Afrin Naz (at left) works with students at WVU Tech’s STEM Summer Academy. A new after-school program will expand computer science education for West Virginia middle schoolers in partnership with the Toyota USA Foundation.
Fast forward a few years: Imagine you launch a business based on your unique talents. Perhaps you developed an innovative product, created beautiful artwork or cultivated a specialized skill. With the right computer science training, you can easily create a website or an app to build your brand rather than spending hundreds of dollars to hire help.
In an increasingly digital world, computer science skills are becoming essential in every profession. That’s the message behind a new after-school program for middle-schoolers led by the West Virginia University Institute of Technology.
The Toyota USA Foundation awarded WVU Tech a $189,000 grant to support the after-school computer science program, which will serve 300 middle school students in four West Virginia counties – Fayette, Kanawha, Putnam and Raleigh. The program will also provide valuable experience for WVU Tech undergraduates majoring in computer science, who will serve as mentors for participating middle-schoolers and assist teachers as needed.
The after-school program supports a statewide initiative passed by the West Virginia Legislature in 2019 to promote computer science education in K-12 schools. WVU’s Center for Excellence in STEM Education secured two prior grants in support of the initiative; however, those projects involve working with teachers on classroom efforts. Launching an after-school program creates opportunities to engage parents, who play a critical role in emphasizing the importance of computer science.
“STEM education is a dynamic and growing field in southern West Virginia and across the nation” said Gay Stewart, director of the Center for Excellence in STEM Education. “With this generous donation from the Toyota USA Foundation, we are going to open up the vibrant world of STEM learning to our students and their parents. Gifts like this help our university fulfill its most vital mission – guiding our young people in a positive direction and preparing them for the workplace of the future.”
The grant funds will cover the associated costs – curriculum development, online infrastructure, IT support, compensation for teachers and stipends for 24 student mentors – to offer the after-school program to students and their families free of charge for three years.
“We hope that this new after-school program helps motivate and inspire youth, opening up a world of possibility for rewarding and high-demand careers,” said Mike Goss, president, Toyota USA Foundation.
Afrin Naz, associate professor in the Computer Science & Information Systems Department at Tech’s Leonard C. Nelson College of Engineering & Sciences, worked with schools to pilot the after-school program during the 2020-’21 academic year. Students met with a teacher after school a few times a week to learn about coding and web development. WVU Tech student mentors were available to support participating teachers and work with the middle-schoolers.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was delivered remotely, but students and teachers will typically be on site at schools. Guest instructors and WVU Tech students may join virtually and/or in person. The ability to participate via videoconferencing tools will eliminate geographic barriers as WVU works with the West Virginia Department of Education to expand the program.
Kennedy Moore, a STEM education teacher for grades 6-8 at Midland Trail High School in Fayette County, participated in the pilot. She said her students enjoyed learning from WVU Tech students who are closer to their own age.
“It really helps them see themselves in the future,” Moore said, adding that she’s grateful to the Toyota USA Foundation for making the program possible. “I really can see the difference it’s making in the students’ performance, not only in the program but also in the classroom. … This opens more doors for them.”
The Toyota USA Foundation aims to prepare tomorrow’s leaders by supporting innovative programs focused on STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – for students and teachers, from preschool to post-secondary education. Toyota is also a sponsor of WVU Tech’s STEM Summer Academy.
The Toyota USA Foundation grant was awarded through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private support on behalf of the University.
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