Building computers; building the future

Google and Caldwell schools hope to spark interest in tech
Mar. 07, 2014 @ 08:31 AM

At each of eight tables, students hovered over a black, metal box, unpacking rainbow-colored wires and shining metal parts, diving in to assemble the pieces, looking more like surgeons on the operating table than students putting together computers.

Thirty-two students – four from each middle school in the county – gathered at the Caldwell County Education Center on Thursday to build working computers from a box of parts, a collaboration between Google and Caldwell County Schools, and part of Students@Work Week. Throughout the week, a cooperative effort between the North Carolina Business Committee for Education and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, students take part in job shadowing, mentoring and other programs that help them connect their learning with real world work in their communities.

Thursday was the third annual computer-building workshop with Google, and this year the focus was on teaching kids just what it takes to work in the technology and computer-based fields, including more than just the working parts of a computer.

Zoi Suddreth, an eighth-grader at William Lenoir Middle School, said she likes the puzzle aspect of putting the computer together from scratch, getting to put everything in its right place, then seeing it fit together and starting to work.

Suddreth said she thinks she’d like to pursue a tech-based career and that “girls are just as good as guys going into this – it shows that girls are equal. Girls can do just as much as guys can.”

Computers and electronics have long been an interest for Austin Blevins, an eighth-grader at King’s Creek Middle School, who said he plans to pursue a career in a related field.

“It’s not as difficult as I thought,” said Blevins, who has taken most tech-related classes his school has to offer. “It’s still pretty fun to do, and it’s a really good learning experience.”

Students were selected by recommendations by the schools basedon who has shown interest in technology and computers. This year, the criteria given the schools were shaken up just a bit -- stipulating that each school send two girls and two boys, an effort to involve more girls in a field traditionally dominated by males.

Enoch Moeller, operations manager for Google’s Lenoir data center, drifted from table to table, pointing out which cord goes where and offering any guidance the students might need.

“Hopefully we’ll spark an interest,” Moeller said, adding that the event is a great opportunity for the students to work hands-on, getting a taste of what professionals like Moeller do every day.

Before starting, Moeller shuffled all the students into groups of four: two girls and two boys, each from a different school, because, he said, it’s important that the students know how to work well with a team and work together, something he said is essential for a Google employee.

The workshop provides a unique opportunity for the students, said Libby Brown, Caldwell County Schools’ community services director, especially with the proximity of Google’s Lenoir data center, Apple’s Maiden data center, and other tech-based industry in the region.

The finished computers, expertly put together and working correctly, will go to one person from each group, decided by a random drawing.

Hopefully the event will ignite an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes and professions, Brown said, wanting to spur interest, build confidence and introduce the students to the tech-based businesses that already thrive in Caldwell.

Hopefully, Moeller said, the event will teach students that computer work is more accessible than it seems.