With help of Google grant, Northeastern students become computer science mentors

Tech giant Google has funded a grant proposal written by Northeastern Illinois University Computer Science majors Austin Leatham and Julien de Castelnau, resulting in a Google igniteCS award totaling $4,450.

The Google igniteCS program proposal sought funding for a program in which undergraduate and graduate Northeastern students mentor underserved and underrepresented high school students by introducing them to computer science before entering college.

It all started when Computer Science Assistant Professor Rachel Trana suggested the idea to Leatham.

“When she mentioned that we had less than a week to submit the grant, I was motivated to work hard to impress her,” said Leatham, the lead proposal author. “I thought that grant writing alone would be a great experience to have under my belt as an undergrad. Needless to say, we were delighted when we received the award letter.”

The grant was awarded earlier in the spring, and for the past several weeks Leatham and de Castelnau, along with eight other Computer Science students in a group called “NEIUnites with igniteCS,” have been collaborating with TRIO Upward Bound Math and Science (UBMS) Director Aaron Cortes to introduce a variety of computational thinking and coding topics to junior- and senior-level high school students.

“It is so exciting to watch my students gain additional confidence in themselves, reinforce their own educational experiences by teaching, and to make connections with the next generation through the dissemination of fun trends in technology,” Trana said. “I am extraordinarily proud of how hard they have worked and the commitment they have displayed as part of the Google igniteCS program.”

In addition to lead mentors Leatham and de Castelnau, the other Northeastern student mentors are Dikshya Acharya, Purva Chandel, Emmet Hilly, Yaakov Kalman, David McCoy, Ashiya Patel, Lauren Rabe and Joseph Rodriguez.

“We explore a fun and creative sampler of high-level computer science topics that are targeted to reach and engage high school students who come from a diverse demographic,” Leatham said. “Through our community partner UBMS, we are working with freshman and sophomore students from Morton High School and Roosevelt High School.”

A total of six mentoring sessions began May 6 and conclude June 10 with an awards ceremony for the high school students.

Leatham said the grant will help Northeastern connect with the local community and may open up future opportunities for Northeastern’s Department of Computer Science.

“The high school students that we work with have the opportunity to experience high-level computer science topics while working alongside Northeastern student mentors,” he said. “By sowing the seed of interest with this initial program among mentees and mentors, we will nurture and grow the relationship between our university and the community.”

Pictured above: Northeastern mentors (back row) David McCoy, Austin Leatham and Ashiya Patel, and (front row) Rabe, Dikshya Acharya, Rachel Trana, Emmet Hilly, Yaakov Kalman and Joseph Rodriguez.

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Northeastern mentors (back row) David McCoy, Austin Leatham and Ashiya Patel, and (front row) Rabe, Dikshya Acharya, Rachel Trana, Emmet Hilly, Yaakov Kalman and Joseph Rodriguez.
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