Eight CPS students were recently recognized by the Illinois Technology Foundation (ITF) as elite talents in the field of Computer Science.
A local nonprofit, the ITF works with high school and college students to encourage computer literacy and annually honors 40 college and 10 high school students through the “50 for the Future” program. These are students who have shown a particular aptitude for Computer Science and who hope to pursue careers in the technology industry.
“These kids are off the charts amazing,” said William Waas, Chairman and CEO of the Illinois Technology Foundation. “They are so smart and so engaged. You would swear they were seniors in college, not in high school.”
Four of this year’s high school winners are from Northside Prep, whose extensive technology curriculum includes courses from introductory programming to advanced data structures. Despite its breadth, however, the Computer Science Department is open to all students regardless of computing knowledge.
“Our students have diverse backgrounds and experiences, so we’re committed to creating equity within the program,” said Don Yanek, Chair of the Computer Science Department at Northside Prep. “Everyone has something to contribute, and having less computer experience at the start doesn’t mean students won’t be successful.”
Take Abril Vela, for example – one of the four Northside Prep students who will be recognized by the ITF. A master of computing in this her senior year, she had virtually no computer experience when she entered high school.
“Before attending Northside, I did not have an interest in Computer Science,” said Abril. “In fact, I had no idea what it was.”
Four years later, Abril has taken nearly every computer class available and plans to study computer engineering in college. Her classmate Patrick Andrade, another Northside student recognized this year by the ITF, has similar college goals, though his involve an eco-friendly twist.
“I’d like to study Computer Science with a minor in Environmental Science,” said Patrick. “As our technology advances, we will have to find new and innovative ways to make it smaller but better while also keeping in mind the effects it has on our environment.”
For the students from Northside Prep, as well as the 2013 winners from Juarez, Lindblom and Westinghouse high schools, recognition from the ITF will translate into increased education opportunities in Computer Science. According to Mr. Yanek, however, the real prize will be their connection with this vital technology organization.
“We’re all excited to learn more, but the real value is the chance for our students to be mentored by industry professionals who will follow them through their college years and help ease them into their chosen career paths,” he said.
For Patrick and Abril, the Computer Science Department at Northside may be the first step in preparing for a career in the technology industry. But for many other students, it is simply a foundation for overall computer literacy – a mission to which the faculty is equally committed.
“Regardless of what they study or what career path they choose, students will have to create using the computer,” said Don Yanek. “Our society collects an incredible amount of data every day, and being able to problem solve and leverage that data will be very important for their futures.”