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Microsoft NYC Women’s Leadership Conference 2019

As I began my early morning trek to the Great Neck train station on a cold morning, I had yet the slightest clue of what the coming seven hours would have in store for me. While I had been accepted to the community ambassador program and spoken to Laurie on the phone prior to this morning, this would be my first time meeting her and some of the other members of her team in person. The prospect of today excited me, but I also felt a sense of nervousness surrounding my first day as a community ambassador. I believed that the Microsoft NYC Women’s Leadership Conference would represent a fantastic opportunity to surround with a number of accomplished, brave, and gifted women. I feared that these women might have little time for a high school sophomore like myself. Fortunately, my first proved itself to be undoubtedly accurate, while the latter did not.

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From the moment I walked through the glass doors on 46th Street, off of 6th Avenue, I was simultaneously blown away by the hundreds of brilliant women and I was heart warmed by how welcomed each woman that I came across made sure I felt. Just a 16-year-old high school student in a room full of professionals, I was made to feel as if I truly belonged. I listened with awe to a galvanizing speech by Sophia Nelson about female empowerment that tracked from her book, The Woman Code, and an uplifting address by World Champion Julie Chu detailing her experiences as a four-time member of the United States Olympic women’s ice hockey team. I felt incredibly moved and motivated. As Julie Chu stated in her powerful talk, it should not be considered strange or unusual to see a woman working or succeeding anywhere, whether it’s in the tech industry or the hockey rink. She emphasized the importance of asking questions and working hard, regardless of how confused or nervous you may feel as you walk into an unfamiliar or overwhelming environment. Julie Chu’s message, in particular, hit home for me, as I strove to balance the jitters that came from entering this unfamiliar environment with the opportunity for experience and knowledge that came along with it. Not only was I able to experience these uplifting speeches, but I was also given the opportunity to introduce myself to impressive women and even get my own professional headshots taken. As I waited in line for my headshot, I began talking to the woman in front of me. In fact, from long conversations both before and after our photos were taken, I learned that this woman is straight out of college and currently holds the position as the marketing manager of the Microsoft Azure product. As I left to say goodbye, we exchanged numbers and she notified me that I should contact her at anytime for any advice or help on my journey. At that moment, I felt what the future had in store for me, and it felt good.

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In its fourth year the annual Back-To-School Code-A-Thon supports students in exploring the world of entrepreneurship and software development. Taking place across the US in three states, NY, PA, and OH, each year we set out to bring an exciting program to communities that would not normally be exposed to this type of immersive learning experience in their regular school district programs. Our goals; to increase interest in the fastest growing career opportunities, increase diversity in computer science participation, and support communities in building the workforce skills necessary to grow and build innovative solutions that solve global problems.

Westbury, NY 2019 Code-A-Thon Participants

Westbury, NY 2019 Code-A-Thon Participants

Darby, PA 2019 Code-A-Thon Participants

Darby, PA 2019 Code-A-Thon Participants

Fremont, OH 2019 Code-A-Thon Participants

Fremont, OH 2019 Code-A-Thon Participants

Each year a team of volunteers sets out to plan and execute on their local 48 hour program. All orchestrated to take place simultaneously across the sites involved. For the past four years that planning has taken place beginning in late August- September until the final date of the program, taking place the last weekend in January. The site lead in Darby, PA, Jennifer Hoff who is not only a School Board member for the district in Darby, PA, but runs her own business Hoff Communications, Inc. . Jennifer is key to the program's success each year. Her passion to support her community is evident in her dedication to ensure students within the district and surrounding communities get the chance to experience what a career in coding feels like.

Jennifer Hoff - Site Lead Darby

Jennifer Hoff - Site Lead Darby

Jennifer helping a student with her mind map

Jennifer helping a student with her mind map

This program has grown organically each year with more students participating and more communities seeking interest in bringing this program to their students. In the first two years of the program we were lucky to have the opportunity to partner with a team in Australia led by Kathy Bunce, a Harvard Alumna and very close friend of mine. Unfortunately in 2017, Kathy lost a battle to a rare form of cancer and the team is recovering from her loss. We hope to someday bring the Perth, Australia Code-A-Thon site back in honor of all the hard work Kathy accomplished in bringing this program to much needed communities of Western Australia.

 
2017 Code-A-Thon - Perth Australia Site - Site Lead Kathy Bunce (Bottom row far right)

2017 Code-A-Thon - Perth Australia Site - Site Lead Kathy Bunce (Bottom row far right)

2017 Code-A-Thon - Perth Australia Site - Site Lead Kathy Bunce (Center)

2017 Code-A-Thon - Perth Australia Site - Site Lead Kathy Bunce (Center)

In 2017 we were contacted by two engineers from the community of Sandusky County, OH. These two young engineers saw the need to engage their community in an immersive learning experience designed to teach coding skills. Like Jennifer Hoff,  Elizabeth Royster, and Doug Steinberger wanted more for the students in their community, their passion to support their community is demonstrated in their hard work over the past two years engaging students from areas across OH, where in some cases students traveling over an hour to be a part of the program. Both Doug and Elizabeth work full time in engineering careers, and see the career opportunities going unfilled due to the lack of training and skills development surrounding these new growing careers that require strong communications skills, computational thinking, and problem solving skills. 

2019 Code-A-Thon Fremont, OH - Site Leads - Elizabeth Royster and and Doug Steinberger, along with the first place winning team.

2019 Code-A-Thon Fremont, OH - Site Leads - Elizabeth Royster and and Doug Steinberger, along with the first place winning team.

Having passionate leaders willing to commit their own personal time to engage their entire community in an immersive learning program is just part of what it takes to bring this program to life. In order to ensure the program's success, they need to feed the students and build the volunteer participation to execute the program. With the primary site hosted in Westbury, NY at the WCTD facility our team supports the planning, fundraising, and instructors for the overall program delivery.

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Thank you to the Westside Cafe for the generous donation of Lunch and Dinner on Saturday for our Westbury site location.

Thank you to The Harvest Diner in Westbury for the generous donation of breakfast both Saturday and Sunday morning.

Thank you to The Harvest Diner in Westbury for the generous donation of breakfast both Saturday and Sunday morning.

Students like Vincent Occhiogrosso from SUNY Farmingdale were flown to Fremont, OH to teach students foundations in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Raffi Sanna a senior at Cold Spring Harbor High School dedicated his free time to support the design of the curriculum and taught the students at the Westbury, NY location. These students would not have been successful without the help from industry partners like Microsoft, and Adobe. 

Raffi Sanna - Westbury Site - Instructor for first year participants

Raffi Sanna - Westbury Site - Instructor for first year participants

Vincent Occhiogrosso - Fremont Site - Instructor for first and second year participants

Vincent Occhiogrosso - Fremont Site - Instructor for first and second year participants

A huge shout out and thank you to John Wargo, who commits his time with us each year in supporting us to design curriculum, teaching our student instructors, and this year participated in teaching students at the Darby, PA location advanced JavaScript and React. 

John Wargo - Darby Site - Instructor for third year participants, advanced web development

John Wargo - Darby Site - Instructor for third year participants, advanced web development

John's passion for supporting students to learn to code provided us with a connection to Kerri Shotts, Kerri is a ROCKSTAR! For the past two years Kerri has supported our Westbury, NY Code-A-Thon location teaching Advanced Web Development. John, Kerri, Vincent, and Raffi are supported by local industry developers who come out to each site location to engage as mentors.  These mentors are there as support to teach the students how they problem solve, and take the opportunity to share with the students how they built their careers and how they gained support from their network of peers.

Kerri Shotts - Westbury Site - Instructor for second and third year participants, advanced JavaScript and advanced web development

Kerri Shotts - Westbury Site - Instructor for second and third year participants, advanced JavaScript and advanced web development

As a team we could not execute on this program without the volunteers who help drive things in the background.  A big thank you to Allison Bloom for leading our Volunteer Recruitment for the past four years. To our social media and marketing team, Tuqa Youssef, and Maureen Sanchez. To Anam Javaid for her incredible talent for designing this year's Tshirts, and to the team at Spectrum Designs for their partnership over the past two years to support a low cost tshirt for each of our students, volunteers, and mentors.

TShirts designed by Anam Javaid

TShirts designed by Anam Javaid

Thank you to all our mentors who dedicated their weekend to share their knowledge and experience with the next generation of developers.

Thank you to all our mentors who dedicated their weekend to share their knowledge and experience with the next generation of developers.

There are so many community members that are responsible for this program's success some at the local level like Chris Gomez at Darby supporting teaching and mentoring students, to Cathy Monacella who is my right hand in ensuring we are ready to go in Westbury, to Mitra Ramdas a teacher and parent from Roosevelt School District, who spent the entire weekend with us supporting our team and the students participating. Thank you to Nicholas Leask for supporting the program as a mentor for students, and for supporting me throughout the weekend.  To Melissa Wylie for her support in running the consulting business while I volunteer my time to support WCTD.

Nicholas Leask - LCC - STEAM Coach

Nicholas Leask - LCC - STEAM Coach

But wait there is more… A huge thank you to Maestro for his support over the past three years, arriving every morning full of energy to get the students up and motivated for the day through exercises. To all the financial supporters who believe in the work we are doing to support the transformation of education and ensuring that every student has the opportunity to learn and succeed in a career in STEAM in their future.  To the volunteer judges who came out on Sunday to support us in providing students feedback and evaluating the projects. Thank you to all of our volunteers and sponsors who made this program possible.

Westbury Site Judges, from left to right, Kerri Shotts, Thomas Carey, Michael Carey, Tyler Schum

Westbury Site Judges, from left to right, Kerri Shotts, Thomas Carey, Michael Carey, Tyler Schum

Fremont Site Judges

Fremont Site Judges

And finally… To my family, and all the families of our volunteers, who have supported us for the past 6 years in building this organization, thank you for putting up with missed dinners, missed events, and for allowing us to make education a top priority.

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And yes, but what about the winning teams?  The reason we are all here, and why we commit our time and resources, it is all demonstrated in the outcomes that are produced by the students. Students who commit their entire weekend to learn to work together, to solve global problems, and yes learn to code.  A big shout out to this year's winning teams! Check out their incredible work!

Westbury Student Projects:

First Place - Team #1, Capsule Net: https://we-connect-the-dots.github.io/Codathon_2019_Team_1_Westbury/

Second Place - Team #10, Anzen: https://erin122800.github.io/Anzen/Anzen%20Homepage%20HTML.html

Third Place - Team #6, Deadly Deceases in Africa: https://we-connect-the-dots.github.io/Codathon_2019_Team_6_Westbury/

Team #2, Nairobi: https://we-connect-the-dots.github.io/Codathon_2019_Team_2_Westbury/

Team #4, Project Environment: https://we-connect-the-dots.github.io/Codathon_2019_Team_4_Westbury/

Team #7, Anit-Hunger Organization: https://we-connect-the-dots.github.io/Codathon_2019_Team_7_Westbury/

Team #8, Education for All: https://we-connect-the-dots.github.io/Codathon_2019_Team_8_Westbury/

Darby Student Projects:

First Place - Team #5, Nutri-Go: https://nutrigo.github.io/index.html# 

Second Place - Team #6, Operators: https://learningequality28.github.io

Third Place - Team #4, Man vs. Nature: https://man-v-s-nature.github.io/

Team #1, We Stand: https://from-here-we-stand.github.io/

Team #2, EPE: https://excellenceprideempowerment.github.io/

Team #3, Dangers of Drugs: https://dangersofdrugs.github.io/

Fremont Student Projects: (Check back for links)

First Place - Team #5, Human impact on animals:

Second Place - Team #3, Cause and effects of healthy and unhealthy diets:

Third Place - Team #2, Helping others know you care:

Team #1 -Humans impacted the Earth:

Team #4. Music therapy:

Team #6, Keeping it clean keep it green:

How can you help us?

Learn how you can support our organizations initiatives here: https://www.we-connect-the-dots.org/donate/

Looking to bring this program to your community? Deadline for new site locations is May 1st, 2019

For more information - review our Host information packet

What’s coming next…

Watch for our program research summary article being published later this month.  This will incorporate the impact metrics from this year’s program, our pre and post assessment taken by participants across all the locations. This research helps our organization create continuous improved and measures our learning outcomes for participants.

 

Posted
AuthorLaurie Carey

Help support our upcoming Code-A-Thon 2019

To learn more about this years program and the metrics we have gathered for this years participants, check out our blog post here: WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? We hope that by sharing these metrics in advance of the program that you might consider how you can support us in driving systemic change to address the digital divide. Our program is just weeks away and we need your help in the following areas prioritized in order of most important.

FOOD:

We need funds or in-kind donations of food. Each site has 50 students and we need funds or in-kind donations for 6 meals and snacks over the weekend. Coding requires energy and our brain uses over 20% of our energy source so having healthy food for the students ensures greater value in the outcomes for each participant. (To learn more about the energy required to think)

Lanyards & Badges:

Having a badge with your name on it so you can be distinguished among your peers is important. It helps us identify the teams students are assigned to and helps our mentors and our instructors with making a greater connection to participants. For security reasons it is also important for us to manage participants throughout the overall program. We are working to incorporate knowledge mastery badges that will attach to the lanyards students can earn to show knowledge mastered, funding permitted.

T-Shirts:

When you have a large group of students in a room it is helpful to distinguish between the volunteers and the students. We utilize colored T-shirts to differentiate visually, and it is our way of thanking the volunteers and mentors for their contribution. We hope to continue this model and incorporate additional colors based on alumni status for participants.

Prizes:

We do not believe in participation awards, but we do believe in motivation approaches that drive excitement for success and team work. Each year we have been lucky to provide students with amazing prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place teams at each site location. Some years the prizes have been more valuable than others, but overall it is about recognition and demonstrating to the students that hard work does pay off in amazing ways, and that when a team works hard together they can produce something you can be extremely proud of. We have made this our lowest priority for obvious reasons, but hope that we might have in-kind donations of technology equipment or gift cards that students can utilize .

To become a SPONSOR

To make a general donation: DONATE

Posted
AuthorLaurie Carey