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Microsoft program connects YWA computer science students with tech-industry experts

(YOUNG WOMEN’S STEAM PREP – Nov. 10, 2022) – Young Women’s Academy AP Computer Science students spent this week working in real life with two San Francisco Bay Area female computer scientists who have been mentoring them virtually for three years.

The two mentors are part of Microsoft Philanthropies’ Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, or TEALS, which 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-girl enrollment provided a unique opportunity for an all-female mentoring team.

“They’ve been such an integral part of their learning process,” said YWA teacher Pete Delgado. “It’s important for our students to see themselves as programmers. You always think of programmers as male nerds sitting in a basement clicking away at a computer but there are a lot of women out there who are software engineers and bring a valuable perspective to the field.”

Delgado’s computer science students have gotten to know software engineers Tiffany Chiao from YouTube and Rachel Okun from Course Hero via Zoom and a brief in-person visit three years ago. The volunteers have been providing the girls with valuable CS knowledge and have enjoyed watching their programming skills grow.

“When we first started, we were teaching them Snap! block-based programming,” Okun said. “Now they’re doing AP Computer Science and we’re seeing them conquer these different topics. It’s amazing.”

Both Chiao and Okun joined the TEALS program to give back to their communities and have enjoyed teaching the YWA students.

“I had a non-tradition background into getting into CS and learning to code was such a life-changing opportunity for me,” said Chiao, an English major. “I really valued the mentors I had throughout the process. I wanted to find a way to give back and work with students earlier in their careers so they can be introduced to CS and see all the amazing possibilities it can offer.”

Although senior Adelynn Ontiveros plans to go into mechanical engineering, she sees the benefits of her CS knowledge.

“Computer science can play a huge role – it’s limitless – into a lot of jobs that work into mechanical engineering so having that background really puts me in a better position of being well-rounded,” Ontiveros said.

The two software engineers spent the entire class walking around to each of the students, offering guidance and answering their questions.

“Their experience is so helpful,” said senior Lajward Zahra. “You can basically ask them any technical question and they’ll have an answer for you.”

Zahra, who plans to go into law after college, has enjoyed learning the concepts and admires the mentors for their commitment to volunteering and sharing their knowledge with the class.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind program,” she said. “What I’m learning is translatable to so many other things. It’s a great class.”

Okun emphasized to the class the role computer science in logical thinking and how it will benefit students even if they aren’t entering careers in computer science.

“CS provides a strong foundation for logical thinking,” Okun said. “Basic knowledge of computer science and coding gives you a leg up in a job. No matter what job you go into, you will be impacted by technology in some way.”

The students presented the two mentors with flowers to thank them for their on-going mentorship and for traveling to El Paso to work with them in person.

“They really do empower us,” Ontiveros said. “They have helped change the way we see computer science and the jobs that go along with it. In male-dominated fields like computer science, it gets hard to see how to get to what you want to do. But when you see these women succeed and get into higher leadership positions in computer science, it’s super empowering.”