“We’ll say, ‘You know what? If you go watch this video of what a computer scientist does and participate in this little web based activity, we’ll give you a Jamba Juice card,’” Zdankus says. “‘Or better yet, by the end of spring semester, if you have done the following steps, we’ll give you a free summer camp at San Jose State.’”
The CPI pilot launched at Ocala Middle School in January. Ocala was an ideal location because many of its students are the ones CPI wants to reach: 74 percent Latino and 84 percent from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
Ten students from SCU’s College of Arts and Sciences will work on CPI for the next three years. Three to four will work on coding. The rest will administer surveys and provide programming workshops for middle schoolers.
One obstacle tech faces is the fact that many women and minorities are simply interested in other fields, Zdankus says. They want to help people but see professions like medicine as a better way.
“I challenge them a little bit and say, ‘Great. (With medicine), you can change the life of a person you’re working with. How about changing the lives of thousands of people. You can do that with technology,’” Zdankus says.
Another example: Last year, Zdankus attended the World Economic Forum in Amsterdam. The topic was finding new ways to feed the expected 2 billion more people living on Earth in 2050.
“It’s going to take technology—advanced and accelerated research around phenotyping and precision agriculture,” Zdankus says. “I told my kids ‘Oh, I’m just heading to Amsterdam to work on world hunger.’ Half jokingly but, it’s true. We don’t tell those stories very well.”
Zdankus hopes CPI will help correct misconceptions about computing. Sitting in a dark room by yourself coding for hours on end just isn’t a reality. In fact, Zdankus says it isn’t something she ever did. Instead, she does a lot of problem solving.
“I tell young kids, do you like to be curious?” Zdankus says. The focus of the pilot will be computing but it could expand into other STEM fields. The National Science Foundation is already interested in the findings.
“Once we get our legs under the project, we’ll expand the number of schools and we have a waiting list already,” Zdankus says. “Houston is very interested in bringing the project to their area.” So are San Diego and Seattle.