Encouraging Computer Science: Hillcrest High School

To meet growing workforce demands, the Department of Computer Science (CS) has amped up its efforts to encourage K-12 students throughout the region, and the nation, to study computer science.

According Dr. Arie Kaufman, CS Distinguished Professor and Chair, “Every day the department is bombarded with employer requests for qualified CS candidates. It is our hope that through consistent high school outreach that students will learn to love computer science as much as we do, and eventually the employment gap will decrease.”

In addition to its work with CodeLI, which has been a very positive experience for CS students and thousands of kids on Long Island, the department is always seeking new ways to be involved with students at the community-level. This spring, a series of articles will document CS faculty and staff as they visit with K-12 students in our quest to ensure that everyone from “7 to 97 years old” learns to code.

Hillcrest High School Visits CS at Stony Brook

Just as 2015 came to a close, a group of thirty-three students from in Jamaica, Queens visited Stony Brook University (SBU) with their computer science teacher and had the special opportunity to hear from many (CEAS) faculty and staff, as well as the . Back in 1980, a young man named Gerry Pepenella graduated from SBU with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. Today, he works as a math, science and engineering teacher at the highly regarded Queens public school.

As a teacher at Hillcrest, Mr. Pepenella started a unique program that teaches computer science to some of the brightest students in the school. Mr. Pepenella was a former industry executive, which has led to the Hillcrest program obtaining a few industry partners. “I believe the program here is unique in the fact that we really do concentrate on Software Engineering and CS. It is a three year sequence concentrating on problem understanding, definition, and algorithm development, planning, and then coding and testing” said Mr. Pepenella about the program.

The students were all very excited to visit the campus, and to hear from administrators, and faculty including Jennifer Dellaposta (Assistant Dean, CEAS), Robert Kukta (Associate Dean, CEAS), Paul Fodor (CS Faculty and Alum), and Department of Computer Science chairman Arie Kaufman. After a welcome presentation by Kaufman, Kukta and Dellaposta, Ken Gladky (Director of CS Operations) gave the students and several Hillcrest teachers a tour of the New Computer Science building. Professor Paul Fodor gave students a Stony Brook Trivia Quiz based on the questions and process used when he worked on the team that developed IBM's Watson computer, which famously competed on “Jeopardy!”. Students found the presentation interesting since some of them, who will be part of the program’s first graduating class, have already written commercial code.

During lunch students learned the “ins and outs” of applying to SBU from Gerome Bell, Admissions Counselor. These possible future-Seawolves had many important questions, including the SAT requirements for admission, and qualifying for various scholarships and diversity programs. They weren’t strictly all-business, though, and also questioned how Stony Brook chooses the talent for their yearly concerts. CS at Stony Brook has already planned several other visits with middle and high school students. Look for details throughout the semester in the website series, Encouraging Computer Science.