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Two people wearing masks sit across from one another at a table in a meeting room, looking at open laptops. There are two other laptops and a notepad on the table.

Seeing yourself in STEM

How Code2College is helping to close the diversity gap in STEM through education, exposure, and experience

“As a woman in STEM, it’s important that we lift each other up and encourage others to pursue a career in tech. My mentors played a major role in my confidence to pursue software engineering, and I hope to inspire other females to get involved in STEM as well.”

Adriana Reyes, Code2College student

For most kids, a casual summer job might involve working the checkout at a local supermarket. Or perhaps a stint as a camp counselor. It’s not often you’d hear a teenager say, “I’ve got a software engineering internship at a global tech company.”

Yet this is exactly what some of the teens at Code2College can say.

“We’ve got 14-year-olds developing professional resumes. 15-year-olds working alongside full-time engineers. 16-year-olds who are attending engineering team stand-ups and presenting in front of CTOs and VPs of engineering in global tech companies,” says Matt Stephenson, CEO and co-founder of Code2College.

“We do something that no other organization does, which is placing high school students into paid software engineering internships. Every time I say that, I still have to pinch myself.”

Solving the problem of STEM attrition

Code2College’s overarching mission is to dramatically increase the number of minority and low-income high school students who enter and excel in STEM careers.

They’ve found that while white and marginalized students elect STEM majors at roughly the same rate, there’s a huge difference in STEM drop-out rates—with 50 percent of women and low income students, two thirds of Latina/Latino, and almost three quarters of Black undergraduate students switching to a liberal arts degree or dropping out of college completely.

“There are a whole battery of reasons why this happens, from psychosocial challenges through to imposter syndrome. Unfortunately, there are so many critical points—from elementary school leading up to college and into actual careers—when students exit STEM fields if they don’t see themselves represented,” Matt says.

Beyond representation, other issues abound

Equity in computer science education and STEM careers is also thwarted by ongoing issues around access. Many schools lack basic hardware and connectivity, making it difficult to participate in web-based curricula. In some schools, there’s a human deficit.

As Matt explains, “It’s not just about having the hardware. It’s not just about having high speed internet. It’s also about having the right teachers to support students. Teachers are the biggest levers of impact in education.”

For example, if teachers don’t have the skills or capacity to teach the types of courses required for entry into STEM majors in college, then students will be precluded from participating in them. “You can’t decide on the first day of college that you want to study electrical engineering, or computer science, or many of these other STEM majors. That is a decision that you have to make many years before, with the support of your teachers.”

Then there are other barriers getting in the way. Some students have to take care of siblings. Some have children of their own. Some are holding down other jobs. “There’s just so much at stake for economically disadvantaged individuals, which can preclude them from participation.”

Changing students’ lives, one workshop at a time

Two people wearing masks sit across from one another at a table in a meeting room, looking at open laptops. There are two other laptops and a notepad on the table.

Breaking down barriers to achieve his dreams

To help students from underrepresented backgrounds see themselves in STEM—and to give more students easy access to the tools, resources, and pathways needed to forge a successful career—Code2College runs workshops, coding sessions, and internships with companies like Google. These programs give students the opportunity to learn from and work alongside others just like them.

In the first six years of Code2College, the team has helped almost 3,000 students and placed 300 into summer internships. Now, Matt and his team have their sights on bigger things—with a goal of placing 3,000 students into internships within the next four years.

“This is only possible through the collaborative effort of corporate partners like Google and many other tech companies, who provide volunteerism, in-kind donations, generous financial support, and connections to companies who will host our high school interns,” says Matt.

Experiencing STEM alongside Googlers like them

Google first partnered with Code2College in 2017, hosting the organization’s first-ever Interview Workshop. Since then, Googlers have given thousands of volunteer hours to Code2College, helping out with after-school coding classes, STEM case competitions, professional skills workshops, and so much more.

“We just published our latest Diversity in STEM report, and we were proud to announce that Google secured the number one spot on our leaderboard by posting 537 volunteer hours over the last year. This is the most hours that any company has posted with Code2College in a single year, ever,” says Matt.

The volunteering is led by people like Derrell Monroe, an Engagement Manager on the Google Public Sector team, who is also the Google Austin ambassador for Code2College. Derrell wanted to become a “computer genius” when he grew up, and is now helping kids realize similar goals.

“I’ve worked with students of all ages. One of the things I notice most is that few are looking for careers in STEM, whether due to lack of access to curriculum or no role models in those types of careers,” says Derrell. “My motto? ‘What they see is what they’ll be’. By working with Code2College, I can show these students the art of the possible and hopefully inspire them to all become computer geniuses.”

Then there’s Nuha Elkhiamy, Director of Program Management and Google Austin Engineering Site Lead. As a Muslim woman, Nuha recalls being one of only four women—and the only one in hijab—in her freshman Introduction to Computer Programming class at Indiana University, where she was studying business and computer information systems. The experience shaped her passion for helping all people feel like they could belong in tech.

“Shortly after joining Google in Austin, I connected with the local site leadership team to inquire about our community outreach efforts. I was introduced to Matt at Code2College and, together, we co-created the first ever STEM competition workshop. It was a huge success for our volunteers and Code2College students,” said Nuha.

Other Google volunteers, many from the Black and Latina/Latino employee resource groups, regularly turn up to support the students participating in Code2College programs. “Having the opportunity to learn from Googlers—especially Googlers who look like the students we serve—is fantastic, especially given the strength of the Google brand,” says Matt.

“We've got Googlers from all over the country, from Austin to Atlanta, Detroit, and pretty soon New York, Chicago, and Boulder, volunteering in a variety of roles. It’s pretty exciting to watch this partnership scale.”

Feeling inspired?

You can help close the equity gap in computer science education, too, by advocating for coding in the classroom in your local community. [Learn More]

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