Each February the US celebrates Black History Month. This past February dozens of middle and high school students attended a Black History Month Edition Hack Day located in Metro Atlanta. Students learned about app design and design thinking, engaged with business and STEM professionals of color, and participated in an Innovative design-thinking curriculum around designing apps to address social justice issues. This was the result of a Computer Science Education Week grant made to Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI) by Infosys Foundation USA to help underrepresented students gain greater access to computer science education.
The Young People of Color Hackathon event kicked off with LPFI hosts discussing the most common kinds of conflict in schools and communities and around the Atlanta community, for example cyberbullying. About 70 students participated in the 9-hour coding competition and were guided to work in small groups and apply design thinking to solve a social conflict.
40+ volunteers from industry came together to serve as "Idea Coaches", including IT professionals, entrepreneurs, teachers, innovators, product managers, or developers to guide teams of 5-6 students during the ideation lab. Other tech professionals of color volunteered as tech advisors, mentors and speakers or "Design Coaches", including design/front-end developers brought in to help prototype ideas in Balsamiq.
The majority of the students participating in the Hackathon had never been exposed to computer science. So, this activity was a wonderful way to introduce these students to coding. A 9th grade participant with limited coding experience shared, "I thought it would be too hard for me to understand how to do it, but it was so much fun and they [the coaches] made it easy to understand."
One of the mentors, a recent graduate of Georgia Tech, and an innovation team member of a local consulting company, was really keen to help and support these kids and give back to the community helping with hands-on coding instruction to help design prototype solutions.
The students also got to hear from local Atlanta entrepreneurs including Rayford Davis, Dana Ugwonali, Ashley Nealy, and Jarryd McCree as well as Infosys employees, who spoke on professional tech careers and educational background. This helped expose the students to role models and mentors within their local Atlanta community.
Another young participant, 6th grader Rashida, was thrilled to participate in the Hackathon. Over the past 2 years, she had already participated in coding sessions with Girls Who Code where she developed a passion for coding. This Hackathon gave her a unique opportunity to gain 1:1 access and discuss issues and concepts with some of the best coding mentors in Atlanta.
It is computer science education experiences like this Hackathon that are so important for underrepresented students to gain access to and participate in, not just during Black History month, but throughout the school year.