As the number of tech-related jobs grows, computer coding is emerging as an often-missed but essential skill set. But a group of Culver Academies, Culver Community High School, and homeschooled students, as well as instructors and Culver-Union Public Library staff members recently dedicated two days in April to an intensive introduction to the world of coding.
This coding crash course was led by the Eleven Fifty Academy, a Fishers, Ind., non-profit specializing in “closing the nation’s growing technology gap” through programs offered at its campus and other locations around the Midwest.
Leadership instructor Nancy McKinnis noted experts predict a 22 percent rise in computer-related employment by the year 2020.
Coding helps build the skills needed to help create technology
“Every organization needs to understand technology and at a level higher than just using it,” she said. “(This course was) about becoming not a passive user but a creator and active user of technology . . . coding helps build the skills needed to help create technology.”
Harry Frick, advancement representative for The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur, shared with Academic Dean Kevin MacNeil the entrepreneurial model in play at Eleven Fifty Academy, and Culver administrators paid the school a visit.
“We hope to support the development of this as a community outreach,” McKinnis says, pointing to Culver’s interest in offering the course within the broader community and with inclusion of Culver Community Schools students.
“This is an exciting opportunity because we all share the same goal to educate our students for success in the future.”
In all, 21 students and adults from both schools and the library spent two eight-hour days hard at work entering the world of computer language. The class included team exercises in problem-solving and a DiSC strengths profile for each student.
Culver-Union Twp. Public Library director Colleen McCarty says the library was “delighted” to partner with both schools for the class.
Library board trustee Bill Cleavenger ’62 represented the library on the early March trip to Fishers. The resulting April workshop “was a dynamic and information-packed couple of days,” she said. “We are hopeful that this initiative will continue and we plan to be part of it.
Crossing lines of culture, gender, geography
The class was the culmination of a significant progression of events on the Culver campus, and the beginning of new opportunities for collaboration and education throughout the broader Culver community.
Dr. Angela Osterman Meyer, a senior instructor in science, pointed to the initiative of Culver students Rebecca Sun ’18 (Overland Park, Kan.) and Himanshu Umare ’18 (Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia) in launching the new Coding Club at Culver just after the winter break.
Umare was largely self-taught in coding, with an interest in programming growing from his uncle’s computer business in India. A visit with his uncle to Dell Computers in Austin, Texas, was an important turning point for him.
“He told me these lines of code are used daily by millions of people to solve problems in communities. Your imagination is the limit,” Umare said.
Umare and Sun’s realization that Culver is rife with untapped resources in the area of coding helped spur creation of the club, which saw some 30 students in attendance at its first meeting. They also conceived of showing the film “Hidden Figures” on campus, utilizing the high-definition digital projection available at Eppley Auditorium to raise funds for the club while also educating audiences about the little-known role of African American women in the mathematics behind NASA’s 1960s and ’70s space programs.
That initiative pointed to another important facet of Culver’s coding activity: maintaining and growing the level of involvement among CGA students in an area all too often under-represented by female participants on the national scale. The profession is also not known for its cultural and ethnic diversity.
“I’m a biracial woman in sciences,” explained Meyer, “so getting to be able to broaden this and ask questions such as, ‘what does someone who’s interested in coding do…what kind of careers do they have?’ and increasing representation and opportunities for all students is important. The diversity of our student body is not typically represented in images of coders and the demographics of those who do this professionally.”
Sun’s vision has been critical in the positive steps forward represented by coding at Culver, Meyer and Umare said.
“We look to build on the foundation and apply for an official designation as a Girls Who Code (‘GWC’) club in the coming school year,” notes Sun. “GWC looks to close the gender gap in STEM and technology fields and this would be especially exciting opportunity for CGA.
Coding is becoming an increasingly critical skill set for the workforce . . .
“Coding is becoming an increasingly critical skill set for the workforce and giving CGA the opportunity to get a head start through the Coding Club will help prepare them for future success.”
This summer, Sun will attend MIT’s Women’s Technology Program, which shares a common goal with GWC to spark girls’ interest in going into the STEM field.
Umare, meanwhile, envisions continued opportunities to bring coding offerings to the broader Culver community, including the local high school.
Culver Commmunity student Zack Kisela had already experimented on his own with coding before he attended the April workshop. A senior, Kisela won’t be at the school to witness further coding developments, but he noted, “It would be beneficial if it were offered more in Culver; that would be great. I learned a lot in two days (at the class).”
CCHS business teacher Mark Ringenberg affirmed that students “loved” the coding event.
“It really gave them a great perspective on what is out there for them, coding and programming-wise. Our next step will be to look into setting up a coding club jointly with the Academies and the library to maybe offer this opportunity to other students in the area.”
Coders, noted McKinnis, “need to be relational…to be able to listen and understand.
“Coding doesn’t just teach kids to understand technology,” she adds, “but it helps problem solve and develops thinking skills.”