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How We Can Help More Students See Themselves in Computing Careers

Computers have impacted every field. Computer science (CS), the discipline that makes computers possible, is no longer a nicety in American schools — it’s a requirement. 

This is especially true if we are serious about making modern education relevant in tandem with developing the 21st-century workforce.

The STEM Education Act of 2015 explicitly includes CS in the definition of STEM. In 2016, former President Barack Obama announced the Computer Science for All Initiative, which expanded opportunities in CS across schools in our nation. Then in 2017, the Trump administration issued a memorandum directing the Department of Education to spend $200 million a year on grants that promote STEM — especially CS.

All of this has resulted in 49 states now having policies that support CS education, according to 

But even with the current push for integration in schools across the country, people are still unclear about CS, coding, how they’re taught, and how to recruit young women and others who are furthest from the opportunities afforded by careers in computing.

We must be inclusive

It is common for students who don’t see CS as a viable option to miss out. A report by Google that explored diversity gaps in CS by the underrepresentation of girls, African Americans, and Hispanics suggested many of these students are less likely to be encouraged toward CS, have limited access to CS classes, and, as a result, lack interest. 

The report suggests that only when schools and educators understand the real challenges and obstacles affecting underrepresented students in CS, and intentionally practice equity in recruitment practices, will they significantly improve student retention and achievement.

Exploring careers in CS

Having students explore career opportunities by assuming various job roles through project work is a strategy I use for empowering all of my students. Because jobs in software development are a critical part of computing jobs, I dedicate several projects a year to ensure all of my students learn to use computational thinking to solve problems and experience what it is like to work on a software development team.

I do this by grouping my students on diverse teams of girls and boys, and ensure everyone has an opportunity to lead and to follow. On these teams, students learn the difference between the various roles that fall under software development (e.g., software engineer, software developer, and programmer/coder) by assuming each of the roles at least once per semester. These projects also call for in-depth exploration of both the salaries and schooling needed to obtain the jobs.

I also frequently invite industry partners (both women and men) from diverse cultures and backgrounds to meet and mentor my students. I have found that connecting them to potential employers of diverse representation inspires, motivates, and fosters creativity for my students. This means better work in the classroom and many more of them seeing themselves fully capable of pursuing a computing career.

Jorge Valenzuela, Lead Educational Coach at Lifelong Learning Defined, Teacher at Old Dominion University, Active Member of the International Society for Technology in Education [email protected]

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