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CS SPOTLIGHT: HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT SARA ON THE POWER OF EDUCATION AND THE DIVERSE APPLICATIONS OF CS

October 13, 2021
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"Computer science is truly the most diverse field of thought because you can combine your love of astronomy, your love of biology. You can do anything with it — you can study the stars. It’s a truly amazing field."

Bay Area Youth Computer Science Council (BAYCSC) is a team of high schoolers that advocates for computer science education. Located in the Bay Area, the group works to expose as many students as possible to computer science by making it accessible, approachable, and, just as importantly, fun. 

We talked to three of the BAYCSC Youth Council’s leading members — Supriya, Jessica, and Sara, who were seniors in high school at the time of our conversation. They discussed their pathways into CS, involvement in BAYCSC, passion for CS education equity, and long-term hopes and goals. In addition to our previous blog posts highlighting Supriya and Jessica, check out our final conversation in this series with Sara below.

How did you get involved in computer science at school? 

I first got into CS through my dad, because he was a civil engineer, and my brother is a software engineer. Growing up, I used to always go on my dad’s computer to play games, and I taught myself LaTeX and CAD, thinking they were just games. I was learning CS from a young age, but I didn’t even recognize it. 

At school I found out about AP CS Principles, where I was introduced to a new type of computing. Before that, I felt like computers were only for trivial things, but in that class, I saw the diversity of thought which computer science can hold. 
I feel like with every other field, you’re limited to one idea or major. But, computer science is truly the most diverse field of thought because you can combine your love of astronomy, your love of biology. You can do anything with it — you can study the stars. It’s a truly amazing field

How did you all get involved with BAYCSC? 

Supriya and I won a similar award in computing, and because of that we became friends. One day over the summer, she invited me to join BAYCSC. I came in for the meeting, and I instantly fell in love with the group. It has such an interesting dynamic, in which you see members’ individuality and intelligence, and it all comes together to create this amazing community that you can’t find anywhere else.

Why are you passionate about CS education equity and CSforAll?  

I’ve always had a passion for education in general, since I was a young girl. I was conditioned to be that way because my dad lived in extreme poverty in Egypt, and he lost his parents at a young age. Through the power of education, he went to Egypt’s equivalent of MIT, and from there, he was able to live his lifelong dream of coming to the U.S. The one thing my dad always told me was that you can be frugal with your clothes, your food, or anything, but you cannot be frugal with your own education because your education can take you anywhere. That’s something that’s really stuck with me — that you should put your all into your education. 

At my school, I’m the token girl in STEM. I’ve taken on a mentoring role for underclassmen who want to get involved with CS and math. I have found with CS that it’s a field where a little goes a long way. For people from lower income neighborhoods, it truly opens doors. Education in CS is so unique and brilliant that anyone can get involved regardless of their gender or identity. As long as you have that person to encourage you through that initial CS education, you can go far in life. This is important for people who are typically unencouraged in STEM.

Generally, the earlier someone gets into computer science, the more likely they are to continue studying it. Is there anything that schools or teachers could do, thinking back to when you were younger, to encourage more kids to take on CS? 

The head of computer science at my school and I have been working on creating a lot of opportunities. What was surprising to me was that the way we’ve gotten most people involved in CS is through our American Computer Science League and our robotics team. People may be afraid to take a class because there’s a grade, which adds pressure to it. However, when you’re in a club, it’s not like there is any real pressure on you, so you can explore and have fun with your friends while doing it. You can see that CS isn’t just about programming a Flappy Bird game, but about making real things happen, thinking critically, and combining your knowledge and love of different subjects. I think that’s something that if we appeal to more people, it could get more people interested. 

Personally, I did CS all the time in school. The first class I took was to avoid a requirement, but afterwards I fell in love with CS. I fell in love with the open-source philosophy of computing, whether it be programming air quality analyzers to language interpreters.

What do you want to do when you finish high school in terms of college and your career? 

Right now, I want to major in CS and maybe dual major in biology or computational biology. I think I’m going to minor in either astronomy, statistics, or math. I love math, science, and CS, and I saw that CS is the opening for all three. I would really like to do research, specifically with using relief networks and AI to create quick diagnostics for patients, especially with lung & kidney cancer. I would like to develop AI to help connect disabled people to resources such as financial assistance, local centers, etc. I’m also really interested in doing a bone regeneration lab for osteoporosis using nanotechnology.

It’s amazing to imagine what CS will be like in the future, given how quickly it has already developed. And, it’s amazing to see how much our generation has done with computing and the internet as a whole with such little time. We’ve had full on protests. We’ve created new things. The impact computer science will have on the world is immutable. 

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At CSforCA, we believe all students in California need and deserve access to the computer science education they will need to succeed in their future, but data shows that this is not the case. Students of color, girls, and students in low-income and rural communities do not have access to the same high-quality computer science education as their peers. Check out our newly launched California Computer Science Access Report to understand the current landscape of CS education across California, including new findings about access, participation, and equity gaps in the CS field.

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