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Qualcomm Working to Keep Sixth-Grade Girls Steeped in STEM

Hats, hats and more hats. Nope, this is not opening day at Del Mar. We’re on the top floor of one of Qualcomm Inc.’s buildings in Mira Mesa. The room is alive with the energy of a few dozen sixth-grade girls. They’re assembling short-crowned, wide-brimmed hats with imaginative decorations on top — and computer controls.

Welcome to Qcamp, a two-week program at Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) designed to pique girls’ interest in STEM — that’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Here in a specialized classroom designed for middle school students, Qualcomm is providing two weeks of instruction — plus craft supplies such as foam-core board, fake grass, miscellaneous stuff from the fabric store, wire, sealant and another type of board called an Arduino.

An Arduino is a simple computer smaller than a deck of cards. The invention, which has Italian roots, is an easy-to-use circuit board that comes with easily programmed software. Part of the hat-making exercise was programming the Arduino to make the electronics work. One pair of girls had a hat depicting a beach party scene, with the Arduino controlling the flashing lights. Another team had a hat with a dancing bear. The teddy bear rotated when the hat was working, but for now it was sitting stoically.

“I think something’s disconnected,” said one of the sixth-grade hatters, peering at the electronics under the brim.

Among the adults wandering the room were Qualcomm executives Shawn Covell and Ed Hidalgo, who both see a need for more women engineers. Roughly 75 percent of girls are interested in STEM at middle school age, Covell said, but that interest drops rapidly to three-tenths of a percentage point by college. The San Diego chipmaker wants to change that mindset, and the transition from fifth to sixth grades is an opportune moment.

“We feel like this is the time” to nurture girls’ interest in STEM, said Covell, Qualcomm’s vice president for government affairs.

So for this inaugural session of Qcamp for Girls in STEM, the business chose 30 students from the San Diego Unified School District by lottery. (Among the other adults invited to look in on the session was Cindy

Marten, the district superintendent.)

By now the two-week camp is over, but Qualcomm wants to repeat this summer program for this same set of girls every year through high school. Covell and Hidalgo are trying to portray science as engaging, not boring, and for the moment at least, it looked like they were winning that fight. Shouts of “Yes!” rang out as an Arduino-powered hat finally came to life.

• • •

Allowance, With a Tech Twist: Rancho Santa Fe resident Dan Meader, by his own admission, missed paying his sons’ allowance a few too many times, so his sons suggested a technical fix: write an app to automatically deposit money into his sons’ accounts. It made sense. Meader is a software engineer who formerly worked for Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL).

Not long after his app took form, Meader began looking seriously at building a business around it. The result is Allowance Manager. The business sells a package that includes software viewable on desktops, laptops, phones and tablets; the package also includes a debit card that students can use to spend their allowance. Wrapped into this package are lessons in handling finances.

Meader has priced his offering at $7.95 per month or $79 per year. Information on the business is at allowancemanager.com.

Send San Diego technology news to bradg@sdbj.com.

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