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Fidelity workshop trains educators in computer science

“Your biggest risk isn’t failing, it’s getting too comfortable.” The quote by Drew Houston, founder of Dropbox, floated in blue letters on a purple accent wall in Fidelity’s innovative LEAP space, a workspace renovated last June at their Research Triangle Park office.  

“It’s exactly the type of space we want our students to be involved in: collaborative, technologically current, welcoming, comfortable,” said LaTanya Pattillo, teacher advisor to Gov. Roy Cooper. “So you are in a space that should lead to some innovative and strong and very powerful conversations.”

Pattillo addressed a group of K-12 educators and researchers from around the state, leaders from the Friday Institute, and Fidelity IT development program alumni gathered for the Experience More Computer Science Educator Workshop. The workshop, held on Dec. 7, was part of the day-long Experience More Work-Based Learning Summit hosted by Fidelity Investments.

LaTanya Pattillo introduces the Experience More Comp Sci workshop alongside Cathy Eberhard of Fidelity and Dave Frye of the Friday Institute. Yasmin Bendaas/EducationNC

To introduce the session, Pattillo was joined by Cathy Eberhard, vice president of HR operations and planning at Fidelity, and Dave Frye, associate director of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation.

“We develop 500 early career technologists every single year,” said Eberhard of Fidelity’s technology development program for recent college graduates. “We focus on developing individuals as software engineers, systems engineers, data analysts, as well as systems analysts.”

Eberhard said the Experience More workshop was particularly valuable for Fidelity as they partner with educators to enable job-ready technologists of the future. Similarly, Frye said the goal of the workshop focus groups were to learn what is happening and not happening in classrooms in terms of creating well-trained computer science students.

“One of our goals is to make sure that everyone has an opportunity if they’re interested, and that every school has some type of opportunity [in computer science] in our state,” said Frye. “I will tell you that many don’t, and there are many problems to getting there.”

“There are very different experiences in the Triangle versus an hour away from the Triangle,” Frye added.

A breakout session at the Experience More Comp Sci Educator Workshop. Yasmin Bendaas/EducationNC

After focus group discussions, teams shared their insights and recommendations about computer science education, including:

  • Making CS a core course (rather than an elective) to encourage a diverse group of students to take the class and gain CS exposure
  • Reconsidering departments that “own” computer science in schools
  • Sparking interest in CS as early as elementary school
  • Better career counseling for high school students in terms of their CS career options and skills needed
  • Increasing female representation
  • Putting a bigger focus on soft skills like effective communication and working collaboratively
  • True partnership and mentorship with industry

“[Our group] passionately believes that every middle school student should experience a broad computer science course,” said Sam Morris, program manager at the Friday Institute, of his table’s discussion. “That every student should be exposed to everything from logic of coding, algorithm development, ethics, data security, all the way up to project management ideas that are fundamental to computer science.”

Corrections: Dave Frye’s name was previously misspelled as Davie Frye. The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation was previously referred to as the Friday Center for Educational Innovation.

Yasmin Bendaas

Yasmin Bendaas is a Science writer.  A North Carolina native, she received her master’s degree in Science & Medical Journalism at UNC Chapel Hill, where she was a Park Fellow. She received her Bachelor of Arts in anthropology in 2013 from Wake Forest University, where she double-minored in journalism and Middle East and South Asia studies. As an undergraduate student, Bendaas gained insight into public health when she interned at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, a statewide grantmaker focused on rural health, including access to primary care, diabetes, community-centered prevention, and mental health and substance abuse. 

As a journalist, Bendaas has been funded twice by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for fieldwork in Algeria — first to cover a disappearing indigenous tattoo tradition, and again to look at how climate change affects rural sheepherding practices.