NCWIT Takes on the White House for CSEdWeek 2015
AiC Community Member Caeley Looney is a sophomore currently pursuing a degree in Aerospace Engineering and Computer Science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. She has been a member of NCWIT's Aspirations in Computing Community since her senior year in high school, and has been involved with a number of other organizations trying to bridge the gender gap in STEM since she started college, including SHE++ and ProjectCSGirls. Computing is something she is truly passionate about, and she is thankful for all of the positive influences in her life that keep her on track to pursue her passion.
The White House CS Tech Jam was a once-in-a-lifetime event that brought students, officials, professionals, and teachers together to solve the underrepresentation problem that we are currently facing in Computer Science (CS) education. First, we heard from U.S. CTO Megan Smith who spoke to us about how there are many schools across the nation that want to bring CS into their curriculum, but they don't have the time or the budget. Additionally, students all across the United States have a passion for STEM, but they aren't being given the opportunity to explore it in school. To further the problem, students are losing interest in engineering by the time courses are being offered because there are no opportunities for students at a younger age. So, with these problems on the table, it was each attendee's job to brainstorm and develop solutions. We were split into teams of four or five people and were given six hours to collaborate. My team decided that we have plenty of resources for teachers and administrators out there for them to utilize, but the problem is that we need to bring awareness to them so that teachers know that they are out there. So, my team outlined a potential competition where students can go online and participate in and complete small coding challenges; and the more progress they make, the more points they would earn for their school. This would certainly bring awareness to the cause within school districts; it would spark interest, and promote diversity.
What motivated me most about being a part of this event was the passion in the room. Everyone was under the same roof, in the same room, around the same tables, all with the same desire to solve this problem in CS education. Everyone there had ideas and potential programs and solutions for the problem, and they were all so collaborative with each other regarding solving the issue at hand. Each of the participants in the White House CS Tech Jam wanted to find a solution and they weren't willing to stop until they found one. Their passion was truly inspiring, and it touched everyone in that room, not just me.
The most inspiring moment of my participation in the event was U.S. CTO Megan Smith's opening and closing remarks. There was a point when she said, "Talking about making STEM education less boring is boring." And honestly, it is true. We want to spark the conversation and we want to get people on board, but just talking about it won't get the movement anywhere. What was inspiring about what she said was that she made everyone in that room feel like their motivation and passion for this cause mattered, and it is because it truly does. Everyone's voice in the cause and everyone's ideas for potential solutions matter. This is a problem that needs to be solved; this is apparent. The fact that there are so many people getting motivated and inspired by each other to fight for the cause is inspiring in itself.
One lesson I learned during my involvement at this event was that every single voice matters. I might just be one college student fighting for a cause, but when I team up with dozens of other people, all of our voices amplify. The way to solve this problem, like many others, is to raise awareness, and we can't do that without my voice along with everyone else's.
In five years, Caeley hopes to work as a Systems Engineer for an aerospace company where she can combine her passions for aerospace engineering and computing. Caeley is also a TECHNOLOchica, a 2014 NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing National Runner-up, and a 2014 New York Affiliate Award Winner.