparison to many air quality sensors (which often times cost thousands of dollars), Baheen’s device is a cost-effective alternative. Huzan estimates that it would cost only ten dollars more to pay for the manual labor needed for production. With a laugh, Baheen also mentions she would have to make it look a little more appealing if it ever becomes accessible to the public. In early June of 2016, Baheen won 2nd place at the ProjectCSGIRLS National Gala for her comprehensive air quality sensor. Huzan recounts how amazing it was to meet so many girls with similar interests. “I’m even thinking of starting my own club now!”

To all girls in computer science, Baheen has some advice: “If you love what you are doing, pursue it and ignore others who say you can’t do it. Focus on yourself and what you love”. Baheen also recommends that you work on becoming a better problem solver, as it helps you overcome any hurdles that come your way. “You need problem solving because things aren’t always going to end perfectly- look at things with a fresh pair of eyes- you can’t be frustrated and be a problem solver- stay calm and collected- frustration can flunk your project”. Huzan recalls the problems she had with soldering, and how helpful it was that her mentor would encourage her to take breaks.

In total, Baheen’s love of computer science is an inspiration to us all. Huzan loves how coding applies to the world around her. “In programming, one small mistake can affect the entire script. This prepared me for the real world- it taught me how to be vigilant. Computer science taught me how to be problem solver- it instilled confidence and resilience in me”. As Baheen enters Cherry Hill East High School in New Jersey this coming fall, she looks forward to the new adventures life holds for her and more opportunities to make the world a better place.

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