Several members of Illinois Tech’s STARS Computing Corps, which seeks to broaden participation of underrepresented populations in computing, spent part of their Spring Break at nearby Holy Angels Catholic School, teaching grade-school kids how to code.
They were undergraduates Sanjin Ibrahimovic (CS 4th year/M.S. Candidate CS), Aleksandra (Ola) Kukielko (CS 4th year), and Paolo Ratti Tamayo (CS 3rd year), along with alumnus Henry Green (CS ’17).
Each took turns leading the coding lesson at the school, located at 740 E. 40th Street near Main Campus. They also offered an afterschool program during the week after Spring Break.
Holy Angels serves pre-kindergarten through 8th-grade students, most of them from Bronzeville and surrounding communities.
Illinois Tech STARS Computing Corps students first reached out to Holy Angels to offer to lead a National Day of Code program at the school in December 2016. They spent Spring Break 2017 doing a weeklong HTML bootcamp there and returned to the school in December 2017 to lead another Day of Code program, that time for 50 students.
“In the future, we hope to strengthen our relationship with Holy Angels as well as other schools in the Bronzeville area with the help of passionate IIT student volunteers and the STARS members,” Kukielko said.
“Everybody deserves the chance to learn technology,” said Ibrahimovic. But they don’t always get to, added Kukielko. “I would love for tech to be treated like math, science, or music -- that every student be exposed to it early, like reading, and not think of it as something for others but not them,” she said.
Ibrahimovic first got involved with STARS at the suggestion of Anthony Hicks (B.S./M.S. CS ’17), then a student and now an associate software engineer with JP Morgan Chase. Hicks told Ibrahimovic about a course led by Vida Winans, adjunct faculty, computer science, to teach students how to offer computer technology outreach to their communities. “I created a course for teaching junior high students about circuits and Arduinos,” Ibrahimovic said.
STARS students and volunteers also work with Winans in Illinois Tech’s Computer Discovery Camp, held for two weeks during each summer and on Saturdays during the school year. Illinois Tech undergraduates Noah Song (EECE 2nd year) and Anthea Gonzalez (ITMG 1st year), alumnus Hicks, and CS graduate student Shruti Akkala are currently volunteering with Winans.
“We have taught students to program in Scratch, Python, HTML, and even Java,” Kukielko said.
Looking ahead, Ibrahimovic and Kukielko are getting ready to turn over leadership of STARS to the new student leaders. Kukielko will graduate this spring and enter the tech workforce, probably in software engineering. “There are a lot of interesting startups in Chicago,” she said. “Ideally, I’d love to stay in Chicago, but I’ll go wherever work takes me.” Ibrahimovic has another year of his CS co-terminal and hopes to work in civic tech.
“To maintain a civic and sustainable society, I think we need to move forward with education and technology investment in our youth,” he said. “If we don’t, we’ll only be setting ourselves up for more problems. Equality in access and implementation of STEM education is vital for maintaining an equal and liberal society.”