Cherry Hill eighth grader takes home second place prize in national computer science competition

Baheen Huzan’s air quality sensor was the second place grand prize winning project at ProjectCSGirls, a competition for middle school girls who are interested in computer science.

Last year, Baheen Huzan discovered her passion for computer science. She also discovered many of her friends and people she knew around Cherry Hill didn’t share that same passion.

However, Baheen has found camaraderie through a national computer science competition for middle school girls.

The last two years, Baheen has competed in ProjectCSGirls, a competition where girls in grades six to eight are challenged to solve a social problem revolving around the themes of global health, a safe world and intelligent technology. After finishing as an honorable mention at the competition in 2015, Baheen was the second place grand prize winner in 2016. Baheen won the award at the ProjectCSGirls Gala in Washington, D.C., on June 5.

However, just as important as the honors has been the girls Baheen has met at the gala who share the same passion for computer science.

“I just liked talking to them and seeing what they did for their project,” Baheen said. “Not only did we talk about computer science, but some of us shared hobbies. For example, some of them also played soccer like I do.”

ProjectCSGirls was founded in 2013 by Pooja Chandrashekar. Chandrashekar was a high school sophomore at the time and wanted to create a computer science competition and workshop for middle school girls to help encourage them to get involved in computer science.

Baheen herself didn’t start dabbling in computer science until last year when her mother, Abhar Nissar, suggested Baheen compete in ProjectCSGirls. Baheen enjoys problem solving and realized computer science added a whole new dimension to solving global issues.

Last year, Baheen wrote a computer program where mathematical equations were translated into braille symbols.

“The computer program takes pictures of the English algebra. We had all these symbols and used pixels to allow the computer to recognize these symbols,” Baheen said. “When we aligned each of these pictures with their braille equivalent, when it got printed, it showed the entire algebra equivalent in braille.”

Baheen made it to the finals in 2015 and attended her first ProjectCSGirls National Gala. It was then where Baheen’s eyes were open to the number of other girls who were interested in computer science.

“The number of people there who had the same passion for computer science I thought was amazing,” Baheen said. “I don’t really have any friends here or people I know who are interested in computer science.”

The number of women working in computer science has fallen over the last couple of decades. In 2013, National Public Radio reported only 20 percent of computer programmers in the United States were female. ProjectCSGirls’ main goal is to get middle school girls excited about computer science with the hope of closing the gender gap in the computer science workplace.

“The media and Hollywood always project people who are in computer science or have jobs in computer science as the old white males who are sitting in their basement,” Baheen said. “Girls don’t want that image to be of themselves. The media portrays that girls should be in domestic fields. I think that computer science, 50 percent of its potential is lost because girls aren’t participating as much in it.”

Baheen enjoyed participating in ProjectCSGirls so much in 2015, she decided to participate again this year.

For this year’s project, Baheen created a comprehensive air quality sensor, designed to let the user measure air quality in the immediate vicinity and alert the user if there was too large a number of pollutants and where the pollutants were coming from.

“It had a 3-in-1 gas sensor, dust sensor and humidity sensor and an anemometer and a wind vane,” Baheen said. “The sensors tracked the pollutants in the air and the anemometer and wind vane track the direction they’re coming from and the direction they’re going.”

Baheen worked with a mentor, Aron Rubin from Lockheed Martin, on the project.

“I really liked this idea of saving the environment, air and pollution in general,” Baheen said. “We were brainstorming for a little bit and (Rubin) showed me that air pollution is a big problem.”

Baheen wasn’t sure if this year’s project would be good enough to make the top-five at ProjectCSGirls, mostly because she spent less time on it compared to last year. Baheen was also participating on a National History Day team at Rosa International Middle School, limiting the time she could spend on her air quality sensor.

However, when she learned she had won the second place grand prize, she was ecstatic.

Baheen will be attending Cherry Hill High School East beginning in September, so she will not be eligible to compete in ProjectCSGirls anymore. However, she does plan to continue working on computer science projects at home and hopes her success at ProjectCSGirls encourages other middle school girls in Cherry Hill to try computer science.

“I really want to encourage other girls to get into computer science,” Baheen said. “I’m definitely going to continue to do this.”

To see a video of Baheen explaining her 2016 project in greater detail, visitwww.youtube.com/watch?v=H14dCn_j49c. For more information on ProjectCSGirls, visithttp://www.projectcsgirls.com.