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Beyond Video Games: Technology Day Opens Eyes to Array of STEM Possibilities

Jeff Harlan, High School Partnerships Manager at Waubonsee, meets with students during the Technology Day event at BP's Naperville Campus Nov. 20.

Quinton Lee would love eventually to land a career as a video game programmer.

But Lee, of Aurora, knows, among his peers and his generation, that dream is not terribly unique.

So for Lee, a freshman student at Waubonsee Community College, witnessing some of the novel ways technology is deployed in modern industry served as an eye-opening, horizon-broadening experience.

“I guess I knew that these companies depended on technology, but seeing how much they depend on tech was really interesting,” Lee said. “That they have people who just think of solutions, using technology to solve business problems, that was pretty awesome.”

On Nov. 20, Lee was among a delegation of three Waubonsee students attending the Technology Day event at BP’s Naperville Campus.

The event, hosted by BP, Accenture and Junior Achievement, offered an opportunity for almost 150 students from Waubonsee and area high schools, including Aurora West, Aurora East, Waubonsie Valley, Oswego and Oswego East, to gain insight on the established and cutting-edge technologies BP and others employ on a daily basis to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Technology Day was offered as part of the Pathways to Prosperity Aurora Project. Launched in 2012 as a result of a partnership including Waubonsee, four local public school districts, the city of Aurora, Aurora Area Chamber of Commerce and other local businesses and civic organizations, Pathways to Prosperity seeks to inspire the next generation of high school and college students to complete college and acquire the degrees and credentials needed to succeed in the 21st Century.

At Technology Day, students were offered the chance to not only hear about the technology upon which industry relies today, including such rising technologies as zSpace, Google Glass and BP’s retail technologies, but in some cases, to actually experience it for themselves in interactive exhibits and tours.

Outside the main auditorium presentations, students also learned about careers open to them in the so-called STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in workshops hosted by Junior Achievement. And Waubonsee and other institutions helped them learn about educational opportunities through Pathways to Prosperity, including Waubonsee’s dual credit offerings through partnerships with local high schools, including Aurora East, Aurora West, Oswego, Oswego East, Batavia, Geneva, Kaneland, Rosary and Somonauk, among others.

Tim Moriarty, Assistant Professor of Information Systems at Waubonsee, said events like Technology Day offer great opportunities for students, whether in high school or college, to see the range of options open to them.

“It opens their eyes to a world they may not have even known about before today,” Moriarty said.

Calvin Thorne, an Adjunct Information Systems Instructor at Waubonsee, who also attended the event with Moriarty, fellow Assistant Professor of Information Systems Amy Chaaban, and the students, echoed that view.

“They’re seeing cool technologies that are used by so many companies for what they might consider boring, behind-the-scenes kinds of tasks,” Thorne said. “But there are so many great jobs out there in technology that are not in (video) gaming companies.”

Student Susanna Rocha, of Aurora, said she began her studies part time four years ago to pursue a credential in web programming. Since then, however, she said she’s been amazed by the opportunities available in engineering and, in particular, 3-D printing.

Rocha said she also has responded to the call put forth by many, including speakers at Technology Day, urging women to pursue careers and education in STEM fields.

“As a woman, I feel like there are so many opportunities for me out there,” Rocha said. “It’s amazing to see it all.”

Student Jose DeLoera, of Aurora, said a colleague at his workplace, a large logistics facility in Aurora, warned him when he learned DeLoera was pursuing an education in computing he was going to open “a Pandora’s box of opportunities.”

DeLoera had declared a business major, but in the past four years of attending college while working full time, he has changed his emphasis to information technology. He intends to transfer to Northern Illinois University in the spring.

“I just didn’t know all of the possibilities out there with all this,” DeLoera said.