- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rayal McKinley, 15, cowered and screamed as a Tyrannosaurus rex lunged at her, teeth bared, at the Carnegie Library in Northwest.

“Spit was coming out of its mouth and I thought it was eating on me,” Rayal said of her extinct pursuer — a virtual reality demonstration by the Dell Corp. for the third annual Information Technology Industry Council show.

Rayal, a sophomore at the public charter SEED School of Washington, was one of about 50 local students to investigate the presentation tables and displays set up by 22 tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Panasonic, arrayed in the library’s main hall and adjacent conference rooms.

Wednesday morning’s event aimed to entice high school students of diverse backgrounds to enter science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. Students from two public D.C. high schools explored virtual worlds, spoke with tech engineers and marveled at their wares.

“It’s mind-blowing,” said Kevin Rogers, a senior at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. “We’ve come so far in 10, 15 years with technology.”

Dell’s dinosaur was one of several virtual reality programs offered to the visiting students. Another popular exhibit was the product of a partnership between Visa and Facecake, a shopping platform that allows users to try on items via a computer.

Students swarmed to stand in front of a screen that reflected their mirror image. By waving their hands, they could cycle through an on-screen menu of clothing options and choose items to try on. Their mirrored selves reflected their outfit choices.

“That’s a really cool [technology] we’ve developed to simulate retail experience,” said Facecake sales director Peter Johnson, adding that people are seven times more likely to buy something if they have tried it on first.

A virtual shopping trip wouldn’t be complete without using a credit card. With Visa Checkout, buyers could pay for their items onscreen with a flick of the wrist.

Kevin said the shopping experience was “pretty amazing.”

“Technology is going to change a lot,” said the 18-year-old, who hopes to study engineering in college. “That’s really what we’re going to be living on.”

Dean Garfield, president and CEO of Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), which advocates for innovation companies, said that is the reason why he created the STEM show for local students.

“There’s an energy and dynamism [and] we want to capture it, bottle it, infuse it,” said Mr. Garfield. “We want to regenerate. It’s important that things don’t end with us, they just start with us.”

To encourage innovation, ITI surprised the two visiting schools with a gift of $3,000 each to further STEM programs during and after school. Mr. Garfield said the tech world needs to educate and recruit more young people.

He identified a “pipeline” issue that often stunts the ability of students to enter the tech world. He said ITI companies have not always been good at seeking out potential hires among varied races and genders.

Meeta Sharma-Holt, executive director of the D.C. branch of Techbridge, is familiar with that problem. Her nonprofit runs after-school programs in seven D.C. public schools to encourage girls in STEM.

“You have to show them that it’s something that they can do,” Ms. Sharma-Holt said over the hum of computers, screens and a few dozen excited high school students. “We find that girls have decided by about fifth grade that science and math is for them or not for them. And we work really hard to dispel that self-concept.”

Brianna Brown, 16, paused from playing with Google’s virtual reality viewfinder to talk about her future. The SEED School sophomore hopes to go to art school for graphic design after graduating.

“Since I was little, I used to draw the covers of animation movies. I always thought that I might like to do that,” said Brianna. “[The tech show] kinda confirmed it.”

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