IT professionals teach high school computer science classes to fill need

Paul.jpgBy a happy stroke of destiny, there was a computer lab in Paul Lemmons’ high school. It allowed him to play in the environment enough to know he was drawn to that work.

“The food I have put on my table for the past 40 years has come from that high school experience,” said Lemmons, who is a lead systems engineer at Tucson Medical Center, helping to manage the computer programs that run TMC’s electronic medical records platform.

So when Lemmons heard about a program that taps IT professionals to volunteer to teach high school classes, while working in conjunction with a certified classroom teacher, he jumped at the chance. He and his TMC IT colleague, Michael Cecil, were assigned to Presidio School, a college preparatory high school in midtown, through Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, or TEALS.

“Computer professionals are compensated at much higher levels than teachers are, so there is a gap in how many schools can actually employ computer professionals,” Lemmons said, noting he and Cecil spend one hour each weekday teaching students two different programming languages.

TMC supports the program by paying for their employees’ classroom time. “Giving back to the community is something we take seriously as a nonprofit community hospital,” said Susan Snedaker, director of IS Infrastructure and Operations. “This program allows us to make a difference by preparing students for a professional life in computer programming. And it helps our employees as well, since teaching demands that you reflect deeply about your own career and skill sets, which often leads to new insights.”

The students spend the first semester writing video games and the second part learning Python, one of the fastest-growing computer languages.  The work, Lemmons explained, “teaches them how to logically think through a problem and how to communicate their mental solution into something a computer could represent.”

“It’s been a wonderful experience. Kids are like sponges. It’s fun watching their imaginations go once they pick up the concepts.”

For Cecil, who is now in his second year of teaching in the program, it was important to make a difference, knowing about the deficit in computer science offerings in public education. “It’s been really rewarding because you’re making a tangible impact with young adults and you can see the effects,” he said. “You start with a kid who is kind of interested in this stuff and now, they’re planning to major in computer science or they’ve gotten a scholarship for college. It’s an incredible opportunity to give back.”

Lemmons added there is value in helping students find out early whether they have an aptitude for computer science because it helps them in planning their college experience. And there is value for industry participants as well. “I’m eventually going to retire and someone has to come in and do this. We’re preparing a new workforce to come in and take care of TMC’s computing department.”

TEALS has expanded from one school in 2015 to 18 schools in the coming academic year, but it looking for more IT volunteers to help meet demand.

TEALS is hosting an Info Session at The Lodge on the Desert on Thursday, May 17, at 11:30 am.  Please find more information and the RSVP link here.

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