Four Georgia computer science majors will be working in partnership with Google, Microsoft, Dell, Adobe, and IBM today at Morehouse College to expose nearly 200 metro Atlanta teens to tech careers and improve diversity in STEM.
The Atlanta University Center tech scholars are co-sponsoring “CodeHouse Day of Code,” a conference that will feature a tech expo, a “future” job fair showcasing STEM careers, and motivational sessions led by black engineers. Representatives from tech firms and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) will share information on STEM initiatives and college scholarships.
Several public schools have confirmed attendance for CodeHouse, including KIPP Academy, a member of a national network of charter schools, and several Atlanta middle and high schools.
CodeHouse presenters will discuss the history of minorities in STEM fields so that teens in the audience can better develop a cultural connection that inspires them to achieve similar success. Organizers hope the names of leading scientists will become as familiar to students as the names of star athletes and musicians.
“Just being able to spark that interest in a child can break the stereotype that you have to be a basketball player or a rapper to be successful,” said CodeHouse Co-Chairman Tavis Thompson, a junior computer science major who is minoring in Chinese and math. “There is more to life than that. They can be more than what society tells them that they should be.”
Students will learn that through science and engineering, they have the power to create, be their own bosses, and earn millions of dollars in the process, Thompson said. Thompson added that he wants to invent a biomedical device that could reduce household health care costs by empowering people with the improved ability to self-diagnose.
“I love that the only limitation that comes in computer science is your own mind,” said Ernest Holmes, a senior math and computer science major from New Jersey, who is coordinating CodeHouse. “You can be free to do what you want to do, whether it’s create your own business or make a product. Computer science can be applied to any field —sports, the food industry, software engineering, and farming. It is so versatile.”
Holmes said he hopes that CodeHouse will become an annual event, and that elementary students will eventually be invited to participate.
“The deeply rooted issue is that students of color don’t get exposed to computer science at an early age,” he said. “If they are exposed to computer science as young children, they will grow up coding and considering STEM careers.”
Financial barriers to technology impact that exposure, however, and ultimately result in fewer minorities considering STEM careers as children and high school seniors.
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one in five teens cannot finish their homework at home due to the digital divide, which includes a lack of technology and internet. Some 15 percent of U.S. households lack high-speed internet. Black and low-income households make up the largest portion of those stifled by the digital divide. Approximately 35 percent of teens say they often or sometimes have to do their homework on their cellphones because they lack a computer and internet.
Organizers say CodeHouse could have the biggest impact among those students caught in the digital divide. They will get an opportunity to participate in hands-on activities with new products that could inspire them to create similar technology that solves a problem or improves the quality of life for its users.
“The typical face of a tech engineer is white or Asian,” said Holmes, event director for CodeHouse. “We want to build a legacy that can help make the field more diverse.”
Other coordinators of CodeHouse are: Thulani Vereen, a junior computer science major at Spelman College. and Julian Parker, a freshman computer science major at Morehouse.