Computer science may never have been more popular or necessary. Staggering high-tech job growth means a national deficit in computer scientists persists, but only one-quarter of K-12 schools in the United States teach the discipline. Georgia Tech is addressing that gap with Atlanta Public Schools (APS) in a growing partnership to excite kids about computer science.
Georgia Tech’s College of Computing After School Program has grown 175 percent in one year and now is working to involve more than 40 APS schools. Teams of Georgia Tech undergraduates visit participating schools weekly to lead 90-minute creative sessions that help children turn personal computers into tools for personal expression.
“We cannot teach students programming in just 90 minutes a week,” said Cedric Stallworth, the College’s assistant dean for outreach, enrollment and community. “But we can provide them with 90 minutes of exposure that will inspire their desire to learn more about computing.”
The program’s projects have focused on everything from fashion to music to robotic soccer tournaments.
“People assume you cannot be both creative and in STEM,” Mensah said. “That’s a false assumption. I love working with our students to prove them wrong.”
Nearly 100 Georgia Tech undergraduates like Mensah lead the after-school programs at Atlanta’s public schools. Currently, the program is offered to 3rd, 6th, and 9th-graders, and Stallworth plans to systematically expand its reach from kindergarten through 12th grade over the next three years.
“The students in Atlanta Public Schools don’t have a brain problem; it’s an issue of exposure. The pipeline allows us to constantly broaden each student’s perspective on the different opportunities that computing provides,” Stallworth said. “A parallel goal is to develop a pipeline of teachers and parents to help support and sustain the pipeline of students.”
The program’s eventual goal is to prepare students to take part in the country’s computing future, whether that be by directly entering the workforce after high school or successfully applying and studying computing-related disciplines at Georgia Tech or any other post-secondary institution. APS alumni from the program are now attending college at Georgia Tech, Ohio State, and elsewhere.
Chanteal Edwards, the program’s coordinator and a Tech alumna, is especially focused on preparing students for the college academic environment.
“The adjustment to new people and harder coursework at college can be challenging,” Edwards said. “I enjoy helping students find out what college is like beforehand so they’ll have a smooth transition.”
Stallworth, Mensah, and Edwards all attended under-resourced schools. It’s a particularly strong motivator for Mensah.
“I know how important it is to give back,” Mensah said. “Georgia Tech is a public institution, and a lot of the schools need our help.”
“I’m passionate about showing students like me what’s possible and that computer science can be for them.”