Kaneland Connection: ‘We don’t have enough computer scientists’

Fox Valley Career Center instructor leads students to national honor

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
Anna Schwein, teacher at the Kaneland-based Fox Valley Career Center

MAPLE PARK – Science, technology, engineering and mathematics make up the STEM tag, and the subjects have become kind of a path toward a bright future, with the idea that those who pursue such fields will have strong opportunities for future employment.

Anna Schwein, a computer technology teacher at the Kaneland-based Fox Valley Career Center, wonders why there is “a little bit of a disconnect between computer science and STEM.”

“People look at computer science as something outside of STEM,” she said. “But computer science is really all about STEM.”

Schwein has reasons to be excited about the field. She helped lead a group of students to a project in rural Missouri, an effort that led to accolades at a national level. The students – Nick Messina, Stephen McCracken, Marshall Farthing and Jack Grimes – would combine to win a prestigious Google RISE Award, an honor for which the participants made up the only high school entry to win in the past year.

Schwein and the students traveled to Eminence, Mo., to bring their program to that area, as well as others in Missouri. She would take trips to continue the effort, along with the students, for the Computer Science After School program. It was a program that they first did at Kaneland Harter Middle School before, she said, “we decided to plow ahead and do this” and headed to Missouri.

She said what made the program special was the target audience – “rural kids and remote rural kids.”

“Our focus was to really get down to the Ozark Mountains. … They are in the middle of nowhere, and those kids are just kind of forgotten, but they’re just as bright,” she said.

The program lives on. Messina, who now attends Waubonsee Community College, teaches a CS After School class at the middle school, which is run through the Sugar Grove Park District.

It’s an opportunity, she said, for youths who “don’t go into computer science because they don’t even know it’s there.” It’s a good option, she said, with many jobs available for those with the proper skills.

“We don’t have enough computer scientists,” she said.

However, she also added, “just because you get a degree in computer science doesn’t mean that you’re going to work.” But she believes there is a great opportunity for those who can get the skills and the passion for it.

The Fox Valley Career Center includes students from beyond Kaneland, as they also come from St. Charles East and St. Charles North, Burlington Central, Geneva, Batavia and West Aurora high schools. She considers the students among the brightest, and she said some are serious about it, enough that they’ll take summer courses or “early-bird” physical education classes so they can attend.

Interest might be sparked from a simple love of video games, she said. For instance, if a youth is engrossed in a game such as Minecraft, it might be a start.

“I think it’s kind of liberating because it lets you do whatever you want, and you can create things,” she said. “There’s a lot of learning going on in Minecraft.”

Maybe that will lead to a career in computer science. Maybe not. Schwein said “they may find out, this is not what I expected.” But if they do like it, she said they’ll find a career that includes good benefits and a possibility of a high salary. And they shouldn’t fear going in, she said.

“There’s that traditional thought that if you’re going into computer science, you must be a geek,” she said. “That’s just not the case.”

• Al Lagattolla is the news editor of the Kane County Chronicle. Write to him at alagattolla@shawmedia.com.

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