Computing For All
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In our data-driven world, computer science has become a fundamental underpinning of almost every professional field.
The skills built in today’s computer science classrooms benefit students for life, teaching them how to think logically and computationally, how to get comfortable with the intricate nature of their work, and how to reflect on, learn from, and move forward from mistakes. Through a thoughtful, intentional, and developmentally appropriate approach to computer science, Rowland Hall students of all ages see themselves as technology innovators.
Our computer science program builds students’ problem-solving abilities by teaching them how to approach big problems and how to successfully collaborate with others—skills necessary to design technical solutions for fields including science, math, social studies, the arts, and literacy. We believe this subject isn’t taught in isolation, but with a focus on shaping how today’s learners see the world and their ability to make change in it.
In the 2022–2023 school year, in line with our new strategic vision and priorities, Rowland Hall is building on our solid computer science program through investments that will serve our students well, today and in the future.
NEW Computer Science Offerings for 2022–2023
Lower School Computer Science Specialty
Beginning this year, computer science will now be taught as a specialty course for second through fifth graders. These yearlong computer science courses will give lower schoolers further opportunities to innovate solutions to problems by tinkering, making, coding, and building. Students can look forward to an introduction to coding and robotics, including designing their own learning games and programming robots.
Middle School Electives: Robotics FIRST LEGO League, Engineering, and Game Design
In response to growing school-wide interest in computer science, the Middle School has added three new electives to help grow students’ computer science skills and prepare them for higher level classes. Middle schoolers can now choose to enroll in FIRST LEGO League robotics, an elective in which they build and program Spike and EV3 LEGO robots; engineering, where they hone their software, electrical, and structural design skills; and game design, which allows them to explore the basics of computer programming as they develop their own unique games.
Upper School Course: Python Programming
The Upper School is now offering a full year of Python, a high-level, interpreted, general-purpose programming language. The addition of this course helps meet students’ requests for more in-depth programming courses that emphasize project management and development, and underscores the division’s dedication to responding to student interests. The course also builds on the reach of the division’s AP Computer Science and robotics courses, which significantly expanded in 2021–2022.
Learn more about our current Middle School and Upper School computer science courses below.
Middle School and Upper School Computer Science Courses
Meet our Computer Science Team
Ben Smith ’89
Upper School computer science and robotics program chairget to know Ben
Director of Technology Integration, Third- through Fifth-Grade Computer Science Teacher get to know Christian
Middle School Computer Science Teacherget to know Kristi
Director of Teaching and Learning, Second-Grade Computer Science Teacherget to know Wendell
Robotics Coachget to know Rob
Alex Beaufort ’13
Robotics Coachget to know Alex
Our New Spaces
This year, the McCarthey Campus opened the TREC (technology, robotics, engineering, coding) Lab, a flexible learning environment in which students can explore, build, and create knowledge. Designed for agility, the TREC Lab can be arranged to meet the needs of students and teachers: with a simple roll of tables and chairs, the space can go from a traditional classroom arrangement, to individual or group work stations, to a completely open space. The lab also houses five 3D printers/laser etchers, and offers outdoor access so students have additional space in which to create.
Lincoln Street Campus
Middle and upper schoolers have access to a new Technology Hub, consisting of the computer science classroom, an adjacent robotics room, and a hallway for storage. The Technology Hub will allow for more creative space for student projects, as well as room to congregate and share resources.
Computer Science Faculty Additions and Changes
This year, Rowland Hall welcomed Jon Poll and Kristi Torsak as our first full-time Middle School computer science teachers, and a second robotics coach, alum Alex Beaufort ’13, to support our growing computer science program. Additionally, in September 2022, computer science teacher Ben Smith ’89 was named Upper School computer science and robotics program chair, a role that will allow Ben to further support computer science students and promote collaboration between computer science/technology integration and science and math classes.
Timeline: Modern Computer Science at Rowland Hall
Rowland Hall offered computer science or adjacent courses/clubs as early as the 1980s, but the curriculum began expanding in the mid-2010s. This timeline covers that recent history.
STEM Education Across All Grade Levels
Computer Science Stories in Fine Print Magazine
Every day on the Lincoln Street Campus, students walk past a bulletin board displaying the award-winning Annual Report story “Computer Science for All at Rowland Hall.” The bold headline is a lofty aspiration that is becoming a reality, one class at a time.
“We’ve always known this was an area that we wanted to grow,” said Director of Technology Integration Christian Waters. “We feel that increasing opportunities for students in computer science and robotics is in line with the strategic priority to prepare students for an ever-changing world.”
There is an argument that coding is a new literacy skill everyone must have, along with reading, writing, and arithmetic.—Christian Waters, director of technology integration
And in today’s digital world, no matter what fields students want to go into, an understanding of the basics of computer science is not only an asset—it’s a necessity. “There is an argument that coding is a new literacy skill everyone must have, along with reading, writing, and arithmetic,” said Christian.
Knowing this, Rowland Hall has made recent investments in our computer science offerings, which are already making a difference across divisions, including in the Middle School. This year’s hiring of the division’s first full-time computer science teacher is one substantive proof of the school’s commitment to growing the program, and the Middle School team is taking advantage of the opportunity to offer classes students haven’t always had access to before. This year, they are building robots made of LEGO bricks, designing games, and coding their own websites. Next year, there will be even more opportunities, like application design, expanded robotics offerings, and a maker class.
And students are discovering a passion for the subject—even if they were unsure what to expect when they began. Eighth grader Emery L. thought she was signing up for a mechanical engineering course, so was surprised when it was software engineering. Now, though, she’s passionate about creating with code. “I enjoy the problem solving,” she said. “The more you learn, the more tools you have to work with, and eventually you can put them all together and create something big and impressive.”
Eighth grader George J. sees the possibilities as limitless when it comes to what he can do with his growing knowledge of computer science. He also said it has changed the way he views the world. “I like looking at websites and knowing how they were built, and knowing I could build something similar,” he said. “If I see a problem in the design, I know I could fix it."
The number of students discovering a passion for computer science in the Middle School is expected to increase in coming years, due largely to the exposure they are getting in the Lower School. Starting in kindergarten, Rowland Hall students are introduced to STEM and robotics principles, and starting in second grade, all Lower School students take computer science as part of their curriculum. Students also have access to more resources, including an all-new TREC (technology, robotics, engineering, coding) lab, which is home to multiple 3D printers and has plenty of space for students to build, experiment, and explore.
“Not only are they building skills and knowledge, but they are also building interest,” said Director of Curriculum and Instruction Wendell Thomas. “In a couple of years, the students coming into the Middle School will have significant experience, and we will be able to offer them next steps and challenges.”
I enjoy the problem solving. The more you learn, the more tools you have to work with, and eventually you can put them all together and create something big and impressive.—Emery L., class of 2027
Introducing these skills and knowledge earlier also means more students are invested in computer science and see themselves as a part of the field—an important step in fulfilling the school’s goal of bringing computer science to all. “We realize that, like schools across the country, we still have work to do to ensure girls and people of color are represented in our computer science classes,” said Christian. “Everybody should be able to see themselves as successful in computer science and robotics.”
It's a plan Emery supports. Even though she’s not currently taking computer science this semester, she is continuing the work she started in the fall on her own time, learning various code languages and continuing to work with computer science teacher Jon Poll on projects. She enjoys the challenges the subject presents and the opportunities her experience will bring in the future. “In any job, tech is always present,” she said. “If you have these skills and abilities, there will be a way to apply them in any career that you choose. Even if it’s a minuscule part, there still is something to do with it.”
Wendell agreed, noting that the future of computer science in the Middle School, as well as the school as a whole, all comes down to fulfilling our vision to prepare students to make a difference in today’s world. “People the world needs need to understand how computers work and how they can be used,” he said. “We are doing that at Rowland Hall.”
Every day at Rowland Hall, students have their limits tested by a challenging curriculum and by mentors. It helps them grow. But what happens when the curriculum and mentors are pushed by challenging students?
At the beginning of the school year, members of Rowland Hall’s technology team were approached by a number of ninth-grade students who had a complaint: they wanted to be able to do more on their school-issued laptops, but the current administrative settings wouldn’t let them. The restrictions were impeding their ability to grow as coders, they said. They didn’t just want more access, they needed it to learn.
The tech team is used to complaints, but not like this. They decided to try something new. They came to the students with an offer they couldn’t refuse.
“They challenged us to hack through the protections,” said Eli Hatton. “They said if we could do it they would let us keep the access instead of revoking it.”
This isn’t to say the tech team didn’t have their reservations. And they had very good reasons to say no. But they also knew this was an opportunity.
This isn’t to say the tech team didn’t have their reservations. And they had very good reasons to say no. But they also knew this was an opportunity. “We are always interested in cybersecurity,” said Alan Jeppson, associate director of technology. “Sometimes the only way to know if our security is working is to try and break it.”
Break it they did: the ninth graders were able to gain the access they desired, and then walked the tech team exactly what they had done so the weakness could be resolved. And thus the Rowland Hall Debugging Club was born.
“First thing we did was have them write a contract for acceptable use with their new machines,” said Alan. “Then we started looking around the school for more projects.”
It didn’t take long to find them. Upper School Assistant Principal Bernard Geoxavier needed a solution for tracking students needing physical education credits while not playing a sport or taking a class. The Debuggers figured out a solution: students needing the credits can now log time in the weight room with just a swipe of their student IDs when they exit and enter. It was a learning experience for the club members they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. “We learned about readying software for very specific hardware and then deploying it,” said Eli. “Then we had to test it and see if it worked.”
Cybersecurity is a growing issue worldwide, and the club, along with members of the tech team and faculty, are looking at ways to improve their skills and the skills of the school community.
That was the first of many projects. Now the club is working on building a chatbot that will help students with everyday tasks, like navigating schedules, reviewing assignments, and performing other functions they would normally have to log in to the student portal to complete.
The opportunities are multiplying too, for both the benefit of the students and the school. Cybersecurity is a growing issue worldwide, and the club, along with members of the tech team and faculty, are looking at ways to improve their skills and the skills of the school community.
“We are looking at how we can get more kids involved, and how we could eventually compete in events like hackathons as a school,” said Ben Smith ’89, Upper School computer science teacher. “This would help these kids grow in areas where they could have real professional success in the future.”
Of course, the founding members of the Debuggers may have a future in store that no one has yet imagined. “This is a good group of super smart kids,” said Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey. “It’s put all of us back on our toes how advanced they are and how they take a project and go after it.”
Added Alan, “These kids are crazy smart and talented. I really am interested in where they go from here.”
Editor's note: This piece is republished from Rowland Hall's 2020–2021 Annual Report.
This story won silver in the 2021 InspirED Brilliance Awards (magazine feature article writing category).
Computer science impacts our daily lives, but its workforce falls woefully short when it comes to reflecting national racial, ethnic, and gender demographics. Solving that problem starts with K–12 education. The subject’s proponents at Rowland Hall are ensuring equity is programmed into the curriculum—and the curriculum gets the attention it deserves—building toward a computing-literate society where everyone has a seat at the table.
During hybrid learning one February afternoon, about 40 Rowland Hall faculty, staff, and upper schoolers—some working from home, others from the Lincoln Street Campus—gradually populated a Zoom room. It started off as a standard pandemic-era Upper School class, but 20 minutes later, it looked more like an avant-garde digital dress rehearsal. Students unearthed accessories from family members’ closets and Halloween costumes past: a cowboy hat, a pair of aviation goggles, a leopard-print scarf. They cloaked themselves in masks, feather boas, heavy makeup, and oversized sunglasses.
Director of Arts Sofia Gorder and her dance students comprised half of these creative camouflagers, but despite appearances, it wasn’t prep for one of their performances. It was an open workshop held by teacher Ben Smith ’89 and his Advanced Placement Computer Science (CS) Principles class to show the Upper School community how facial-recognition technologies work and how they can be harmful, particularly for underrepresented groups.
One dance student, Mena Zendejas-Portugal ’21, wore a pink wig with bangs that covered her eyes. She used makeup to draw decoy eyes on her cheeks, below the magenta fringe. Mena and her peers smirked at their laptop cameras as a web-based program used artificial intelligence (AI) to guess their ages and genders.
Before Mena wore her disguise, the program vacillated between misidentifying her as a 13-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. After Mena changed her appearance, ironically, the program’s guess came closer to the reality: it classified her as a 16-year-old female.
“It wasn’t a surprise how the AI read me since I have a rounder face along with short hair,” said Mena, one of the leaders of the student Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee. “It’s just a confirmation for the thought of AI being built around stereotypes and constructed beauty standards that aren’t applicable to everyone.”
Algorithms permeate our daily lives, and flawed coding can have devastating real-world consequences, from wrongful arrests to housing discrimination. Ben educates the Rowland Hall community on these problems, and ensures his CS students are equipped to solve them.
Algorithms permeate our daily lives, and the type of flawed coding that Mena experienced can have devastating real-world consequences, from wrongful arrests to housing discrimination. Ben educates the Rowland Hall community on these problems, and ensures his CS students are equipped to solve them. “If these students are going to become leaders in technology, they need to have this perspective,” Ben said. “You can't ask people to have an interest in a career and not prepare them for the future ramifications of that.”
Ben has long given students space to discuss JEDI issues but formally added it to his CS curriculum during the 2020–2021 school year. And at Rowland Hall, the marriage of CS and social justice is a natural development: the school prioritized science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the 2014 Strategic Plan, and during the past school year, longtime JEDI work escalated as a priority.
February’s facial-recognition workshop—Drag Vs. AI by the Algorithmic Justice League, which “combines art and research to illuminate the social implications and harms” of AI—helped a cross section of upper schoolers see firsthand why this work matters: “By just learning CS and not looking behind the scenes, the future could be less inclusive than we envision,” Mena reflected. Indeed, AI researcher Joy Buolamwini, a Black woman, launched the league after personally experiencing algorithmic discrimination in her work. In one project utilizing generic facial-recognition software, the program failed to detect Joy’s face until she wore a white mask. In another, she had to ask a lighter-skinned friend to stand in for her. We can solve these problems, Joy posited in a 2016 TED Talk with over 1.4 million views, by creating more inclusive code. Teams must be diverse and driven to create “a world where technology works for all of us, not just some of us, a world where we value inclusion and center social change.”
This ethos fuels Ben’s work. The Rowland Hall alumnus, now celebrating 20 years as a faculty member at his alma mater, started teaching CS in 2015 and shifted to teaching that subject exclusively two years later. From day one, he’s made it his mission to diversify CS, a field “plagued by stark underrepresentation by gender, race, ethnicity, geography, and family income,” according to CS advocacy nonprofit Code.org. The US needs more—and more diverse—computer scientists, and efforts to broaden that workforce need to start in K–12 schools. Computing jobs are the top source of all new wages in the US and they make up two-thirds of all projected new jobs in STEM fields, Code.org touts, making CS one of the most in-demand college degrees. And exposure before college makes a difference: students who learn CS in high school are six times more likely to major in it. Among traditionally underrepresented groups, the likelihood is even higher: seven times for Black and Latinx students, and 10 times for women.
Ben currently relies on one-to-one recruitment to grow CS enrollment among those underrepresented populations. He read a book around 2014, during graduate school in instructional design and educational technology at the University of Utah, that sparked his professional goals: Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing by Jane Margolis. The book chronicles the lack of access to CS courses for Black and Latinx students—and addresses how to change the system. “It was just one of those eye-opening moments,” he said. “There’s no logical reason—except institutional bias—for why computer science education looks the way it does today … It’s incredibly unjust.” Since then, Ben has prioritized combating what he calls the most glaring equity issue in education today. He collaborates with other schools and organizations that are trying desperately to expand CS opportunities, and works diligently to build an equitable CS program for Rowland Hall. “With Rowland Hall's support, I’m committed to a future where all computer science courses have a student population that mirrors the demographics of the school as a whole.”
Building Curriculum from the Ground Up
Fortunately, Ben isn’t starting from scratch when sixth graders meet him in Foundations of Computer Science, a required class since 2016. Since Christian Waters stepped into the role of director of technology integration in 2013, he has crafted an arsenal of computing lessons to captivate the full spectrum of beginning and lower schoolers. Christian teaches at least one unit of digital citizenship, coding, and robotics to every lower schooler. Kids engage in hands-on activities like programming colorful toy robots and building wearable tech comprised of LED lights affixed to felt. They also get the space to think big and consider computing’s real-world applications, like furthering one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. How might they use computing, for example, to remedy a problem like overcrowding or a lack of affordable and clean energy?
Christian draws curriculum from dozens of expert educational resources, including the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Children’s Innovation Project, and Code.org. “We've built something that is really relevant, and the best combination of the best materials and resources,” Christian said. “It's not a curriculum that is sold in a big box that you wheel into a classroom, and everyone has to do it the exact same way. It's tailored to the needs of Rowland Hall and relevant to our goals and our objectives.”
Thanks to ongoing collaboration between Christian and Ben, Rowland Hall’s CS curriculum is also vertically aligned: “We're preparing students for Advanced Placement Computer Science A Java in a way they never were before. Students in the Middle School are learning about objects, classes, functions, and variables,” Christian explained. “It's thanks in part to how we're building up from the Beginning School.”
One example of vertical alignment and mission-centric curriculum: Christian uses a Code.org activity where lower schoolers train a computer to recognize facial expressions—broaching some of the same issues upper schoolers examined in their February workshop. The crux of the Lower School lesson, according to the educator: “How do we distinguish between facial features and whether someone is happy or sad or excited, and is that even ethical to do that?” Students exercise their critical-thinking skills and confront questions involving how these programs work, and how to ensure they’re as ethical and unbiased as possible. “Ultimately what students get is that there is a lot of subjectivity in how we humans train computers,” Christian said.
A Group Effort
Part of attracting younger and more diverse students to CS—and, down the road, reducing bias in code—entails continual, widespread exposure. Christian has not only integrated CS into classrooms, he’s also created community-wide opportunities to rally around computing and engineering. He organizes three annual events that are now synonymous with STEM culture on the McCarthey Campus: the beginning and lower school Family Maker Night in the fall, the school-wide Hour of Code in the winter, and Lower School Maker Day in the spring. “These events are designed to demystify technology and making,” Christian said. “All students can see themselves as computer scientists, coders, makers, roboticists, engineers.”
These events and the school’s CS curriculum as a whole are dominated by collaborative group work that occasionally reaches across subjects and divisions. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ben Smith's Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles students collaborated annually with Tyler Stack's fourth graders to make an app that helps young students learn math. Upper schoolers worked in groups to devise and test app concepts on the lower schoolers and use their feedback to improve app design. For Katy Dark ’21, it was a highlight of Rowland Hall’s CS program: “The thing that will stick with me the most is using new interfaces to help people.” It’s a fitting favorite memory for Katy, who in 2020 became the first Rowland Hall student to win the top national award from the Aspirations in Computing program, sponsored by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). She won, in part, for her efforts tutoring students and developing a coding club at Salt Lake City’s Dual Immersion Academy, a bilingual Spanish-English charter school she attended during her elementary years.
The app project is a prime example of group work that can encourage underrepresented populations to pursue CS, according to Dr. Helen Hu, a Westminster College computer science professor whose work examines how educators can improve diversity in CS. “In industry there's something called agile co-programming, which is people working in groups,” said Dr. Hu, also the parent of a Rowland Hall ninth grader and seventh grader. “This is actually an important skill in computing—being able to work with others.” While some students love computing for computing, she added, a lot of others love it because of what it can do, “because of the problems you can solve, because of the impact you can have,” she said. “By doing both, by emphasizing these other parts of computing, you're helping both types of students. The students who love to code, still get to code. The students who love coding to solve problems are getting to do that. We know that students aren't going to learn it as well when you just teach it at the level of, ‘Where does the semicolon go and where do parentheses go?’”
Alex Armknecht ’20, a 2019 Aspirations in Computing regional award winner who’s now a CS major at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), appreciated learning CS at a more holistic level. “I loved the CS classes at Rowland Hall and they were consistently my favorite classes throughout high school,” she said. “I loved the way Mr. Smith taught and allowed us creative freedom … his class is the main reason I am majoring in CS. I learned the importance of asking for help, creativity, and collaboration, which all have been helpful to me in my college CS classes.”
During her senior year, Alex also participated in another shining example of collaborative group work in CS: the Upper School’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Tech Challenge Robotics team. The team started off strong in its inaugural 2019–2020 year and has continued to evolve, Ben said: “It’s expanded the opportunities for young women to become leaders, compete, and see how other girls across the state are involved with technology and engineering.”
During the 2020–2021 school year, juniors Irenka Saffarian and Tina Su stepped into unofficial leadership roles that bode well for the near future. Both have taken Advanced Placement CS A and are great coders, Ben said, and they pushed hard for the team to make it to the national semifinals in the FIRST Global Innovation Awards. Rowland Hall was the only team from Utah and one of only 60 teams internationally to make it that far. “Our theme right now is take it to the next level,” Ben said. “We realize we are right on the verge of getting to that level where we’re really competitive—where we actually compete with the best teams in the state.” And Irenka and Tina, Ben said, are committed to getting the team there. They embody the enthusiasm that Ben and Christian hope to cultivate across the school. “I hope that the future of taking computer science courses at Rowland Hall is increasingly coming from a place of excitement and interest and, ‘I cannot wait to use this skill in anything that interests me,’” Ben said. “It's not about a kid sitting in a basement all alone typing on their computer. This is about groups of people making exciting and interesting and really impactful decisions, and everyone needs to be at the table.”
Progress Made, and the Work Ahead
We are talking more about it, not just because it's zeitgeisty, but because technology has a lot of ground to make up here. We see ourselves as trying to help kids recognize that.—Christian Waters, director of technology integration
While Katy, Alex, Irenka, and Tina are recent success stories, Christian and Ben readily acknowledge that Rowland Hall isn’t exempt from racial and gender disparities. But the school is perpetually working “to change that from the ground up,” Christian said. Thanks in part to schoolwide training, JEDI values are ingrained in how Rowland Hall instructors design and teach tech-related classes. “We are talking more about it, not just because it's zeitgeisty, but because technology has a lot of ground to make up here. We see ourselves as trying to help kids recognize that.”
Ané Hernandez, a junior who took AP computer science and robotics as a sophomore during the 2020–2021 year, appreciated the heightened JEDI focus. Ané’s parents are both engineers and she’s been interested in CS for as long as she can remember—the winner of a 2021 Aspirations in Computing regional honorable mention loves the art of programming. Ané, who is Mexican American, has also long been interested in JEDI issues and advocating for more equity and representation, including through Rowland Hall’s student JEDI committee. She found it compelling to see how two of her passions, JEDI and CS, are related. "As technology is rising, racial, gender, and socioeconomic problems still exist," Ané said, "so they're just becoming interwoven."
While she’s grateful for how the JEDI units have furthered her passion for CS, she hopes her school also uses this momentum to self-reflect on, for instance, how to make CS more accessible to lower-income schools and communities. And that sort of community outreach isn’t unprecedented at Rowland Hall. In summer 2015, and in two summers that followed, Rowland Hall hosted a nonprofit Hackathon centered around teacher training. “That was a way that we contributed to a culture of learning and growth in our community,” Christian said. Educators from local public and independent schools convened on the Lincoln Street Campus to learn coding skills and how to use certain tools, like 3D printers and Arduino robots. The technology team helped cover some of the costs, Christian said, and teachers could earn state licensing credit for attending. Ben's resume is also flooded with conferences and workshops where he’s trained his peers. “It’s great for me to show a group of 15 or 20 educators how to teach a curriculum,” he said, “and then I can show them that I have a classroom with a majority of female students, and that I've been able to recruit and build, and that this is possible.”
These sorts of efforts could expand in the future. Rowland Hall is seriously considering ways to increase CS opportunities and spaces, and plans could solidify as early as the 2021–2022 school year. Christian and Ben are drafting a CS strategic plan that involves integrating CS with other subjects, training teachers, and expanding current classes. And Christian, Ben, and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Wendell Thomas are starting a CS task force and have asked others to join: one or two teachers from each division, Dr. Hu, and Sunny Washington, a startup COO and CEO who also serves on the board of Equality Utah. One of the task force’s first actions will be to provide feedback on the strategic plan draft.
For now, Christian and Ben’s work to recruit more—and more diverse—CS students is paying off. Since 2014, 19 Winged Lions have earned a collective 25 awards from the Aspirations in Computing program, including one win (Katy’s) and two honorable mentions at the national level. Rowland Hall also won The College Board’s 2019 and 2020 Advanced Placement Computer Science Female Diversity Award for achieving high female representation in our AP CS Principles class. Dr. Hu lauded the achievement. “That's pretty impressive," she said—especially for Utah. "There are some states where they have tens of teachers who received this. We have three. I think that speaks to how difficult this is in the state."
Ben, Christian, and the faculty and staff who support them remain focused on graduating good citizens armed with the tools to make tech work for all of us, not just some of us.
Ben, Christian, and the faculty and staff who support them remain focused on graduating good citizens armed with the tools to make tech work for all of us, not just some of us, as Joy Buolamwini so wisely said. Recent grad Katy is now attending Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and majoring in law—possibly cyber law. Anna Shott ’16 emailed Ben in December 2020 to share that she’d be joining Microsoft as a program manager the following year. “Your class truly influenced the path I chose, and I cannot thank you enough for sparking my interest in computer science,” wrote Anna, a University of Southern California grad who also worked as a K–12 CS camp counselor on her college campus. And current student Ané said what she learned in AP Computer Science Principles—that an algorithm can decide whether someone is granted a loan, for example—was a game-changer for her. “This experience has made me want to not only major in computer science, but a specific realm of computer science that maybe deals with AI and diversifying participants and coders so that there isn't such a large bias.”
Alex also plans on working in CS, another testament to Ben’s teaching: “I decided I wanted to go to my college when I met LMU's chair and professor of computer science and he reminded me of Mr. Smith,” she said. “I would not be a computer science major if it weren't for him. He pushed me to work my hardest, to try new things, and provided me with lots of opportunities.”
This sort of feedback keeps Ben laser-focused on boosting equity in CS at Rowland Hall and beyond. “I won’t pretend that it didn’t bring a tear to my eye,” he said. “It’s certainly fuel for the work that I do and it reminds me that it's worth doing. I could sit back on a curriculum and just deliver, and do fairly well at it. But this is beyond that. The work is more than what I teach—it’s who I’m teaching to.”
Rowland Hall’s young women in computer science have continued their outstanding track record of earning accolades from the National Center for Women and Information Technology’s (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing (AiC) annual awards program.
This year, six Winged Lions earned awards from our regional Northern Utah NCWIT Affiliate: senior Maddy Eatchel and junior Irenka Saffarian secured wins; sophomore Ane Hernandez and freshman Sophie Zheng earned honorable mentions; and junior Tianyi Su and freshman Claire Wang were named rising stars.
Our students’ AiC success is due in part to the efforts of computer science (CS) teacher Ben Smith ’89, himself a past winner of two educator honors at the affiliate level. Ben always encourages promising CS students to apply for the awards; this year, he’s glad that many still did, despite the challenges of the pandemic. “It’s really a testament to the school's dedication to make computer science, robotics, and technology an accessible and exciting option for all students,” the teacher said.
Senior Maddy Eatchel, an affiliate AiC winner, is now captain of our robotics team after helping to start the team last year. She wants to study CS in college, and is working on a research project applying machine learning to data in order to find new compounds for batteries.
This year’s recognized group from Rowland Hall skews younger than usual, and that bodes well for our CS program’s future, Ben said: students who receive higher levels of recognition typically apply for the awards two or more years in a row. For lone senior Maddy, a 2020 honorable mention recipient, this year’s win is a natural progression: she’s now captain of Rowland Hall’s robotics team after helping to start the team last year. She wants to study CS in college, and is currently working on a research project applying machine learning to data in order to find new compounds for batteries.
"Maddy took my intro to Java course on a whim as a sophomore, with very little interest other than the need to fill a class period," Ben said. "She has gone on to take my AP Java class, and to be an integral member of the new school robotics team, leading the team in a very challenging year."
Rowland Hall students will attend the regional affiliate’s virtual award ceremony on March 20. In addition to recognizing awardees, the ceremony will include a panel of college students and networking opportunities with women in the tech industry.
Ben started encouraging his students to enter the AiC awards back in 2014. Since then, 19 Winged Lions have earned a collective 25 awards, including one win and two honorable mentions at the national level. Under Ben’s leadership, Rowland Hall has been committed to ensuring all students—especially young women, who are underrepresented in computing careers—feel welcomed and supported in CS.
Top image: The Rowland Hall robotics team at the Freedom Prep Academy FIRST Tech Challenge state qualifier in Provo, Utah, on March 13. From left to right: senior Yuchen Yang, sophomore Jordyn VanOrman, freshman Gabe Andrus, freshman Adam Saidykhan, senior captain and regional AiC winner Maddy Eatchel, senior Daniel Carlebach, and freshman Joey Lieskovan (cut off on the right edge).