Kaneland grad shares computer skills with middle schoolers

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 6:54 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Nick Messina, a 2013 Kaneland High School graduate, teaches an after-school computer science class to sixth-graders Colin Staub (left) and Truman Willson (right) at Kaneland Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove. Messina recently won a Google RISE award.

SUGAR GROVE – The world of computer science might be intimidating to some, appearing to be a complicated concept that they think they never could comprehend.

Nick Messina understands.

“When you first look at it, you have no idea. … ‘Oh wow, whoever knows this is a genius,’ ” he said. “But when you really start to figure it out, it’s like, ‘Wow, this kind of makes sense.’ ”

Messina is a recent Kaneland graduate and part of a team – representing the Kaneland-based Fox Valley Career Center – to win a prestigious Google RISE Award. Part of that achievement included the teaching of after-school classes at Kaneland Harter Middle School, and Messina, now a student at Waubonsee Community, has returned to that role.

Messina, through the Sugar Grove Park District, is teaching a class – beginners computer science after school. Although his current class size is small – five students – there will continue to be opportunities. Kathy Malloy, the program director for the park district, said the endeavor has been successful, so it will be continued.

Messina has credentials. He joined with Stephen McCracken, Marshall Farthing and Jack Grimes to journey to Eminence, Mo., to bring workshops to students there. They won a gold medal at the National Skills USA competition.

Messina said there aren’t enough students giving computer science a try. He laughed a little when talking about how he got started.

“I was pretty hooked on video games at the time,” he said. “I saw game programming and thought, ‘Cool, I’ve been playing ‘Call of Duty,’ and I’m in the zone for
that,’ ” he said.

But his interests now extend far beyond video games. In fact, he said, “I haven’t touched a game in well over a month, and I still like what I’m doing.”

Not all students find the experience to be as rewarding, he said, but that’s OK, too.

“I have some sixth-graders who were beyond what I was expecting,” he said. “Some of them have difficulty, but that’s probably because they realized it wasn’t for them. At least they had the opportunity to experience it.”

As for Messina, he understands that some would see what he’s doing and think “this guy is a computer expert. But that’s totally not the case. There’s so much I don’t know, and so much I can know.”

At Waubonsee, he’s taking an introduction to C++, which he said “is actually going pretty fast, and you’re getting a real taste of programming.” And at Kaneland, he’s been working as a computer technician, which is “very similar to what I plan to do as a career.” He ultimately hopes to become a programmer, which he said is all about problem solving.

His big goal is that more students get the chance to experience that, and he hopes that more will take the step, just the way he did.

“It was definitely an eye-opener for me,” he said. “It would be cool to have more kids figure it out.”

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