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March 27, 2007

Virtual Middle School Girl 'Jennifer Webb' to Headline Computer Mania Day, May 5 at UMBC

Actors, Animators to Bring Digital Role Model to Life for Hundreds of Middle School Girls, Parents, in Day of Hands-on, High-Tech Fun

Middle school girls of Maryland, the star of the show is a digital version of you!

Jennifer Webb is her name and even though she is a 3-D, digitally animated puppet, she can flip her ponytail, IM, download and prepare for a career in computer technology. In fact she is just like the hundreds of middle school girls from around the state who will be able to interact with her live at Computer Mania Day at UMBC on Saturday, May 5 from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Computer Mania Day is an annual day of free, hands-on, high-tech, fun activities for adults and kids sponsored by UMBC’s Center for Women and Information Technology (CWIT). The half-day event helps to get girls interested in technology and computing careers while helping parents and teachers learn how to help prepare their kids for college and technical careers and keep them safe online. While boys are welcome, the focus is on girls because of their continuing under-representation in engineering and information technology fields.

While fashion designers, astronauts, and journalists have been celebrity keynote speakers at past Computer Mania Days, this year the program decided to take a cue from UMBC’s Imaging Research Center (IRC). The IRC recently combined their computer animation and digital puppetry skills with the wit and pen of former Baltimore Sun and current Economist magazine political cartoonist Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher to transform his drawings of President George W. Bush into 3-D, interactive, English-mangling life.

IRC faculty and student animators led by visual arts professor/filmmaker Lee Boot will team with faculty and student puppeteers and actors led by theatre professor/master puppeteer Collette Searls to make Jennifer Webb come alive. The development team will study videotape of middle school girls from previous Computer Mania Day events to get the slang, mannerisms and fashions of their target audience down pat.

“Jennifer Webb represents cutting edge technology that can figuratively and literally talk to girls to get the message across that technology is fun,” said Claudia Morrell, director of CWIT.

Jennifer Webb will address and take questions from a panel of business leaders representing Northrop Grumman, AT&T, and Dell as well as attendees at 10:30 a.m. in the UMBC Retriever Activities Center. Later in the day, animators will discuss how bringing Jennifer Webb to life taught real-world lessons with a panel discussion, behind-the-scenes video, and for a few lucky girls, a chance to make the puppet come to life!

Research shows that the information technology (IT) gender gap opens as early as the middle school years, when girls are most image-conscious and do not want to be labeled as “geeks” or “nerds.” Girls also make up only 14 percent of Advanced Placement students in computer science, a key to success in IT-related fields at the college level.

At Computer Mania Day, students can sign up for hands-on workshops led by positive female role models from UMBC along with business, government and education leaders. The day is designed to give a broad introduction to how various careers use information technology.

Girls’ events highlights include “Get Down With Robomaniacs,” “Google’s Googol of Opportunities,” and “Great Pictures From Pixels.” All attendees will have the chance to win great giveaways including a laptop computer.

Computer Mania Day also offers resources for parents and teachers, including workshops on how to prepare your kids for college, getting girls interested in tech careers and keeping kids safe online.

Admission to the event is free, but registration is required in advance. Adults and children should visit to register.

Hi-resolution, color images of Jennifer Webb and the Computer Mania Day logo are available online at:

Posted by crose at March 27, 2007 9:54 AM