Middle schoolers break the secret code of business

Middle schoolers learned an early lesson from W. P. Carey School of Business students recently: not only is technology critical in today’s market, it’s fun and for everyone.

Students shared that message with 39 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from local schools at a workshop entitled The Secret Code of Business, held October 17. The workshop was led by computer information systems (CIS) and business data analytics (BDA) students, including members of the Department of Information Systems Club (DISC).

The goal was to spark the kids’ interest in technology by offering an interactive experience introducing them to the basics of data analytics and computer programming, said David Russell, DISC’s vice president of community service.

The middle schoolers played games to learn about data analytics and linear programming, and they were asked to research and present their ideal vacation. Groups of students used resources available online to find airfare, hotels, restaurants and the best time of year to travel, then the groups presented their findings. Afterward, students had to answer the question, “How would you do this if there were no Internet?” Russell said.

“The hope for this lesson was for them to realize that computers can only do what they tell it, and the commands must be in the most basic form,” he said.

This was the first workshop DISC held for young students.

“While this was our beta class, we received such positive feedback and requests from students and parents for additional classes that we are now in the planning stages to develop additional courses,” said Russell, a CIS/BDA senior.

Middle school is a crucial time in a child’s learning development, Russell said, when they are most impressionable.

“I feel that reaching out to the high school level is too late in the process, as many have developed an idea that STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) is too hard, only for the 'smart' kids, or that they are not good at math, science, etc.,” he said.

Information Systems Department Chairman Raghu Santanam said research shows that reaching kids during this window of time can greatly influence their future choices.

“Middle school is generally when they begin to think seriously about college and career,” he said.

Encouraging diversity

Many kids today have grown up surrounded by technology and are already tech savvy.

“For the most part, I’d say that kids in middle school are much better using computers than I was in middle school,” said Sophia Butler, a first-year student DISC member who helped lead the workshop.

Butler said the kids learned quickly and were excited and engaged.

Another goal of the workshop was to reach girls and let them know about the opportunities in technology and business.

“We especially wanted to show girls at that age that information systems is not out of their reach,” Butler said.

Santanam said there is a considerable lack of diversity in technology and in many industries.

“The CIOs and CTOs that I talk to all say we don’t have enough diversity in our workforce,” he said. “If we target enough schools where there are more minority students and more girls and get them interested in technology early on, then we could reverse this.”

Butler, a business data analytics major, always had an interest in statistics and thought adding a technology focus would benefit her down the road.

“I kinda knew this was the right choice for me,” she said.

Butler has enjoyed reaching out to the community with DISC. The group has many community service activities throughout the year, including the youth workshops. DISC also offers regular computer literacy classes for adults at the Tempe Public Library.

“We want to make sure our students give back to society, while they’re getting educated,” Santanam said.

The secret code

W. P. Carey students put on the Secret Code of Business workshop. The secret, Santanam said, is that technology and business go hand-in-hand. Business isn’t just about traditional disciplines like accounting or finance any more, he said: technology touches every aspect of business.

“Business is becoming more technology-driven, so we need to attract more students to science, technology, engineering and math professions and into business,” he said.

Santanam referenced retail giants like Amazon.com Inc., Wal-Mart and Target Corp. He said those major retailers are locked in competition over technology, rather than a traditional retail race.

“Today most of the innovations in the retail industry actually grew from technology,” he said.

Another example of a business at the forefront of technology is the Starbucks Corp., Santanam said. They attract customers by offering wireless charging stations in their stores and they’re now utilizing beacon technology, he said. If, for example, someone is near a Starbucks, the store might send a beacon alert through the mobile app on a smartphone to the potential customer offering a coupon for a pumpkin spice latte, now that it’s back in stores for the fall.

“You have to be able to connect what business does with what technology enables you to do,” Santanam said.

The message DISC members wanted the young students to leave with was that anyone can make a career in and thrive in STEM-oriented business fields, Russel said.

“It is an opportunity to engage in activities that help you to dream, make you want to be creative and innovative and help you understand that everyone from any background has the capacity to learn and grow,” he said.