Computer science is one of the fastest-growing majors at UT. This year, we have around 1800 students in the Class of 2017, making computer science one of the largest majors in the College of Natural Science. There are a lot of reasons why. The fact that one of the most competitive categories at UIL—a competition prevalent in many public high schools—is computer science turns the minds of thousands of high schoolers towards CS in general. Our collective fascination of Silicon Valley has led to a manifest destiny-esque romanticization of the field of startups. Projects like The Hour of Code and websites like codeacademy.org are making CS more accessible to students who just want to learn.
The problem, though, is that in most cases, middle and high schools don’t actually offer that many CS-related courses. Most high schools stop at data structures, while many don’t offer any CS classes at all. With the exception of the most advanced ones, middle schools basically don’t offer a computer science education at all. As a result, a lot of students never hear about computer science as anything more than what the stereotypically nerdy guy does in every spy movie ever.
UTCS is trying to change that, however, with UTCS Roadshow, a program dedicated to educating students all over Austin about computer science. Two or three CS majors—anyone from freshmen to seniors—go on trips to different schools around Austin to give short presentations on computer science, usually with a few activities to get students thinking along the lines of computer science. For example, most trips feature a game called “Cracking the Code”, where the nefarious Cookie Bandit has stolen several packs of cookies; the safety of the cookies is incumbent upon the students reversing a series of letters encoded in binary or hexadecimal.
The goal isn’t to start teaching kids Java or Python; in fact, it’s as nontechnical as an introduction as you can get. Though, it does teach binary and hexadecimal. It’s designed to get them thinking about what it means to be a computer scientist; the presentation includes slides that talk about all of the different companies CS majors intern or work for, the different types of research UT’s CS department does, and the
If you are a UTCS undergraduate student are interested in volunteering to take your passion for CS to Austin middle school students, visit the UTCS Roadshow page.
If you are in the Austin area and would like the Roadshow to visit your classroom, please contact Lori McNabb.