Break Through Tech DC at UMD Hosts Career Launch Expo

Students displayed innovative tech projects and cultivated professional skills in a collaborative, industry-supported setting.
Descriptive image for Break Through Tech DC at UMD Hosts Career Launch Expo

Break Through Tech DC at UMD held its second Career Launch Expo on January 23, 2024, at the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Engineering. At the event, students exhibited tech projects comprising mobile and web applications and refined their presentation skills.

Under the umbrella of the Iribe Initiative for Inclusion and Diversity in Computing (I4C), Break Through Tech’s Career Launch program serves as a platform for women, nonbinary individuals and other underrepresented groups in the tech community to participate in active collaboration, networking, design thinking and technical skill enhancement. Created in early 2023, the program provides students with valuable experience to list on their resume and focuses on experiential learning, where students work in teams for three weeks on forward-thinking projects. 

Over 75 students participated in the 2024 Career Launch program. Seven students served as program assistants and coached student groups through their projects. In addition, 45 industry partners met one-on-one with student participants through I4C’s Mentoring Program to provide a connection to the industry. The program culminated in the project expo, an event that showcased innovative solutions to real-world problems and fostered an inclusive environment where novel ideas took center stage. 

“It's exciting to think about what we can do to support students with the capabilities we have in-house and seeing what they came up with in such a short time,” said I4C Program Manager Caitlin Rudy, who helped develop the Career Launch program. “It’s encouraging and meaningful to see how excited the students are about the opportunity and how much they care about the projects they're working on.”

Designed to simulate a professional conference, the expo enabled students to present their work to peers and industry professionals, promoting a lively exchange of ideas and feedback. 

“Students get experience with project sharing and posting tools like GitHub and Devpost,” said Elias Gonzalez, computer science lecturer and curriculum innovation lead for Break Through Tech DC at UMD. “Most students have experience with Java and Python as well. All of these tools allow students to have a strong foundational computing basis and work productively in teams on a singular project.”

Students presented 20 group projects at the expo, including an app promoting ethical shopping, a tool aimed at reducing carbon footprints, a web application for automated nutrition tracking and a mobile application leveraging machine learning to assess the risk of coronary heart disease.

Sophomore computer science major Sayee Naresh Kumar, who served as a program assistant, was excited to see the culmination of her students’ projects at the expo.

“The Career Launch Expo was rewarding, and it was amazing to see the final projects that the students had created after putting in a lot of work,” Kumar said. “I was happy to see the groups I was in charge of because I could follow their projects every step. It was an experience that I loved to be a part of.”

Kumar also underscored the creative freedom granted to students through Career Launch.

“The time restriction and the freedom that the students had when creating their ideas make Career Launch different,” Kumar shared. “The program forces students to be as creative as they can. Also, it gives students access to mentors who can help them with any issues they face, whether they are technical or within their groups.” 

Last year, 70% of Career Launch participants seeking internships secured summer positions.

“Programs like Career Launch are helping to level the playing field,” Rudy said. “We know that sometimes students from the majority population can access opportunities that others can’t. By offering underrepresented students such programs, which provide them opportunities to advance, I feel Career Launch will help make an impact long term.” 

—Story by Samuel Malede Zewdu, CS Communications 


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