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Microsoft computer science mentors help Young Women's Academy students

Microsoft Mentors at YWA

Microsoft Mentors at YWA  Microsoft Mentors at YWA

(YOUNG WOMEN’S STEAM RESEARCH & PREPARATORY ACADEMY -- Sept. 19, 2019) — Ninth-graders at YWA this year have teamed up with Microsoft to bring female professionals in the world of computer science to share lessons and advise about thriving in a male-dominated field.

Two San Francisco Bay-based These mentors with Microsoft Philanthropies’ Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, or TEALS, program have worked with YWA students since the beginning of the school year using special distance learning software to impart instruction on computer science initiatives. 

This week, though, the two professions flew to El Paso to meet with the students face to face and do some hands-on mentoring and teaching.

“It's a very innovative approach of having remote instructors and classroom teachers work together to ultimately develop both the students,” said YWA teacher Pete Delgado. “Right now, I'm being developed as a computer science instructor and I’ll eventually be able to deliver the instruction with minimal assistance from the volunteers.” 

TEALS connects classroom teachers with tech-industry volunteers to create sustainable computer science programs in high schools throughout the country. 

Coronado, El Paso, Chapin, Austin and Andress high schools also work with TEALS. However, YWA’s all-girls enrollment allowed Microsoft to assign a uniquely all-female mentoring team to the school.

“The volunteers serve as role models who can provide actual real-world experience, teach some of the skills and some of the things that are required in the field and can share what career opportunities are available,” Delgado said. “Our students will begin to realize that some of the interests that they might have in computers –whether it is from playing games or doing some programming – can develop into an actual career.”

Volunteer Rachel Okun’s passion for coding is infectious.  The Bay Area software engineer with Course Hero recalls the excitement she felt making the words “Hello World” come to life on her computer screen during her first CS course as a young girl.

“I hope the students gain an understanding of what coding is and how you can make small changes on your screen, give instructions to the computer and have the computer do something,” she said. “Making the computer do something is so cool to me.”

Tiffany Chiao, who works on YouTube TV, didn’t initially think about computer science as a career. The University of California, Berkley, alumna took computer science boot camps and online courses to become proficient in the industry after earning a literature degree. 

“It’s so inspiring to see others who are doing the work you are thinking about doing,” Chiao said. “I didn’t know any women who did (computer science) so I think that’s why it never came up to me as a possible career. Now, I’m showing female students that it’s fun and that it can be done.” 

Both Chiao and Okun are part of a four-member team of women working with EPISD’s all-girls school. They spent Monday and Wednesday meeting the students in real life after weeks of teaching lessons remotely

“Having a female role model and seeing that we are in this field and do good work in this field is so important,” Okun said. “We were so excited to be put together as an all-female team and work with these students.” 

Freshman Nohemy Guzman already had an interest in learning about coding before joining the class. She and her classmates were huddled around their MacBook Airs deep into the program as Okun stood behind offering guidance.

“It’s very inspiring knowing that there are females working in something that you could possibly want to do,” Guzman said. “It’s been amazing having them here helping us and working with us one on one.” 

Freshman Natalie Galeano enjoys editing video and can possibly see a career in CS down the line. The nurturing from the all-female TEALS team has been inspiring for her.

“The program is a great opportunity for us,” she said. “They are helping us become better with technology. It’s empowering when we see what they can do – knowing we can be successful in the field just like them.”

Story by Reneé de Santos
Photos by Leonel Monroy