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Library lands $267,500 grant to developing HiTech initiative

By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

6:43 PM EDT, October 10, 2013

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At a forum on new ideas for the Howard County library system's technology-based HiTech initiative, a group of teen girls bristled at the thought of venturing into science, technology, engineering and math fields, seeing no correlation between science and their particular favorite pastime, fashion.

Then Angela Brade, the system's chief operating officer for support services, reminded them that lip gloss and other such makeup is the product of chemical engineering.

So, too, are the wrinkle-free garments they were wearing.

That piqued the girls' interest, and prompted the library system to host a fashion technology pilot program that introduced teens to the process taking fashion from concept and design to items modeled on runways.

The pilot also introduced the girls to illustrator software and highlighted STEM-related careers relating to the fashion industry.

The program will soon be one of many regular technology-based initiatives for youngsters to be launched this winter with help from a $267,500 direct federal grant intended to further develop STEM education.

"It related to what we like to do," said Journe'e McMillan, 14, of Dayton, a freshman at Glenelg High School who took part in the fashion pilot. "If you can put technology and fashion together, of course everyone who loves fashion is going to go for it because fashion is involved in it."

HCLS President and CEO Valerie J. Gross said the grant is the largest the system has ever received directly from the federal government. The county was among some 500 public and university libraries nationwide that received grants this year from the Washington-based Institute of Library and Museum Services.

Gross said the funding will be used in part to launch HiTech Academy, which will offer instruction for college and career readiness and expose students to fields they might not have otherwise considered exploring. The fashion technology curriculum will be offered via HiTech Academy, she said.

The system's HiTech initiative offers hands-on, interactive lessons in the sciences for county 11- to 18-year-olds, and is developed in partnership with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Brade, director of the initiative, said the academy should launch its first class in January and has already garnered interest from students who took part in the fashion pilot. Many of the girls who attended the pilot's fashion classes have also signed up to existing HiTech classes such as online game design.

"These young ladies now, who came in just wanting to do fashion modeling, now know how to use [Adobe] Illustrator," Brade said, "and if they ever change their minds and decide to become architects and learning AutoCAD [design and drafting] software, they will understand at least some of the core concepts.

"The academy brings a great depth of the STEM topics, and it includes site visits and internships," Brade said. "We want to ensure that we're the pipeline for … STEM careers."

Wilde Lake Middle School eighth-grader Kiana Melvin, 13, said she knew computer technology was involved in fashion design but said, "I didn't know the process. Whenever I imagined design and fashion, I imagined somebody sketching an outfit then creating it with the fabric and selling it."

The teens conceptualized ideas — such as organically grown fabric, or material that wouldn't burn when a hot iron falls on it.

"I didn't know fashion involves so much technology," said Bonnie Branch Middle School sixth-grader Kyra Britt, 11, of Ellicott City. "I thought it was just drawing something out. I didn't know it was going online and using the tools to change up your fashion and make it your style."

"I learned that it takes a lot of work and determination to make one thing, because you have to go through so many steps," said Zarina Davies of Columbia, 14, a freshman at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson.

Yolanda McMillan said she accompanied her daughter Journe'e on a field trip to a local fashion warehouse where girls saw how the garments are put together, and how computer-generated software removes garment imperfections.

"They showed them how technology is involved," McMillan said, "which was not a piece that was emphasized when we were growing up."

Achint Kaur, design foundations teacher at Howard High School who co-wrote the HiTech fashion technology pilot curriculum, said it wasn't cumbersome for instructors to show how fashion and STEM go hand in hand.

"It's a natural fit, because when you think of fashion, it's a problem-solving process," Kaur said. "Technology and STEM, pretty much, are also similar. It's basically following one thing and practicing it in another.

"They are also learning the design process of conceptualizing a design and following through, persisting, solving the problem and having a desired outcome."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com