It was a grey and gloomy day in the District on Wednesday, but room 346 at McKinley Tech Education Campus was filled with bright ambition.
This week is Computer Science Education Week (you’ve still got time to celebrate!), so on Wednesday John King, an appointed U.S. Department of Education official; Lisa Gelobter, chief U.S. Digital Services officer; Abigail Seldin, VP of innovation and product at ECMC; and Brian Pick, chief of teaching and learning at DCPS, all convened at McKinley to talk with the school’s computer science students.
In a classroom overlooking the row homes of northeast, the students — ranging from 10th- to 12th-graders — shared their interest in computer science, what they’re learning and what they hope to accomplish in the future. The adults, for their part, discussed their careers, the importance of college and even a little projected economic data.
In the next 10 years, King told the class, the U.S. plans to generate 1.4 million computer science-related jobs. In the same time frame, however, there are only expected to be 400,000 computer science graduates qualified to take those jobs. Clearly there is a need to foster more interest in computer science education, and the bright-eyed high school students at McKinley are part of the solution.
The curriculum at McKinley works like this: In the spring of a student’s freshman year, he or she chooses a STEM “major” — either Information Technology, Engineering, BioTechnology or Mass Media. The computer science students of classroom 346 had made their choice for reasons that range from the uber practical to the ephemeral — “I chose this major because of the money,” one 10th-grade girl told Technical.ly with a smile. And the boy sitting one desk over? “It’s challenging and I like to challenge myself,” he said.
Regardless of the driving force behind the choice, these students will go on to study computer science (in addition to the usual high school staples) during their sophomore, junior and senior years.
This gives the kids a good start towards studying STEM in college — something nearly all students in the classroom said they plan to do. Naturally, college was another hot topic at the meeting. Gelobter, who led the creation of College Scorecard, introduced students to the website and how it can be used to compare pertinent information on colleges such as cost, graduation rate, earnings after graduation and more.
Seldin, creator of College Abacus and now Pell Abacus — both college search tools with quick information on financial aid — introduced the eight-week old beta version of Pell Abacus (which is specifically tailored to low-income students), as well as the one week old mobile-friendly version.
Students played around with all three websites as King, Gelobter and Seldin wandered the classroom talking with teachers and students.
“This is just a lot,” one student told Technical.ly quietly as he scrolled through questions on the College Abacus site.
He’s right, of course. For all the tools out there, deciding where to go to college and how to get there (financially, academically, etc.) is still a big, and difficult, decision. Maybe he’ll be next to use his computer science skills to make the process even easier.