Computer science can lift generations out of poverty, thanks to volunteers

Rohan Pal

Rohan Pal is CIO and CTO of Recall, an information management company based in Atlanta. It had been years since Pal wrote programs himself, but the training and curriculum provided by TEALS has more than prepared him to teach an introduction to computer science class. TEALS, the industry-wide grassroots program supported by Microsoft Philanthropies, matches volunteers from hundreds of tech companies with schools that don’t have computer science programs. The professionals help in the class (or, like Pal, via videoconference) as well as equip school teachers to teach computer science on their own.

Pal and another volunteer, Ashwin Ghanate, team-teach with a teacher at Austin Achieve, a tuition-free public charter school. Nearly all students in this Texas school live near or under the poverty line; Pal explains here how teaching them computer science offers life-altering opportunities. Learn more about how to volunteer with TEALS here.

I am the proud father of two teenaged boys. I remember being so frustrated for both of them going through school because they didn’t know how to code, and there were no opportunities in school to learn computer science. I even looked around at college campuses to see if there were after school programs to send them to, but nothing out there fit. I ended up teaching them myself and being that hated dad who forced his kids to learn Python over the summer!

But not everyone can do that. That’s why when I happened to read a news article about TEALS, I was looking for something I could give, where I could be passionate about it every day, where I could feel like I was having an impact. That is what TEALS is for me.

I called a TEALS representative and although they didn’t have a school for me in Georgia, he offered me a special opportunity to team-teach remotely in an underprivileged school in Austin. Not only did I sign up; I recruited members of my team, including Ashwin, to volunteer with me.

I’m trying to make IT at Recall not just about work but about finding a renewed purpose. What better way to do that than unite as a team to do something charitable? It has been a transformative experience for us.

Teaching remotely has been both interesting and challenging. The students on the other side see us as the talking heads who pop up on their screens. But we can still do everything: We help them work on labs, show our screens to teach them computer science concepts, answer questions and support them creating self-directed projects.

For example, one assignment was to program a platform game. I was blown away by what they turned in. One kid had built a game like Mario Bros., but his characters were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump!

Our students are beginning to interject real life in their programs. That shows me we’re making a real connection wit these kids. I look at the creativity computer science is sparking in them: They now feel like they can create something out of nothing, that they can literally bring their ideas to life on a computer screen. That’s what creates a love of computer science.

At any IT conference I’m in, I talk about TEALS. I invite other companies’ CIOs and CTOs to watch our class or take them out to lunch so they may volunteer, too. They see how excited I am about TEALS and they get excited, too!

We are all hungry for this: a way to contribute in a powerful way. I’m helping young people have fun, learn something that will propel them through college and get them into the workforce. And that is having an impact across generations.

Many of the students in our class have parents who don’t earn much. When I told our class how much computer scientists can make right out of college, they were shocked. One student blurted out, “I could support my entire family on that!”

That’s why I love teaching computer science with TEALS. I’m giving students a way of life that will not only help them but their parents and grandparents today, then generations of children and grandchildren after them. We are transforming lives forever.

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Computer science volunteer opens opportunities for rural teens

Silvia Doomra

Silvia Doomra is a program manager for Azure. She is also a volunteer teacher with TEALS, the program supported by Microsoft Philanthropies that leverages the expertise of volunteers from many different technology companies to start and support sustainable computer science education in schools across the US. Over two years, the classroom teacher gradually takes over the responsibilities of teaching the course without volunteer support. The team-teaching and volunteer system of TEALS creates a strong ripple effect: it empowers teachers who can multiply the impact by providing computer science education to hundreds more students over the years. Doomra videoconferences in to an introduction to computer science class in Quincy High School, set among fields of wheat and potatoes in rural Eastern Washington.

Here, she shares why she is grateful for the opportunity to change students’ lives through computer science. Learn more about how to volunteer with TEALS here.

Not long ago I organized a day that would turn out to be life-changing. I had set up a tour of the Microsoft Redmond campus and one-on-one job shadowing for each of our 20 TEALS students who joined us. Some students got to see high level meetings and got a sense for what happens in the real world. They asked personal questions like, “What’s it like to work at Microsoft?” and, “How much do you get paid?”

Later, a student’s parent wrote to Mr. Kondo, the Quincy teacher the other TEALS volunteers and I co-teach with. The parent said, “I’m so glad you had a field trip and the students got a chance to meet real people performing that job. It helped my son make a decision that he wants to pursue computer science in the future.” It made me realize we are having a substantial and lasting impact.

That’s why I am so proud to volunteer with TEALS.

When I was still in college in India, I took a part-time job teaching mathematics and physics at a high school level. Helping someone along the path I was taking at the same time gave me a lot of satisfaction.

I really liked the experience of teaching. So when I accepted a job at Microsoft, I continued volunteering at nonprofits. What I really wanted to do was help students, like I did in India, but on a larger scale. TEALS gave me the platform to do that.

The best part of volunteering with TEALS is debugging programs the students write. When I hear a student say, “Oh, this is how it’s done, now I get it!” I realize it’s making sense to them. It gives me the feeling that I know a bit and can actually help these students.

I feel very fortunate. I’m having a great time teaching with Mr. Kondo and working with such dedicated students who are interested in learning. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to help these guys achieve their goals.

The students and I have conversations about working in this field and computer science as a career. In class they started with Snap! and moved on to Python. I told them that this is serious programming we do in big companies like Microsoft. Our students are excited, and some of them are interested in pursuing computer science in the future.

When I visited Quincy, I had a conversation with the head of school. Quincy is a hub of data centers, and the principal wanted to equip students better so they don’t have to move out of town to get jobs. That’s what we’re doing with TEALS.

Over the course of the class, I’ve seen a lot of change in the students’ attitude. What’s more, volunteering with TEALS has changed me- quite a bit! For a start, my husband says I’m a lot more patient!

This experience has made me more thankful for my life and the opportunities I’ve had. Every day I feel more blessed to be part of Microsoft and TEALS, to give something fruitful back to the community. Every day I teach kids I feel more grateful for my life.

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MVP volunteer paves the way for “future Einsteins”

Dwight Goins

Dwight Goins, a Colorado-based Windows developer Emerging Experiences MVP, volunteers in a TEALS AP Computer Science classroom at STEM High School in Highlands Ranch Colorado. He team-teaches with other industry professionals and a classroom teacher, who had very little training in computer science before TEALS. The grassroots program, which is supported by Microsoft Philanthropies but draws volunteers from more than 200 tech companies nationwide, grows sustainable computer science programs in schools that wouldn’t otherwise have one. By training the teacher, volunteers like Goins ensure more and more young people will gain experience and opportunities—even long after volunteers have moved on.

Here, Goins explains he volunteers to create better opportunities for his three daughters—and an entire generation of young Americans. Learn more about how to volunteer with TEALS here.

One day in the TEALS AP Computer Science class I teach, I explained sorting algorithms to my students by having them stand up and arrange themselves, much like an algorithm would do. As we began to move each other around, two students who had gone through the TEALS program a few years ago walked by. They peeked in the classroom and exclaimed, “We remember that!”

Now these were former students who had passed the AP exam—they were basically celebrities to my current class. They came in, moved everyone here and there, and explained how the algorithm worked. Suddenly, it clicked.

The “aha!” moments that followed initialized something in the students: They really got it and I could see that sparkling of understanding in their eye.

That day in class, not only did the students in the TEALS class grasp a core concept of computer science; it also showed we started a cycle of a greater ripple effect of education: The young people I taught in TEALS had become teachers themselves. After all, that’s what we volunteers are modeling: we are professionals, but we’re dedicating the time, effort and passion to be teachers and mentors, too.

This year, we volunteers are working with a teacher who had limited coding experience. He is very motivated and eager to learn more. He asks questions as if he were a student, he does the homework himself—and he is improving. He’s already taking the initiative to teach the topics he understands, and we handle whatever he’s unclear on.

That’s one thing that sets the TEALS model apart: It nurtures even teachers who have no experience in programming so they can teach on their own within two years—building a self-sustaining computer science program that runs without volunteers.

I’ve been volunteering with TEALS for three years, and I have no intention of stopping. I started because I have three daughters, and I want them—and others like them—to have experience, knowledge and opportunities in STEM.

But if I’m honest there are selfish benefits, too! For example, I’m a business entrepreneur, so I listen to my students to hear what the latest trends are. Keeping my ear to the ground in my class tells me this or that is the app I need to build next!

Secondly, teaching in TEALS validates that I really know computer science. You can read books and take tests and write apps all you like, but it’s not until you teach it that you truly know your stuff.

Finally, the TEALS program helps my future—all our future. The children we’re teaching will be our governors, attorneys, engineers—everything. They’re leading the frontier of everything that is to come.

These are the young people who will be figuring out everything that stops scientists in 2016. We need them to be educated and confident in the tools of the 21st century. That’s what we’re doing with computer science in TEALS: We’re teaching the future Einsteins to tackle the world’s toughest problems.

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