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Collaborating to Impact Kids

Combine professional women in the tech industry, local college professors and students and underserved inner-city children and teens and you have a growing program that is seeking to change lives.

Dr. Valerie Sessions, chair of the CSU computer science department, and students Matthew Goforth, De’Jean Dunbar, Lauren Willard and Justin Weathersby helped launch CodeON, coding classes, at the Carolina Youth Development Center for youth in foster care.

CodeON stands for Coding in Our Neighborhoods and is a project of Charleston Women in Tech, of which Sessions is a member. The CodeOn classes were launched in Charleston, and CNN Money featured the classes in a September 2016 article.

Laura Erickson, Leadership for Life program director for Carolina Youth Development Center, said, “The CodeON program is a perfect fit for our Bakker Career Center because we are always looking for ways to broaden the horizons of our children and expose them to different experiences that can teach them a new skill and enrich their lives.”

Sessions and several CSU students have volunteered, and CSU has donated equipment to the classes.

Senior computer science major, De’Jean Dunbar, said, “I volunteered because when Dr. Sessions mentioned to me how she wanted to expose the youth to computer science, I wanted to be a part of that great experience. The thing I liked best is watching the kids excelling in the computer science-oriented games.”

Sessions said the idea behind CodeON is to bring computing and the tech industry into underserved communities to kids who don’t have ready access to Wi-Fi or coding classes. There are several clubs in the area, one at the East Side Community Center, a pop-up on Beaufain Street, one at Rosemont and the one CSU students help with at CYDC.

“Computer science is just one more way to engage children and ultimately make a difference in their lives,” said Sessions. “In the computer science department, we are serious about integrating faith in our classroom and beyond. We want to have students using their new computer science skills to make an impact for Christ in the community.

“Also, it’s no secret that there is a shortage of tech workers in our area. I want those jobs to be filled by our local talent, by the kids that are in school now. Importing all of our tech talent cannot continue and is not good for our community. By fostering a love for tech early we are hopeful to grow this talent in our region. This won’t happen overnight, but if we get computing into their hands at this early age we will reap the benefits in terms of lower unemployment and greater tech talent in the community,” said Sessions.

According to Charleston Women in Tech, they are a collaborative effort of Charleston’s women leaders, educators and tech professionals to connect, support and prepare women of all ages for careers in the technology industry. CodeON was the idea of Carolyn Finch, executive director, and Nina Magnesson, a catalyst with BoomTown!.

Magnesson said, “The CSU students have done amazing. We are so grateful they are sharing their skill sets with these kids, opening up a whole new world to them.” She said the CSU students are effective as mentors because they aren’t much older than the high school students they are working with.

The CodeON curriculum consists of Code.org, Google CS First and other online coding programs. Basic computer skills are offered to adults in the community centers as needed.

Charleston companies and organizations providing supplies and volunteers for the CodeON program include: Launchpeer, Benefitfocus, Blue Acorn, BoomTown!, SPARC/Booz Allen, SnagAJob, Iron Yard Charleston, Charleston Digital Corridor CodeCamp, Charleston Open Source, Charleston Southern University Computer Science department, and computer science teachers from Voyager Charter Elementary and St. John’s High School.

CSU Magazine is the official publication for alumni and friends of Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina. For more information about the university, visit us online at CharlestonSouthern.edu.