Recently, Team IFE, including Founder & CEO Coach Kemper, IFE Fellow Kelsey Valentine and IFE Senior Advisor Kaivan Shroff headed out west to visit our free summer coding camp CS@SC. We are thrilled to update you on the success of this program, which is still just 4 years old. Most excitingly, this summer we have reached a huge milestone – educating our 2000th student in computer science! The energy and excitement around the camp was palpable and it was a treat to hear from both the students and their instructors.
First, some background. Our mission in founding CS@SC was manifold. At the time, Coach Kemper – an unabashed tech evangelist – saw that while “reading, writing and arithmetic” (the so-called three Rs) may have been foundational to any education decades ago, in the 21st century, kids need to learn a fourth “R” to compete – algorithms. While there were many targeted programs to young girls, or specific demographics, we realized all students needed access to coding lessons, especially those from low-income backgrounds. Additionally, for many of the young students in our program, this is their first chance to visit a college campus (or at least one as stunning as USC) and we have found they leave the program inspired by the educational opportunities that await them if they work and study hard.
Enter Professor Jeff Miller – a USC alumnus leading CS professor, and the heart of our summer camp. Miller has been running the program for all four years and to watch him work was edifying. To start the session, Professor Miller asks the students, K-9 aged campers, how many of them play an instrument. Roughly 85% of the room raises their hands. Next, Miller asks how many of the kids want to actually become professional musicians. Only a handful. He makes the point that just like music is a great skill to learn, understand, and enjoy, even if you don’t plan to be a composer – CS is an important foundational skill set and interest to nurture – even if it is not a career goal. Again, our camp is committed to exposing kids to something new – not forcing them into a specific area of study. “What I’m trying to do here is to expose you all to CS, not make you all professional programmers. Just like you play an instrument and don’t want to be a professional musician. Some of you will become excellent programmers, but our goal is show all of you that you can succeed at programming regardless of your ethnicity, whether boy/girl, or your background,” Miller says to students.
After introductory remarks and a highly anticipated daily “brain-teaser” from Prof. Miller, students break off into their groups, each with a different level and programming focus. The youngest students use a program called Scratch that introduces basic coding concepts, while older students choose from either Python or Java. It was a delight to see how excited the children were to run off and get to coding!
Our camps have a 50/50 gender split and students of all ethnic backgrounds and income levels. This is critical to our mission of demonstrating CS as accessible and open to everyone. Prof. Miller is intentional in making this point clear to those who may face social biases or obstacles by explicitly communicating to students that race, gender, and background should never be a deterrent and that everyone has equal capacity to learn coding.
Students learn to code, but also enjoy the USC campus – taking tours, visiting the bookstore, enjoying daily lunches in the campus plaza or cafeteria, and learning from Professor Miller’s college-aged TAs. Meeting with the parents as they came to pick up their students, you could see the pride they had that their child was learning such a critical skill and having fun while doing it! We could not run this camp without the energy and support of parents. CS@SC camp is changing hopes and opportunities for underserved kids and families.
We are proud to announce that in the coming school year we will be rolling out a year-round curriculum that allows our students to build on the gains they make each summer. We are so thankful to our supporters and donors who make this possible. If you can support our mission in any way we love and need the help!
To donate visit InstituteForEducation.org or Venmo @InstituteFor Edu
Contributed by Kaivan Shroff, IFE Senior Advisor