We are pleased to announce the recipients of our 2021 Women in Technology Scholarship, Kaitlan Muras (majoring in Aerospace Engineering) and Mia Yan (majoring in Computer Science). These women were selected from over 125 applicants and will each be awarded $1000 for education-related expenses.

Applicants were asked to write an essay using the following prompt: Take one piece of popular technology and describe how you could improve it to better contribute to society/the world in a more meaningful way.

Read Kaitlan and Mia’s winning essays below.

Kaitlan Muras

Gesture-based interaction has recently gained popularity due to its endless applications. From gaming consoles to smartphones, computer programs are capable of associating specific movements with a desired action. The popular use for this technology is in VR and gaming. However, I believe this technology can be repurposed to empower the deaf and mute with a more effective and fluid method of communication.

Today, such disabilities require a translator or text-to-speech device. Others simply rely on facial expressions, body language, and lip-reading. Unfortunately, these methods are slow and a far cry from the ease of talking. These means of assistance take away from the intimacy of communication, leave the individual reliant on a bulky device or a full-time hire, and require patience from all those involved. Unfortunately, those involved include the almost 7.9 million people in the United States alone who have communication disabilities. Therefore, I believe creating a gesture to audio feature that can be added to gloves or rings will help give those who are deaf or mute more independence in their day-to-day interactions. Similar to how the apple watch detects the beginning of a workout and counts steps, a smart glove would track the movements of the fingers and then translate them into audio spoken through a similar voice to that of Google or Alexa.

A drawback of current gesture-based technology, however, is its reliance on wide and obvious movements. Improving the sensitivity and memory capability of the technology to recognize the position of objects in relation to each other is the bridge between technology and sign language. Thin sensors in each finger would work together to discern the individual signs in ASL. Working to graph their individual positions in relation to the ground, other fingers, and the other hand will allow for an accurate recording of sign language movements. With a more efficient form of communication, the deaf and mute would be able to interact with people and objects no matter whether or not they understand sign language.

Furthermore, this technology could also be used to help others learn and practice sign language. With an easy way to get instant feedback on whether their signs are accurate, the learning process would be more interactive. In connection, with more people learning sign language, it would be easier for those who rely on it for communication to interact without any form of aid.

Both a solution for the disabled and an education tool for others, I believe this improvement will help remove the language barrier that exists between those who are deaf or mute and the world around them.

Mia Yan

It’s time to drop the pencils and pick up virtual reality in the classrooms.

I know you may still want to clutch onto that colorful Lisa Frank folder, but trust me when I say education can go beyond notebooks and Zoom delays.

With the recent announcement of the metaverse by Meta (Facebook), it is distinctively clear that virtual reality will soon become part of all our futures. Virtual reality has most popularly been used as an expensive accessory in the gaming industry. However, virtual reality could be so much more. VR is on the cusp of making breakthroughs in mental health and medical treatment, industry training, engineering, and virtual workspaces. The innovation potential is endless.

After 2 years of distance and virtual learning, many would be hesitant to the idea of introducing more technology into the classroom. But by developing educational VR technology, the avenues to promote interaction, engagement, and creativity with students can be expanded. Why simply learn about the Byzantine Empire through dense textbooks, when you could create a historically accurate Constantinople for students to explore as well. Or get up close to a ​​Tasmanian tiger to research extinct animals.

There is more to educational VR than expanding lesson plans. It can also help alieve education disparities in underfunded and rural schools. Many schools do not have the funding or access to museums and exhibits for their students. Throughout school, some of my most memorable lessons were from field trips to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New-York Historical Society. These are not accessible for every student, but they should be, and with VR they can be available to present in any school.

No student should be deprived of the opportunity to learn more simply because there isn’t enough money in the school budget, or there aren’t more cultural institutions nearby. Virtual reality can go far beyond the fun of digital gaming, and become the next innovation in education. Making virtual reality technology accessible and affordable presents another set of questions to its future role in education. But with ideas, comes innovation, and an opportunity for change, and I can imagine a new type of classroom like that.

Thank you to all of the applicants. We enjoyed reading each and every one of your essays! If you are a woman pursuing an education in a technology-related field, look out for our next scholarship opportunity