DPI, Wilbur Wright College Expand Partnership To Build A More Diverse Computing Pipeline, With Support From Google

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Discover Computing series will reach high school freshmen and sophomores to build tech skills and career awareness

The Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) and Wilbur Wright College are expanding their partnership to develop promising and diverse tech talent in Illinois, focusing on the student journey into computer and data science fields, with support from Google.

Launched Fall 2021, the free “Discover Computing” workshop series will expand in the Spring with two additional sessions. Discover Computing 2 will run as half-day sessions on six consecutive Saturdays between March 5 and April 9. Discover Computing 1 will run as a week-long intensive during Chicago Public Schools Spring break from April 11 to 14. Both will be offered in-person at DPI’s downtown offices.

These hands-on sessions will help high school students build awareness of the skills needed to pursue computer science careers, and explore computing concepts and tools, including HTML/CSS, data analysis, Python, and machine learning. Discover Computing 2 will also help students build their own web portfolio that highlights their programming skills, including creating interactive murals, logos, and a chatbot. Participants will also build problem-solving and team-building skills through design thinking activities.

Students will be supported by Google employees who will serve as mentors throughout the workshop, as well as Wilbur Wright College students, who will serve as near-peer mentors.

These free sessions are expected to reach up to 65 high school freshmen and sophomores, with a focus on underrepresented populations in tech (Black, Latinx, women). Thirty students took part in the Discover Computing 1 pilot in the Fall, 87 percent were Black or Latinx.

“In today’s workforce, computing is the common denominator required to solve problems and innovate,” said Mark Harris, director of community education at DPI. “Too often, students lack access to and clarity about the pathways into these fields. We are thrilled to be growing our partnership with Wright College and Google Chicago to expand this series to reach youth at a critical point of their learning journey and build more connectivity and inclusiveness into computing learning pathways.”

“Wright College is proud to partner with DPI and Google to offer free Computer Science education to CPS high school students. As a Center of Excellence for Engineering and Computer Science, we work to support, and just as important—give access to young learners from Chicago’s diverse communities,” said Doris Espiritu, executive director, engineering program at Wright College.

“Part of building a more inclusive economy in our city is strengthening workforce readiness, particularly in well-paying fields like tech,” said Karen Sauder, president, Global Clients and Agency Solutions and co-Site Lead of the Google Chicago office. “We’re proud to support DPI and Wright College as they help train the next generation of computer science leaders and have loved getting to work hand in hand with students through these workshops.”

Black and Latinx workers make up just 12% of Chicago’s tech workforce overall. In 2019, only 14% of computer and data science graduates statewide were Black or Latinx.

Computer science education is foundational in today’s economy, essential for problem-solving and innovation, and for the economic mobility of workers.

Computing-related jobs make up roughly half of all STEM jobs in Illinois—three times more than any other STEM field. Computing also represents the top source of new wages in the economy. The COVID-19 crisis has illuminated the need for and resiliency of these jobs.

“Our aim is to address the disparities that exist for under-represented groups in CS and tech to provide more exposure and learning opportunities within these dynamic fields. This program is just the beginning of a larger goal to make Chicago the most inclusive tech workforce,” said Gina Grant, associate director of K-9 student programming at DPI.

This program builds on existing efforts from DPI and its partners to cultivate a homegrown computing pipeline, including DPI and UIC CHANCE’s Digital Scholars summer program and DPI’s partnership with Wright College and the City Colleges of Chicago called Digital Bridge. This effort is a part of the Pritzker Tech Talent Labs at DPI.

For more information and for interest in getting involved, contact Gina Grant: glgrant@uillinois.edu.

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The Discovery Partners Institute empowers people to jumpstart their tech careers or companies in Chicago. Led by the University of Illinois System in partnership with top research universities, it does three things: Train people for high-demand tech jobs; conduct applied R&D; and support Chicago’s tech community. With state investment and a new innovation district in development, DPI has the resources to attract, develop, and leverage the most ambitious people and companies the region has to offer — and keep them here.

Wright College, an open-access community college in Northwest Chicago, is an independently accredited institution of the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) system. It is CCC’s Center of Excellence for Engineering and Computer Science with proven success in developing diverse talents in engineering and computer science. It is a federally recognized Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) with the largest enrollment of Hispanic students among community colleges in Illinois (approximately 60%).