Local students embrace diversity, opportunity at Atlanta computing conference

Pike High School: Eleven students sluggishly drag their bags to the charter bus barely saying a word as five chaperones greet them with a cheery “Good morning.”

Providence Cristo Rey High School: Nine students wait in the lobby as the bus pulls up.  A prayer for safe travels is said and the students scurry onto the bus looking for a comfortable spot for the eight hour ride ahead of them.

Arsenal Technical High School:  Two students hurry to get on the bus but before it pulls off one of them runs back into the building to get a book that he plans to read on the journey.

Finally, all 22 students and five adults are onboard, but before they settle in, two chaperones decide to break the ice by singing. Hand movements and all, they begin to sing the nursery rhyme, “The Wheels on the Bus”. The adults thought the teenagers would scoff at the idea of singing a nursery rhyme, but to their surprise, several of the high school students joined right in. This is a glimpse of how the iDEW students (Informatics Diversity-Enhanced Workforce initiative from IUPUI) openly embraced the opportunity to attend the ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia.

The goal of the Tapia Conference is to bring together undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, researchers, and professionals in computing from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Conference attendees celebrate the diversity that exists in computing as well as connect with others from similar backgrounds, ethnicities, disabilities, and gender. Attendees are also inspired by great presentations and conversations with leaders from backgrounds similar to their own.

The iDEW students were the youngest in attendance at the conference. Being the only high school-aged students, they didn’t go unnoticed.  Other attendees complimented the iDEW students for being tech savvy and for showing abilities on par with those of older students. The students were also able to see themselves represented in the underserved students, faculty and industry professionals attending the conference. The conference exposed the students to the many unique ways in which computing and technology shape the way we live, work, play, and communicate.

The iDEW students showed tenacity and the desire to expand their IT intellect as they sat through plenary and breakout sessions that were sometimes more advanced that what they have previously experienced. The students drew from those instances and shared their thoughts during the groups recap sessions. The goal of the iDEW program is to create a direct pipeline of students pursuing post-secondary IT education or IT employment after high school graduation. Allowing students to attend conferences like Tapia widens and deepens the students’ IT experiences, which is key to the iDEW program’s success and goal to serve as a model for future programs of its kind.

While the onset of this educational and cultural journey began with students jokingly embracing the nursery rhyme, “The Wheels on The Bus,” it ended with them displaying the determination of “The Little Engine that Could.”

iDEW students kept journals throughout their time at the conference.  The following are excerpts from journals and interview quotes from a few students:

Karen Moreno – Pike High School Class of 2019

“Going to Atlanta for the Tapia Conference was amazing for me.  For one, I never travel anywhere, so being able to go to this conference, explore the city and visit CNN and the Martin Luther King Jr., National Historic Site was nice.  The conference itself was really thought provoking for me.  I learned that there are so many different careers in computer science and computing.

This experience has also changed the way that I think about what diversity really means.  It doesn’t just mean ethnic diversity. It means people of all races, sexualities, genders and being inclusive of people with disabilities.  This was eye opening for me because I had only viewed diversity in an ethnic sense. I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed this trip and how much I learned from it. I am genuinely glad and grateful for the iDEW program and the opportunities it has offered me. This has literally been a life-changing experience for me.”

Charles Collins – Providence Cristo Rey High School Class of 2020

“I really enjoyed going to the Tapia Conference, it opened my eyes to things I didn’t know about STEM and it strengthened my desire to learn more about computing. During the conference, we had the chance to choose what sessions we wanted to attend. I thought the resume building and Hispanics in Computing sessions were interesting. I also liked the career fair and being able to speak with companies like Facebook and Google but my favorite day was the day spent working in groups and designing a game to prevent bullying. I really enjoyed having the hand-on experience and presenting our project. I am glad to be a part of the iDEW program because I am learning so much about computing and it is giving me experiences I may not have otherwise gotten. This experience has been like none that I have ever had! Being able to experience the Tapia Conference has made me even more determined to get a degree in the STEM field.”

Joseph Lampkins – Arsenal Technical High School Class of 2019

“I wasn’t real sure of what to expect from the Tapia Conference but am glad that I was given the chance to go. I feel like I learned a lot from this experience. The poster session was cool and reminded me of the poster session that we do in our iDEW class except during the conference all of the posters were done by college students. I also enjoyed getting the chance to meet iDEW students from other schools and actually getting a chance to work with them during the game building workshop.  It seems like my iDEW class is preparing me for what is expected in college.

I am glad I was given the opportunity to attend the conference because now I know what to expect in college in regards to preparing for a job in computing and I have an idea of what to expect in the workplace. If the iDEW program offers the opportunity next year, I would like to attend and I would encourage my classmates to come too.”

For more information about iDEW, visit http://soic.iupui.edu/idew/.

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IUPUI

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tina Rice is the Informatics Diversity-Enhanced Workforce (iDEW) Outreach Coordinator/Program Assistant at IUPUI.