A drawing of a red light appeared on a computer screen as April Diaz moved her hand in front of a motion sensor.
April, 14, and her partner, Clarissa Sandoval, 15, finished programming a computer board to translate the signal from the sensor when someone was nearby.
Their next task was to hook up and program a camera.
The two freshmen were part of a group of 70 Chiawana High School freshmen and sophomores participating Tuesday at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Computer Day.
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The event coincided with Computer Science Education Week.
Nathan Baker, a division director at the lab, said many students are exposed to the Hour of Code, which shows a small section of the careers available for people with computer programming skills.
“The goal today is to show them ... a much bigger cross-section of computing,” Baker said.
About 60 volunteers from the lab taught students about computer system security, virtual reality and operating a circuit board. They were divided into separate groups to visit sections of the lab.
“Some folks got to see how we use computers with the electrical grid,” he said. “Some people saw what a machine room looks like, where high-performance computing happens. Some people saw virtual reality demos.”
Along with the tours, they received a lesson in learning to think about problems in a way that computers could help.
“Then, lunch, was showing them a cross-section of careers in computing,” Baker said. “We had someone from every part of the lab that touches computing.”
Laboratory officials reached out to Chiawana High School for its first Computer Day event, Baker said.
“We didn’t know what was going to work and what wasn’t going to work, so we have good relationships (at) Chiawana, so we just started there,” he said. “We’d like to do it again, roll in what we learned this year, and target a range of schools, but this was a good starting place.”
The students were the most engaged in the hands-on activities. Baker enjoyed watching the students determine the solution to a program through discussion.
Along with teaching students about the larger world of computing, laboratory staff pointed out they could sign up for an internship, even at the high school level, Baker said.
In the past, student interns have been “some of my best web developers,” he said.
The lab and many other organizations need computer science professionals, said Baker and Brian Abrahamson, the laboratory’s chief information officer.
Across the state, the private and public sectors needed to fill more than 23,600 computing jobs last summer, Abrahamson said.
“Every industry is in desperate need of a computing workforce,” Baker said. “Because the national labs are (doing) cutting-edge research, they need it even more.”