Hidden Figures of “Computer Science For All”

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By Ruthe Farmer – You might have noticed computer science and “coding” have become the cause du jour. Celebrities and athletes, governors and mayors, tech icons, and media giants have come out in support of reinvigorating K-12 computer science education in US schools. Coding is now a commonly known term and in January 2016, building on the momentum from the community, President Obama announced the Computer Science for All (CSforAll) initiative, a bold national call to make rigorous computer science (CS) education available to all American students and partner initiatives have formed nationwide including CS4TX, CS4RI, CodeVA and many more. CSforAll is here to stay.

Like every social movement in history, this change didn’t materialize overnight – and like the great social movements that have shaped our country – women have been integral to this movement. I am honored to present just a few of the “Hidden Figures” of K-12 computer science education.

Dr. Jan Cuny

Arguably the catalyst of the entire national movement to revive and broaden participation in K-12 computer science education, Jan has been a tireless behind-the-scenes force for CS education. In 2004 she joined the National Science Foundation as a program officer to build the Broadening Participation in Computing program, investing millions in multiple national efforts to increase participation of women and minorities in computing and building the foundation for multiple research-based K-12 computer science curriculum efforts including Bootstrap, Project Guts, Exploring Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles. It would be impossible to list every project touched by the magic of Jan Cuny.  She is the proverbial “(wo)man behind the curtain” for CS education. Follow Jan on Twitter to keep up with her.

Brenda Darden Wilkerson

Before there was CSforAll, there was CS4ALL Chicago Public Schools, and before that was Brenda. A software engineer by background, Brenda transitioned to education to “slow things down.”  Fortunately, Brenda doesn’t do anything small and we have her to thank for the first iteration of CSforAll in one of the largest school districts in the nation. Not only is Brenda charged with preparing over 3000 teachers to deliver computer science in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), she is also working against the rapidly approaching 2020 deadline when the first class will graduate with the new CS graduation requirement. Brenda mentors and advises other districts on how to implement their own CS initiative and you can see her influence on districts around the nation. She embodies the motto, “I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change… I’m changing the things I cannot accept.” Follow @CompSci4All and @CS4Allcps.

Lien Diaz

The epitome of a quiet revolutionary, Lien has been working nearly a decade at the College Board to add a new Advanced Placement (AP) computer science course and test to their offerings. Her work paid off in huge dividends Fall of 2016 with the launch of AP Computer Science Principles (AP-CSP) in more than 2700 classrooms. AP-CSP increased the number of students taking AP level computer science courses by 50% and dramatically increased access for girls and underrepresented minorities. To achieve this feat, she enlisted the support and partnership of researchers, curriculum developers and teachers that piloted the course over multiple years. May 5, 2017 around 32,000 students will take the exam. The entire CSforAll community holds high hopes for AP-CSP and owes a huge debt of gratitude to Lien Diaz. Check out this video where teachers and students share their excitement about AP-CSP. You can follow Lien on Twitter.

Jane, Joanna and Gail

A triumvirate of unbridled passion, Dr. Jane Margolis, Dr. Joanna Goode and Gail Chapman are the force behind the equity-focused Exploring Computer Science (ECS) course. Based on research in the LA public schools on the lack of minority students enrolled in computer science courses (and nicely chronicled in Stuck in the Shallow End), ECS is a research-based, time-tested course designed to level-up students lacking access or exposure to technology at home. The ECS team has prepared 2044 teachers since 2014, which is no small task considering that each teacher receives 80 hours of professional development and mentoring for two years. ECS is all about inclusion, addressing issues of educator bias that overlook potential in students without prior experience. The impact of ECS is well chronicled by teacher Marc Buchanen in this recent blog titled the Best Week of Professional Development Ever. Follow @ExploringCS and try to keep up.

Dr. Chinma Uche

A math and CS teacher in Connecticut, Chinma has been part of the national conversation to improve and advance CS since 2006. She teaches at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering (AAE) and the Greater Hartford Academy of Math and Science (GHAMAS), leads the Computer Science Teacher’s Association of CT, and advocates for CS education at every opportunity.  Her passion is clear in this video clip about the value of teaching computer science. She is a co-PI for a National Science Foundation project, “Using Mobile Learning to Teach CS Principles in Connecticut Schools” and a member of Computer Science Advocacy Leadership Team (CSALT). In her “spare time” she coaches student math and CS teams.  She is a proud parent to Chinedum Uche, a national winner of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing, congressional intern and Dartmouth government and CS major – a figure we can’t afford to hide. Follow @Chinmauche1 to learn more.

Dr. Leigh Ann Delyser

Inclusive and rigorous are two words that best describe lifelong CS education advocate Leigh Ann Delyser. She co-authored the seminal 2010 ACM Running on Empty report that sounded the alarm on the decline of US CS education nationally. She is Director of Education and Research at CSNYC, the NYC Foundation for CS Education where she works to bring CS to more than 1M students and has helped launch four STEM schools with multi-year CS programs. In Fall 2016, she launched the CSforAll Consortium as co-chair to carry forward the national effort to provide quality CS education to every student in the US. Leigh Ann has been a high school teacher, a textbook author, a college professor, curriculum writer, researcher, and a member of the board of directors of the Computer Science Teachers Association, and was the initial curriculum director for Girls Who Code. Follow @lsudol, @csnyc and @csforall.

Amy Hirotaka

If you’ve noticed dramatic growth in state-level action on CS education recently, you’ve noticed the work of Amy Hirotaka. Amy works at the intersection of policy, technology, and education. From 2013-2016 she led the charge to enact policies to expand K-12 computer science in dozens of states at Code.org. An education advocate for years, she previously worked with the National Girls Collaborative Project and the Communities Connect Network.  Today she’s at Facebook doing public policy work and community engagement in her hometown of Seattle, where she collaborates with municipal government as a member Seattle City Council’s Community Technology Advisory Board. Keep up with her work @AmyHirotaka.

Rebecca Dovi

a classroom teacher turned advocate, Rebecca Dovi has been working to include more students in computing since 1998.  She developed the first online course for the Virginia Public Schools in 2003, founded the Central Virginia chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association, and instructs the online AP CS-A course on Coursera. After decades in the classroom Rebecca and her husband Chris launched CodeVA to address the lack of access to CS courses in Virginia schools and have prepared over 1,500 teachers across Virginia reaching more than 10,000 students. CodeVA successfully advocated for the nation’s first legislation that mandates CS and computational thinking as a core subject for all K-12 students, and dedicated CS funding from the Virginia legislature. More of her work at her blog and @CodeVA.

Patricia Garcia

A former 2nd grade teacher who worked with English language learners, Patricia found her way into CS education through a personal interest and goal to merge K-12 education with computing. She researches race, gender, and technology with a special interest in studying how the use of culturally responsive computing practices can increase girls’ participation in STEM activities and has collaborated with Black Girls Rock!, The Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology, Ypsilanti District Library, Tempe Public Library, and Imperial County Free Library. In October 2016 she presented her work at the White House Conference on Inclusive STEM Education for Youth of Color, sponsored by the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Now an assistant professor at University of Michigan, Patricia is experimenting with a low-resource model for promoting culturally responsive computing programs in public libraries.  You can find her at PatriciaGarcia.org

About the Author

Ruthe Farmer has focused her efforts on diversity and inclusion in tech and engineering since 2001. She served as Senior Policy Advisor for Tech Inclusion at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy focusing on President Obama’s call to action for Computer Science for All. Prior to joining the Obama Administration, she advocated nationally for gender diversity in tech as Chief Strategy & Growth Officer and K-12 Alliance Director at the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). Over the course of her career, Ms. Farmer has launched and scaled up multiple national programs for women and girls in tech including Aspirations in Computing, the TECHNOLOchicas campaign for Latinas, AspireIT outreach program, Intel Design & Discovery, Lego Robotics for Girl Scouts and many more. She served as the 2012 Chair of Computer Science Education Week, was named a White House Champion of Change for Technology Inclusion in 2013, received the Anita Borg Institute Award for Social Impact in 2014, and the Education UK Alumni Award for Social Impact in 2015. She is a guest contributor for Techcrunch and the Shriver Report, and has been featured in Forbes and TechRepublic and the Forty Over 40 Women to Watch list for her work. Ruthe holds a BA from Lewis & Clark College and an MBA in Social Entrepreneurship from the University of Oxford. Today Ms. Farmer works nationally to build a diverse and inclusive tech education and workforce pipeline for all Americans. You can find her musings on Twitter.