In Action: Computer Science Education

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High School Students Build Real World Computer Science Skills

It was May 5th.

Iowa State University Freshman Lewis Callaway remembers it well. That was the day he was introduced to Kingland and confirmed computer science was what he wanted to pursue in school and as an entrepreneur.

As a sophomore at Clear Lake High School, Callaway and classmate David Guetzlaff were part of a small group of students invited to attend an job shadowing day at software company Kingland, headquartered in Clear Lake, Iowa. It was a half-day opportunity that opened their eyes to what was possible after high school.

Clear Lake Superintendent Doug Gee had partnered with Kingland to give students a real-world view of life behind the keyboard. It started as Gee overheard a Kingland employee discussing the challenges of finding qualified candidates to work at the company.

By 2020, an estimated 1 million computer programming-related jobs in the U.S. are expected to be unfilled, according to an article in TechRepublic. Couple this with 58 percent of all STEM courses being in computing, but only eight percent of STEM graduates have a degree in computer science and it's clear there's a strong need for candidates versed in computer science. To counteract this, some high school students have taken it upon themselves to learn how to code by joining Hack Club. This is a global network of programming clubs where high school students learn to code through projects, working on websites, applications, games and more.

When Gee started as superintendent, the Clear Lake school district worked with the local community college to offer computer science courses to students. He quickly launched STEM and PLTW curriculum and received support from local businesses for computer science, but he wanted students to see what was possible outside of the classroom.

"Doug wanted to create exposure into different types of careers," says Kingland President Tony Brownlee. "Opening our doors to high school students shows you can make a living technically in a software or related IT field right here in Iowa. It's eye opening, fun and rewarding."

The introduction from Gee and job shadow experience led to even more experience for Lewis and Guetzlaff. The students worked three summers and throughout the school year, coding for the Kingland website and working on one of the company's key software platforms. Guetzlaff says one of the biggest things he learned was how to code in a business environment. He says it's about responsibility. "It's the idea of someone coming up to me and saying this is what they want in a product and then I have to take that information, interpret it and make it into reality."

Lewis says he gained the courage to seek out job opportunities while working at Kingland. He approached Gee and was approved to install a brand new, 200-lb projector at the high school. Lewis has also created his own company, providing IT services to small businesses.

Building soft skills is important in life as Brownlee points out. "It's really important to learn how to interact and communicate with your peers. It's one thing to find someone who is smart, but this is a real environment where these high school students had to work elbow to elbow with adults solving real problems."

Gee wants to build on the successes of high school students working in computer science as well as offering opportunities in the classroom. Clear Lake is one of ten Iowa schools that offers computer science from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and is the only school to offer PLTW Launch in preschool.

"We wouldn't be able to offer computer science experiences without businesses like Kingland and others in our community," he says. "It's unique for a city like Clear Lake to have a company like Kingland and we want to get our students involved so they can see what they can really do in this arena."

Gee shares advice for other communities who want to replicate Clear Lake's success. He says get out and build relationships with businesses, learn what they do and start conversations about how they can support the students in your community.

As for high school students unsure about coding, Guetzlaff suggests, "if it's something you have an interest in, seek it out. I was nervous when Kingland approached me, but working there confirmed that computer science was something that I wanted to do."

For both Callaway and Guetzlaff, that May 5th introduction to Kingland led to opportunities, growth and experience that they're already using to their advantage.

Kingland Interns

Wren Hoffman
Program Consultant, Computer Science
Iowa Department of Education
Grimes State Office Building