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‘Greater MKE Hour of Code’ Surpasses Projected Goals During Pandemic

Submitted by Renee Becker-Blau, Talent Development Associate, MKE Tech Hub Coalition

Now in its third year, the Greater MKE Hour of Code initiative, held during Computer Science Education Week, December 7-13, exceeded expectations despite the new challenges the pandemic introduced to planning and execution.  This annual event is designed to demonstrate a regional commitment to developing local tech talent. 

“Tech is embedded into all of our key industries. Current projections indicate that our region will have 31,000 unfilled tech jobs by 2024.  At the same time, we have an emerging talent pipeline that might not be aware of how important they are to the future of tech in MKE.  That is why the MKE Tech Hub Coalition invests in the MKE Hour of Code.”  said Laura Schmidt, chief talent development officer.

This regional initiative originated as a way of increasing industry engagement in Code.org’s national Hour of Code™ movement which introduces coding to K-12 students in an age appropriate way.  It has since grown into a regional “experience” where corporate and non-profit organizations, higher education institutions, and community volunteers organize events, activities and outreach intended to inspire young people to think differently about their ability to prepare for, and eventually succeed in tech/tech adjacent careers.    

This year the Coalition aimed to sustain a minimum of 5,000 hours of mentorship due to COVID-19.  They asked for support from prior participants and extended their outreach to Coalition members, the newly formed K-12 Computing Alliance and the districts that were selected to participate in the state’s first CSforALL workshop this past summer.  The effort engaged 60 new organizations in addition to those that had participated in prior years.  Collectively, 98% of participants have indicated that they plan to participate again in 2021.  The Coalition also created a public events calendar where students could connect to activities and events in addition to those organized in partnership with their home school. 

With the continued support of Newaukee, the effort logged over 9,580 hours of tech related mentorship across 99 different organizations in 2020.  “We are really pleased at how the community came together to support students despite the inherent obstacles due to the pandemic.”  said Schmidt.  

Three times as many organizations participated in the event this year (from 33 in 2019 to 99 in 2020).  Twice as many events were coordinated with double the number of volunteers (from 251 in 2019 to 497 in 2020).   While participants encountered some new challenges, they found that some aspects of volunteer and student engagement were actually easier.  More volunteers were willing to help out due to remote working environments.  Virtual events took less time and money to plan and execute.  Many volunteers indicated that students demonstrated advanced digital literacy skills likely resulting from new virtual learning experiences necessitated by the pandemic.

“The MKE Tech Hub Coalition is a small but mighty non-profit whose strength comes from the collective will of the community who understands that we are better together than we will ever be individually.  We could not be more proud of everyone who devoted their time and energy amidst competing priorities to make the event a success.  They are collectively #mketech!” said Schmidt.

What comes next?  

The MKE Hour of Code serves as a spark but we are not done there!  We are working our way through all of the great feedback from participants to strategize around ‘What’s Next After the Hour of Code’ and to consider how our experience during a pandemic might inform future STEM outreach efforts.  Please refer to the website for an overview of the event:  www.MKEHourofCode.org.  If you have ideas to share, please send them to contact@mketech.org.  

What participants are saying:

  • “We absolutely loved working with our corporate volunteers! Having the extra help and expertise during Hour of Code was perfect for our teachers who weren’t as familiar with coding themselves. They helped plan lessons and talked about their careers. From a school’s perspective, having this easy career connection with a fun and engaging connection is just perfect. Thanks to all who made Hour of Code a success this year!”  – Tresca Meiling, Director of Development, Milwaukee Academy of Science.

 

  • Great experience. Wonderful material was provided to prepare. Used code with google for an activity and it was very easy to execute on since they give you lots of flexibility depending on age/time. Kids were able to use videos to learn how to do things and then experiment which made it easy since we were virtual.” – Jill Zeisler, Director of Strategy and Services, Codeworks

 

  • “The event provided our volunteers the opportunity to collaborate with both the teacher and students and witness first-hand the impact they can have in sparking both students and teachers interest in technology.  The experience also reminded our volunteers of the excitement and gratitude that solving problems can bring.  In their presentation to the larger team at Landmark, our volunteers also sparked an interest for others to get involved in the future.” –  Kyle Utley, VP Software Engineering and Data, Landmark CU.

 

  • “At Northwestern Mutual, we believe that every student should have access to tech learning; however, we know that’s not always possible.  With some schools cutting back on Computer Science programs this year as a result of the pandemic, this year’s MKE Hour of Code was arguably more important than ever and it was energizing to see the diversity of organizations coming together to drive collective impact to help expose more students to Computer Science in the Milwaukee region.”  Stacy Zaja, Assistant Director – STEM Outreach at Northwestern Mutual
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