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15 students learn to combine technology and fashion in a PCC Sylvania workshop

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Fifteen students attended a 'wearable tech' workshop at Portland Community College's Sylvania campus last week, where they learned how to combine clothing and accessories with technology.Engineers. Programmers. Designers. Creators of products. Makers of things. Inventors of solutions. These are a few of the avenues a group of 15 primarily Latina girls were encouraged to pursue by a panel of local technology professionals last week. They sat around tables at Portland Community College's Sylvania campus and listened as they were told that whatever their interest, it has a place.

This panel was a product of the first ever “wearable tech” workshop, a week-long camp led and created by Gregg Meyer, a member of the engineering faculty at PCC. The camp’s basis was to teach high school students (and one middle-schooler) how to combine technology and clothing in a time when “wearable tech” is growing ever popular.

“Giving them the opportunity to see how things work and to see how to integrate software and electronics and physical things. That’s the trilogy right there,” Meyer said. “If they’re going to be successful and if they’re going to pursue careers in engineering or any kind of technology, they’re going to have to grab the bull by the horns.

“This really is about getting them enthused. About giving them some tools, encouragement, exposing them to other people that have gone through it.”

While most of the girls were interested in a facet of technology, clothing design or both, many hadn’t actually had the chance to pursue their interests to see if they could be potential career paths. Perhaps they fix things around the house, modify their clothing or play video games, but they’d never actually had the chance to take it further and learn where these interests could take them in the future.

“You can do a lot of things (with technology),” said Paola Michi, a Sunset High School sophomore. “You can see parts of the world just by looking things up. You can do anything, basically. That’s interesting to me.”

Entering the camp, Michi was interested in both the technological and wearable aspects of the field. By the end, however, she realized she was actually more interested in technology than anything. Had she not been part of the workshop, it may have been years before she had the chance to figure that out about herself.

“You don’t have to know what you’re doing at all, you just have to follow what you’re interested in,” said Susanna Hohmann, a panelist from Portland-based Terrazign. “Failure is extremely important, especially when you’re building something or making something. You are going to make mistakes, and the best thing you can do is just learn.”

During the camp, the participants learned how to sew and create a bracelet that lit up upon the completion of a circuit, program sweatshirts to be temperature-sensitive and light up in the dark, create jewelry using 3D printers and make safety goggles with light-emitting diode bulbs. They were able to not only learn these things exist, but that they’re accessible even to a high school girl with limited programming knowledge.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - 'Wearable tech' worshop participants made ordinary items interactive by integrating them with technology.“This is more closely related to my passion and what I wanted to do,” said McKenna Nguyen, a Tigard High School junior who also attended a more robotics-focused PCC camp earlier this summer. “I’m more into the creative stuff — drawing, writing, making.”

And unlike her robotics camp, the “wearable tech” workshop gave Nguyen a chance to utilize a variety of her passions. The same was true for Maria Lopez Ortiz, an Aloha High School junior.

“(The workshop) gave me a lot to think about. Many things that we started to work on, I never knew about. It’s interesting to watch it all work,” Lopez Ortiz said, mentioning that she’s always been curious about how and why things work the way they do, and that the camp piqued her interest further. “The most important thing? Everything, actually. I stay home a lot — I have to take care of my brother and I have school — so I really don’t get out a lot. Everything I learned is just going to be great memory and probably my future career.”

Whatever fields the girls plan on going into, the workshop’s intention was to give them skills and knowledge to benefit them in the future regardless of their various paths. At its core, the idea was to show them that whatever they want to do, they are fully capable of getting there.

“It’s more like changing their perspective of learning from the idea of, ‘I’m not good at it’ to, ‘I’m not good at it, yet.’ That way, they realize that, ‘It’s not a skill that I have right now, but it’s a skill that I can learn,’” said Reg Holmes, one of the workshop leaders and a PCC electronics instructor. “Anything is learnable.”

Creators of products. Makers of things. Inventors of solutions. Wherever the 15 “wearable tech” workshop participants end up, they’ll know that if they choose to, they can be all of these things.

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