Giving Back: ArcherPoint Supports Sisters-n-Technology in Making a Brighter Future Possible Through Computer Science Education in Our Schools
Earlier this year, ArcherPoint announced a partnership with Mouse.org, a nonprofit dedicated to providing Computer Science (CS) and STEM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics – interdisciplinary education) and support to educators and students in under-served communities.
Through the Mouse network, we were introduced to Thomas Waltower, founder of Sisters-N-Technology, which helps enable solid futures for young women in Computer Science and Technology. Thomas is an extraordinary educator and coach with a passion for creating STEM and Computer Science opportunities for his students that began with little to nothing but what he could pull out of his own pockets for resources.
Walking the halls of his school in North Minneapolis, Thomas was struck with disappointment and spurred into action as he noted the availability of nursery care for young mothers, but little else going for the betterment of teenage girls in his high school. He recognized the emphasis on sports and was dismayed at how little was being offered in areas of STEM and Computer Sciences. So, Thomas set out to change that and started looking at how other programs were operating. He eventually found the Mouse.org curriculum, called Mouse Create.
Today, Thomas has 11 high school seniors he's helping to make it to graduation. “We are working on Senior Portfolios right now,” says Thomas, “…I’ve got to help get them into college. They’ve worked hard.”
A few years ago, it didn’t look like they were going to make it. You name it; they had it stacked against them. He’s had kids experiencing homelessness, hunger, social and societal pressures, and too many adult issues that kids should not have to deal with while trying to get an education. “It’s hard to concentrate on a computer when you’re hungry. Sometimes, I try to bring in pizza and sometimes we try to have a little fun, like going to Skyzone,” said Thomas.
Now, through writing letters, word of mouth, the kindness of friends, and the community connections he's made, Thomas has been able to extend the STEM and CS classroom to 8 schools and groups in the Minneapolis area, impacting approximately 150 students throughout the year. He’s still pulling resources out of his own pockets, by the way, but other companies, like ArcherPoint (thanks to Mouse.org) Intel, and Target are taking notice. This school year, ArcherPoint is happy to sponsor the Mouse.org curriculum for all his sites.
So, why does Computer Science education hold hope for freeing generations from cyclical poverty? Code.org promotes that “computing jobs are the number one source of new wages in the US” and “… they’re projected to grow at twice the rate of all other jobs.” Also, a college degree is not a requirement to be certified or to land a lucrative job; however, “a computer science major can earn 40% more than the college average.” (Source: Code.org)
“There are thousands more jobs in IT than there are people,” says Thomas, “and CS is always changing. Everything we do in life is going to have to do with technology, and the only way to ever grow is through technology. Women need this experience [involvement in technology]. For instance, a single mom is going to be able to work from home and provide for her family because of technology. Not only that, a minority young woman brings a different view.”
“For example, I had a student present a concept to Salesforce …” you can hear the pride in Thomas’ voice. And proud he should be: One of Thomas’ alumni is working for the Federal Reserve Bank, student Claire Jensen received State Honorable Mention in the 2018 Minnesota Aspirations for Women in Computing Awards, and student Sahana Mangipudi was recently selected by Target Women in Science as one of the 2019 “25 Epic Award” winners (top STEM student leaders in the Minneapolis metro area).
Not only girls are involved in Thomas’ classes; there is a growing group of boys, especially in the middle school grades where Thomas says there’s a gap in STEM education. He’s working hard to keep all students engaged and interested in these courses through gaming programming, tech competitions, and summer coding camps, where the high school students will be teaching the middle schoolers. One new middle school, E-STEM Middle School, has devoted itself entirely to STEM education and has invited Thomas to start Sisters-N-Technology in one of its' after-school programs. Last spring and summer, a group of 10 students and parents took a trip to Silicon Valley and toured Facebook, Slack, YouTube, Google, and Salesforce, with invitations to return next year.
Thomas concludes, “My goal now is to see these kids three, four years from now start their own CS program for someone else – it’s all about giving back, you know.” We couldn’t agree more.