Helping hundreds prep for a tech-first future

Duncan Deutsch

Duncan Deutsch first took a computer science class through TEALS at Mt. Si High School in Washington State. Although he had taught himself some programming skills, the hands-on learning in his TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) class inspired him to study computer science at the University of Washington, where he recently graduated. What’s more, it sparked a dedication to advocacy for computer science education.

TEALS aims to ensure every child in the United States has access to computer science education by pairing industry professionals with classroom teachers to create sustainable CS programs.

When I was in 5th grade, two friends and I decided to make a video game. We didn’t have a teacher or even online tutorials—we bought books on coding and figured it out ourselves. We were thrilled with what we’d made, but when I think back on my enthusiasm for and interest in computer science, I wish I’d had the opportunity to study it earlier.

Then during my junior year of high school, I got to take an AP Computer Science class through TEALS. Finally, someone sat me down and explained not just the basics of coding I’d pieced together on my own but everything beyond—including the skills to make something I’m really proud of. All of a sudden it was like, “Wow, I can program this!”

Ever since then, I’ve dedicated myself to allowing other young people to feel that excitement and empowerment.

Not only did TEALS provide a solid computer science education, I got to learn in a hands-on way from computer science professionals. Having someone with industry experience teach me made all the difference.

I tried to bring that project-based approach to learning to the three years I spent as a teaching assistant in the computer science department at the University of Washington. Students would visit me in the lab with problems they were wrestling with, and sometimes they were so frustrated that they wanted to give up. But one-on-one teaching and support to walk them through difficult concepts can steer them in the right direction and even inspire them to pursue computer science—just like the encouragement and individual attention we got in TEALS.

No matter how much you try to avoid it, and no matter what field you work or study in, our world is becoming more tech-dependent. Young people have to learn computer science skills to be prepared for the future. And we have to start computer science education early.

That is why I will continue to advocate for computer science education like TEALS. I want all the students who were like me, who had an early interest in computer science, to have the chance to explore CS. And I want students who might be curious about computer science but afraid to approach it to have a really good foundation and experience in the field.

Sometimes I think about the students I interacted with in the Hour of Code events where I volunteered, the college courses I helped teach, the STEM conference where I spoke or the robotics club I cofounded. One person’s enthusiasm and gift of teaching can create a ripple effect we could never foresee. Someone I impacted might now be making a difference in another young person’s life. I hope so. I want to do something big, something important and something meaningful with my computer science skills.

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Community-building through coding

Arabia Simeon

Arabia Simeon barely knew what computer science was before she signed up for a TEALS class offered at the Young Women’s Leadership School in Brooklyn, New York. TEALS increases access to computer science nationwide by creating partnerships between tech industry volunteers and high schools to build and grow sustainable CS programs. Arabia, now a sophomore majoring in both computer science and art at Smith College in Northampton, MA, shares her dream of combining computer science, art and social justice, to give back to the neighborhood where she grew up.

It’s obvious if you look around at any hackathon that I’m not exactly your typical computer scientist. Not only have I been the youngest one in the room, but I’ve also been the only girl. It’s kind of shocking.

Plus, I grew up in a three-bedroom apartment crowded with me, my four sisters and five cousins in the projects in Brooklyn—not exactly a center of coders. Bedford-Stuyvesant is a low-income area, and most people there don’t have the opportunity to learn computer science—or even know why they should. I was lucky enough to go to an all-girls school that focused on STEM and took a TEALS computer science class my junior year.

I love where I’m from. My neighborhood has so much culture. We’re a family. But many people in my neighborhood can’t vote, can’t get a job or can’t go to a good school because they don’t have the money. My roots inspire me to do everything I can to give back to everyone who hasn’t had the opportunities I have had.

So, while my first goal out of college is to be a software engineer for a big company like Google, Microsoft or AOL, eventually I’ll start my own nonprofit to bring computer science to low-income communities like the one I grew up in. It would be kind of like an art studio, but a technical art studio—where kids can learn to code, make music, digital art or anything they want to create.

That’s why I love computer science. You can use your passion, like mine for art and social justice, and combine it with technology to create new things. Those creations could be as straightforward as a video game or as ambitious as a neighborhood community center.

TEALS changed my life not only because it taught me how to code. It also showed me that even though something like computer science may be hard, you can still be good at it—and it can still be worthwhile. So I’m not pursuing computer science just for me; I’m doing it for so many other girls and kids out there in low-income communities. I want to help people be who they want to be—without any limitations.

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Coding breakthroughs for a better future

Aishwarya Manoharan

Aishwarya Manoharan had never been interested in technology until trying it out in an AP Computer Science TEALS class at Woodinville High School in Washington. TEALS relies on industry volunteers from more than 400 companies to co-teach CS with classroom teachers. Volunteers make a difference in the lives of individual students like Aishwarya while building sustainable CS programs in High Schools across the country.

Here, University of Washington freshman Aishwarya shares how discovering computer science opened her eyes to how she can use technology to change the world.

I was born in a small town in southern India, where a lot of my family still lives, but moved to the United States before I even started school. I still go back and visit, though. The last time I stayed there, I realized that my experiences taking computer science courses, teaching myself programming languages at night, and spending summers in technology camps like Girls Who Code changed how I see the world. I now know that I can make a real difference in the world through technology.

When I saw schoolchildren walking with loads of books, I wanted to expand their capacity for creativity outside of those pages and bring a world of information to their fingertips. When I saw laborers working the rice paddies under the sweltering sun, I wanted to increase their efficiency through sustainable farming practices. When I saw the hot sun pounding on the bare rooftops of the houses, I wished to see the shingles replaced by solar panels.

I started thinking like this—in terms of how to change the world through technology and access to information—after I took AP Computer Science through TEALS at my high school.

Unlike my other classes, professionals from the field taught TEALS, alongside the school teacher. Every morning during class I got to learn from engineers and software developers—people who were actually using what we learned in class. They helped bridge those lessons to the real world and taught me that computer science wasn’t only about some white guy hunched over his computer by himself all day.

CS isn’t just memorizing formulas and regurgitating the information. Your success is all up to you, how you think, your logic and your creativity. For example, after I finished the class, a friend and I created a project that programmed imaginary fish to react when someone threw garbage in the ocean. It raised awareness of the problem of pollution and plastics in the ocean. I was proud to bridge my passions of computer science and environmental conservation in a real, creative way.

I’m not entirely sure how I’ll leave my mark on the world—I’m only 18, so I have time to figure that out! But what I do know is that I’ll be a part of computer science breakthroughs that will help us take small steps toward a better future.

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