June 07, 2017

Scholar Voices: Computer Science Bootcamp

In our latest Scholar Voices feature, we hear from Earl Woods Scholar Christopher Camacho, a rising sophomore majoring in computer engineering at Boston’s Tufts University. This summer, Christopher returns to his hometown of Santa Ana, California and brings with him his passion for computers and technology in hopes of providing much needed resources to his community and peers. Learn more about Christopher’s student-led computer science pilot program at his alma mater, Santa Ana High School, and how he hopes to introduce and engage more students in the field of STEM.

While most people consider owning a personal computer as common as having a cell phone, in my household a computer was a luxury—a luxury we couldn’t afford. But I was lucky because my dad used to repair computers and some of my fondest memories are of me helping him take them apart and reassemble them. From then on, I was just fascinated by electronics and computers and found a way to learn as much as I could.

The summer before my senior year at Santa Ana High School, I was accepted into MIT’s Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) program, a six-week science and engineering course that exposed me to so much. I arrived at MIT intrigued by the world of electronics but I had no experience. I quickly caught up as I was placed in a class with students who had experience in robotics and coding. I learned to code Python, to tinker with electric circuits and exhibit a final electronics project with my partner. I remember the countless nights we spent trying to develop the code for our final project and construct the physical design. We devised a friendly computer named Flint that states the weather and time, in addition to sarcastic comments activated by a simple wave of a hand over its motion sensor.

The experience at MIT motivated me to become more involved with electronics and inspired me to find a way to launch a similar program back at my high school. The perfect opportunity came about a couple of months into my freshman year at Tufts when I met with the deputy superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD), Dr. David Haglund. He was visiting schools on the east coast and requested to meet up with SAUSD students studying nearby. After having dinner with Dr. Haglund and the rest of the students, we started discussing our experiences with SAUSD and future changes that should occur. This was my opportunity to express my passion for giving back to my community by providing students the resources that I lacked growing up in the SAUSD.

I told Dr. Haglund about my idea to start a computer science course during the summer, as a chance for students from all over the district to learn about both computer science and electronics. These two topics always intrigued me, but there were always barriers preventing me from pursuing my studies, whether it was funding for the technology or lack of mentors and resources to learn from. It is my responsibility to give back to my community and assure students that they do not undergo the same situation that I did.

Beginning July 10, we will be piloting Computer Science Bootcamp, the first program that offers students from SAUSD the opportunity to learn about computer science fundamentals, computer programming with Python and electronics, all while earning 5 high school credits within the district. We will be providing students with Raspberry Pi’s for lectures and allow them to implement these micro-computers into their final projects. The entire program is student-created and student-run by alumni of the school district, including the curriculum and hands-on activities. In addition to the classroom material, the program involves field trips to local tech companies, presentations from professionals with experience in the tech field, and a one-week course at Coastline Community College on cyber security.

Along with sharing my technical knowledge, I want to ignite in kids the same passion I have for computers. I know my computer engineering degree and my future career will open so many doors for me and my family. It is my hope that through the summer program at Santa Ana High School I will inspire others to explore STEM and see all the opportunities that await them within this growing field.

If you are a high school student within the Santa Ana Unified School District and would like to enroll in Computer Science Bootcamp this summer, please fill out the online interest form.  

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