STEM Coding Lab Encourages Computer Science Education for Pittsburgh Kids

Not all schools have the resources to provide computer education. In Pennsylvaniaapproximately 63% of public high schools offer courses in the field.

from Pittsburgh STEM Coding Lab wants to make sure all students have access to it anyway – and sooner. From venturing into classrooms during school hours, running after-school programs, or hosting the summer camp it recently completed, the 2017-founded nonprofit fills the gaps by offering STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses in elementary and middle school. students. The hope is to build a foundation that could help them in the tech industry as adults.

“We start kids with the fundamental concepts of computing and then scaffold the education from there to make sure they’re engaged in the things they’re already interested in,” executive director Casey Mindlin Told Technically. “Kids are on their phones or tablets all day anyway, so we want to harness that interest in digital platforms and digital resources, and provide kids with the resources and skills to be creators. , rather than just technology users.”

Over the past decade, youth-centric pathways in Pittsburgh’s tech industry have become more common, with classes at public and private schools aimed at giving students early experiences in coding, 3D modeling, and more. and other skills. But school resources and funding may be limited, so other Pittsburgh youth organizations in STEM are staying to pick up the slack.

The hope is that early exposure to STEM will result in an increased likelihood of entering the field later – and a more diverse pipeline for a predominantly white, male industry. By giving more students the chance to get hands-on experiences in robotics or coding or other STEM disciplines, the programs not only broaden young people’s ideas of what a career in tech might look like, but also create a stronger local talent pool for the huge volume of unfilled tech jobs.

At the STEM Coding Lab, since program leaders never want a lack of previous experience to be a barrier to a student’s involvement in STEM, they sometimes just start. A class could focus on learning algorithms by relating the definition to everyday life experiences, for example. The lab also tries to build on the lessons the schools they visit are already teaching. Once students have a fundamental understanding of the hardware, they have access to specialized courses in animation, games, web design, and robotics.

“The schools we serve invite us in because they don’t have the resources or the budgetary resources to offer a foundation course themselves,” Mindlin said. “They don’t have the teachers, and they don’t have the means to understand the full scope or implement the full scope of computer science education.”

(Courtesy picture)

STEM Coding Lab reports that it has grown 275% in the past year and won a slew of new partnerships that Mindlin hopes will further its mission. Additionally, ED said it was grateful for the 17 new backers the organization acquired, which means STEM Coding Lab has already been able to hire four new teachers. Last April, he received a $250,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. Additionally, he has found support from people like Pittsburgh Foundation, McElhattan Foundation and Duquesne Light Co.

While delivering their programs directly to schools and community centers has been the STEM Coding Lab’s primary method of outreach, this fall Mindlin and his team plan to deliver their classes directly to students’ homes through a Wi-Fi on wheels (WOW) CyberBus. Created through partnerships with the City of Pittsburgh Housing Authority and the Jérôme Bettis Foundation Bus stops herethe STEM Coding Lab will travel with a bus equipped with laptops, Chromebooks and robotic equipment to five public housing communities in the city to teach computer programming.

“We go wherever there are opportunities to inspire young minds with computer science education,” Mindlin said.

The North Side-based organization served about 1,400 students in the 2021-2022 school year and plans to serve many more. STEM Coding Lab also has partnerships with 20 organizations ranging from YMCAs to Pittsburgh Public Schools. Since preparing for future tech jobs is one of the organization’s goals, it also regularly calls on volunteers from companies such as Google and GPP to discuss what a future in the field might look like.

Over time, Mindlin said, the goal is to continue educating Pittsburgh students about their options in the region’s tech industry so they have the skills to fill the tech talent gap and meet the future needs of Pennsylvania, in particular. World capital of robotics, anyone?

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