Engineering a path to computer science jobs
Story and photos by Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau
Lisa Hunter, a software development engineer for Amazon, didn’t start out to be a computer scientist, she said Thursday during a presentation at Grand Canyon University.
“I’m certainly not the poster child for picking out a career,” said Hunter, speaking to about 25 teachers from across Arizona who are members of the newest cohort in the GCU-supported Code.org program.
In fact, Hunter said, when she applied to California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, she originally considered putting chemistry down as her major – before hastily switching.
“I didn’t even know I liked computer science,” Hunter said. “But I knew I liked computers.”
Uncertainty turned to passion, and Hunter graduated magna cum laude in 2010. Today she’s a glowing example of a growing phenomenon – women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
Hunter represents the Amazon Future Engineer program, which seeks to introduce computer science to Arizona schoolchildren of all ages. Amazon recently joined a partnership with GCU’s Strategic Educational Alliances (SEA) and Science Foundation Arizona that brings Code.org training to K-12 educators across the state.
Code.org seeks to universally require computer science as part of the K-12 curriculum along with English, history, math and science and to encourage participation among girls and minorities, who remain under-represented in STEM fields.
Linda Coyle, the Science Foundation Arizona’s Director of Education, enthusiastically introduced Hunter to the teachers and said outreach programs such as Amazon’s – and examples like Hunter – can help reverse the low women/minority STEM statistics.
Hunter’s decision to choose computer science was formed by a number of factors, she said.
- When she was 2½ years old, there was a personal computer in her family.
- Her parents supported and encouraged her interest.
- There was internet in her house.
- She had a girlfriend whose hobby was building websites.
- There were computers in her classrooms.
- She had talented, patient mentors.
“I had these privileges that really helped me stand on my own feet,” she said.
She ticked off key concepts that attract children to STEM, which include access to technology, a supportive network, role models, career guidance, knowledgeable mentors and early introduction to programming.
The last point is where K-12 educators, like the 25 in attendance, are so powerful, Hunter said.
“I want to say thank you,” Hunter said. “You guys are going to be the game changers.”
SEA Director Kathryn Scott is the Code.org partnership’s program manager, and Dr. Heather Monthie, Assistant Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, is the Code.org facilitator who teaches AP Science Principles to teachers.
Scott welcomed Amazon’s participation and enthusiasm in spreading the love of STEM across Arizona.
“It all stems around computer science and aligning the University’s mission,” Scott said. “We are doing our best to strengthen our pipeline.”
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or [email protected].