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We Connect The Dots hosts a Back To School Code-A-Thon every year and invites schools to become host-sites to introduce STEAM-related academic and career opportunities to students.

I interviewed Jennifer Hoff, one of our site’s lead representatives for our annual Code-A-Thon. We discussed the overall program, its impact on our students and communities, and our upcoming January 2020 Code-A-Thon.

Jennifer Hoff is the founder of Hoff Communications, an advertising and marketing firm with a business-to-business focus on the printing and publishing industries. She is also a schoolboard member for the William Penn schoolboard district in Darby, Pennsylvania. Jennifer signed up William Penn School District as a host-site for the Code-A-Thon and has been with us since we began the program 5 years ago. Below is Part One of a Two-part blog series featuring an interview with Jennifer.

Our full podcast with Jennifer is available HERE on YouTube.

What is a Code-A-Thon?

The Code-A-Thon is a two-and-a-half-day immersive experience that helps students to develop interest in STEAM-related careers that can sustain them in the future. Throughout the program, students gain hard skills such as coding, as well as soft skills, problem-solving and socializing.

Why was the Code-A-Thon established?

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I started this event because I saw a growing need for students to embrace STEAM-related careers. The future is technology that requires higher-level thinking skills for the next generation workforce. However, we’re not filling these jobs. Many students’ perceptions of what a developer or coder does are false. Students and industries believe these positions require someone to be brilliant in science and math, which is an incorrect representation of the opportunities out there for kids. I wanted to show students the enormous amount of opportunities that exist for them if they get rid of the fear of the computer science field.

What is the difference between a Code-A-Thon and a Hackathon?

In hackathons, students have already created an interest in coding and participate in this type of event to go further using this unique skillset. A Code-A-Thon is targeted for students who’ve had little to no experience with coding.

What brought Jennifer Hoff to bring the Code-A-Thon to the William Penn School District?

“The William Penn School District is probably one of the most spirited but less financially resourced district in the country,” Jennifer said. STEAM careers are increasing rapidly, and she felt that jobs in these fields would be perfect opportunities for the students in her district. “But unless we show them the way, they’re [the students] thinking that these jobs aren’t for them. That’s not correct.”

They’re not just coding…

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Jennifer teaches her students necessary soft skills such as collaborating with one another, communicating productively and positively, and thinking critically. Presentations skills are also essential skills. The quality of student presentations over the years has grown dramatically as they gain the experience each year to improve. “Many students lack confidence and this whole weekend is a huge confidence builder for them,” Jennifer said. “In four years, the increase in quality of presentations, compared to what they were five years ago, is off the charts! We’ve had a bunch of students do a rap presentation. That’s exactly what we want to promote: be your individual selves but show your aptitudes and be open to new skills.”

She also demonstrated how other skills that students may not think would be related to coding can be utilized. For instance, if someone has an artistic background, she showed how the industries would need someone like that in the tech field. “I want to immerse them in the program so they can get excited and want to take next steps.”

Learn how Code-A-Thon made an impact in William Penn School District in our next post!

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WCTD’s Goal:

We Connect The Dots’ mission for the Code-A-Thon is to offer resources and advice needed to grow the capacity for schools to execute more programs without us. We want to give that spark to host-sites to begin to get local businesses and other local organizations involved and show them the value of having such programs. We have empowered students in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York and we seek to expand this mission across the United States and other parts of the world.

REGISTER for the upcoming We-Connect-the-Dots’ Back To School Code-A-Thon in January 2020 and be a part of this immersive program!

We Connect The Dots excites, informs and educates students about Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) careers with a strong focus on computer science. Through a collaboration with the community, education, government, and the technology industry, WCTD provides awareness and education of the 21st Century workforce skills and STEAM careers. 

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AuthorLaurie Carey