Did you know that 71 percent of all new STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs have to do with computing, yet only 8 percent of STEM graduates are in the computer science field?
Cue Convert to Code, a program designed to inspire and teach children about computer programming. Notably, the two founders were themselves just leaving childhood when they began the group.
Caleb Weaver and Danae Martin were high school seniors when they started Convert to Code two years ago, offering free computer science and computer programming workshops for middle/high schoolers at the Candy Factory in Lancaster.
“Caleb first approached me about starting the organization in the summer of 2016,” Martin said. “We feel that Lancaster County is an underserved area in regards to computer science, and we wanted to provide students with the tools and resources they would need to understand this tech-driven world.”
Weaver added that they believe in the power of code to help shape the future and create innovation.
“So, we wanted to create a free resource that would expose kids to computer science and grant them the opportunity to take their passions and ideas and apply code to them, essentially, ‘convert them to code,’” he said.
Weaver and Martin were both seniors at Manheim Central High School when they took on the project. Finding a place to host their workshops proved to be difficult, and they almost had to abandon the idea.
“We began emailing anyone and everyone on the internet we could find who might be able to help us,” Weaver said. “In the beginning, we got no responses. Danae and I, at separate times, doubted we would ever get this organization off the ground.”
But then some key elements fell into place, such as the Candy Factory—the sprawling co-working space in downtown Lancaster—allowing them to use its space.
“It was crazy to think how far it has come since those days of just an email, but it truly would not have been possible without Danae,” Weaver said. “She is an incredible individual and co-founder.”
Once they had their first successful summer of workshops under their belt, it was time to find someone else to take over, since both would be going away to college. So, Gabe Stewart came in as the head of operations.
Stewart is the one who greets the students at each workshop. He also responds to most of the emails and plans and supervises the workshops. Martin continues to act as a mentor and advisor, making sure that little details and concerns are addressed prior to each session.
“I also design all the promotional materials for Convert to Code and its workshops, and Caleb and I oversee and make the executive decisions regarding the Convert to Code team and the organization’s future development,” she said.
Since Stewart, a recent high school graduate, is also going off to college, the co-founders will need to add to their team once again.
Speaking of future developments, Martin said that they are considering registering for nonprofit status so that they can accept donations of laptops for students who are not able to bring their own to workshops. Additionally, they are looking to expand.
“We received an offer to use a space in Harrisburg, but we need to assess the opportunity and determine whether it is a realistic expansion for us at this point,” Stewart said.
Convert to Code has been successful so far, and the greatest example of that is when students return. Aidan Mollohan, 15, of Elizabethtown, is one of those kids.
“The students and presenters are extremely helpful and aid everyone who needs it,” he said. “They let each individual work at their own pace after instruction, which is an added benefit. Most importantly, there is dialogue between the students and teacher.”
Upcoming workshops are always posted on the Facebook page, and students need to sign up because space is limited. The workshops are always on weekends and normally run for three hours.
“We are always looking for new teachers,” Stewart said. “So, if you have some experience in coding and the slightest inkling of an interest to teach, contact us, and we would love to talk to you about possibly hosting a workshop.”
To learn more about Convert to Code, visit www.convert2code.com or the Facebook page.
Convert to Code isn’t the only area program aimed at introducing children to computer sciences. Others include:
Girls Code Club at Lancaster Science Factory is a monthly meetup for girls ages 8 to 13 to learn computer science concepts. There is a fee, and registration is open for the 2018-19 school year. It meets at the Lancaster Science Factory’s Castagna Learning Center, 454 New Holland Ave, Lancaster. Visit www.lancastersciencefactory.org/girlscodeclub.
Coder Kids offers free computer programming workshops for children ages 5 and older in Harrisburg. The workshops are held every other month, one for beginners and the other for advanced/intermediate. Make sure to register ahead of time. Visit www.coderkidsharrisburg.org.
CoderDojo is a global network that offers free programming clubs for ages 7 to 17. Each Dojo is community-based and volunteer-led. Children can build websites, learn code, create apps/games and explore technology. Lancaster Public Library (downtown) offers a CoderDojo Club every fourth Thursday, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Visit www.coderdojo.com.