WASHINGTON – Devin Mozee, 16, never thought much of computer science when he was coding games in middle school. But when he enrolled at McKinley Technology High School, he realized just how much power the field can give him.
“It never really hit me until I got to my ninth grade year, and I realized computer science can go into different things,” said Devin, an 11th grader who wants to someday be a video game designer for Bethesda Software.
Inspiring students like Devin to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related fields was a main goal for McKinley Tech, as it celebrated Computer Science Education Week, which started Monday.
The school began the week by encouraging students and faculty to do at least one hour of coding. They also hosted John B. King, a senior adviser at the department of education whom President Barack Obama has nominated to replace outgoing Secretary Arne Duncan. King spoke to a group of students in Melanie Wiscount’s information technology class.
“It’s really encouraging to be in a class full of diverse students who are excited about careers in technology and computer science,” said King, who wants to increase enrollment in STEM majors and increase graduation rates.
According to 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Education, about 28 percent of bachelor’s degree students and 20 percent of associate’s degree students entered a STEM field. However, more than half of freshmen who declared STEM majors at the start of college left these fields before graduation.
“Unfortunately, we see as a country that we’re doing a better job at access to college, but still struggling on completion,” King said. “We have to make sure that when they get there, the colleges give them the support and the counseling that students will need to thrive.”
College Scorecard, a government-funded website, calculates the average annual cost of college and provides specifics such as graduation rates and an average salaries of graduates.
Pell Abacus asks students simple questions, such as whether they qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Based on their answers, they are given an estimate of how much financial aid they might get.
“They may be able to go to an elite institution that has a very high sticker price if they take advantage of financial aid,” King said.
Lisa Gelobter, Education Department chief digital service officer, helped build College Scorecard and believes the future is bright for those interested in computer science.
“Software is literally powering everything that is happening in the world right now,” Gelobter said. “It’s just another tool like water or electricity. It’s what makes everything go.”
For McKinley Tech’s Principal Mary Louise Jones, bringing educational leaders like King and Gelobter to her school was crucial.
“I wanted them to know that you could be a person of color or a female and go into these careers,” said Jones, who remembers wanting to learn woodworking but was told she could not apply for the class because she was a girl.
McKinley Tech is a Title I school, meaning it gets government funding to ensure that all children have a fair, equal and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.
“Society has really done a number on folks. We have an inherent bias in that we steer kids away from certain subjects and certain careers,” Jones said.
According to a report by the National Academies Press, African-Americans, native Americans and Hispanics make up 8.2 percent of 24-year-old STEM graduates. Those groups make up 36 percent of the population.
Damon Mance, 15, one of the students in the class, said he enjoyed the presentation.
“These tools give me the opportunity to see how much I would pay for college, and how my success will depend on the amount of people graduating,” said Damon, who is in the 10th grade and hopes to someday be either a computer programmer or a software engineer.
“I want to learn more in-depth of how the software works inside the computer and video games, so that I can be that person to discover something new,” he said.
Reach reporter Matias J. Ocner at [email protected] or 202-408-1492. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
Download photos: McKinley-STEM.zip