Texas Border Business
By Joey Gomez
McALLEN, Texas – The Computer Science department at South Texas College and Region One Education Service Center (ESC) have partnered to introduce young students to computer programming and coding practices through two camps recently hosted at the college.
The camps funded by Ready, Career Set! and Pathway to the Future! grants introduced students from across the Rio Grande Valley participating in Region One’s GEAR UP to basic as well as advanced computer science concepts.
Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) refers to the seven-year program created through the United States Department of Education designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. The program begins in seventh grade and follows the cohort through high school.
GEAR UP: Pathways to the Future! introduced over 30 girls from rural school districts to computer science and engineering through a girls-only coding camp. The goal, according to camp coordinators was to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education among girls studying in rural school districts.
“Region One and South Texas Collage are striving to get girls involved in STEM and computer science. Females are very underrepresented as a whole, so we created the camp for them. This is introducing them to coding as well as showing them all the basics to get them started,” said Ernesto Gonzalez, STEM specialist with Region One’s GEAR UP College Ready, Career Set grant, and a former adjunct professor with STC.
At the camp, middle school girls from Lyford, Rio Grande City Grulla and San Perlita school districts were introduced to high-level visual programming using Scratch, an educational website tool developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.
Region One’s College Ready, Career Set! created for juniors in high school included more than 41 boys and girls from La Feria, Mercedes, Rio Hondo and Roma school districts who attended the camp and were exposed to higher level computer programming through virtual simulated microcontrollers (MCUs), or tiny computers that enable them to code and perform various functions.
“On the more advanced side, our juniors are working with virtual simulated microcontrollers as well as running code, which can have amazing effects,” Gonzalez said. “This is so needed and can go a long way to help show students that the possibilities in this field are virtually endless.”
For STC faculty, the idea was to introduce students to the college as well as bring them in to see its facilities and introduce them to computer programming.
“This is a unique collaboration between STC and Region One and we have been hosting these types of activities for many years. Today involved coding camps for kids that also enabled them to get a feel for the college and get them familiar with all the educational opportunities for them,” said Ali Esmaeili, Ed.D., STC dean of the Division of Math, Science and Bachelor Programs. “The students at this particular camp actually practiced coding and design for gaming. We are hoping that some of these students continue to build interest and continue down this route. This has the potential to transform their lives. STC is the best place to start their educational journey.”
Computer and Information Technologies faculty Nicholas Hinojosa said “The whole idea is to get them used to the idea of programming, that way if they find it’s something they enjoy doing, then we hope they can return to our college as our future students and pursue a degree in computer science.”
Jackeline Garcia, a junior from Roma High School who attended the camp, said she is already looking at a future career in business management, but jumped at the chance to learn something new.
“This is very different from what I am used to and it’s something very new, but I am very intrigued and very interested,” she said. “I know technology is used everywhere, so anything involving coding and computers will help me. I can already see how STC is a great college with very specific courses that will help. I didn’t know anything about this before today, but I am definitely excited to see where this goes.”
For more information about STC’s Computer Information program please visit bachelors.southtexascollege.edu/cit/.