Why All Star Code and Google created an after-school program in Pittsburgh

It’s unlike anything All Star Code offers — and only could have started here.

Students learn JavaScript during All Star Code's first summer intensive in Pittsburgh at Chatham University.

Students learn JavaScript during All Star Code's first summer intensive in Pittsburgh at Chatham University.

Thomas Krill / all star code
MJ Slaby

For nearly 90 minutes, Jerome McCree Jr. sat intensely working at his laptop in conference room at Google’s offices in Larimer on Monday evening.

The Serra Catholic High School sophomore is one of eight local students in the All Star Code Google After-School Program, a new pilot project between the summer intensive program and the tech giant.

All Star Code promotes economic opportunity by teaching computer science and networking skills, as well as how to have a positive mindset, to high school boys of color. The summer program has multiple locations in New York City, with Pittsburgh becoming its second city this year. And this after-school program with Google is unlike anything else All Star Code offers, the leaders said.

“We have multiple partnerships, but none where that is such a strong partnership that [nearly] half the kids in a location are involved,” said Christina Lewis Halpern, who founded All Star Code in 2013. “This is something I’d like to bring back to New York.”

A match made in Pittsburgh

This summer, 18 young men spent six weeks at Chatham University for All Star Code’s first year in Pittsburgh. The summer intensive was free to the students and included lunches, transportation and a laptop for each student to keep.

Students learned computer science skills like coding and worked on job preparation from resume and LinkedIN profiles to networking and mock interviews. They also heard from professionals and visited local technology companies, such as BYN Mellon Innovation Center, Google, Schell Games and Urban Innovation21 & Energy Innovation Center. By August, they were ready to present their work at a demo day at Ascender.

Sean Gray, Pittsburgh-area All Star Code director, said the idea for an after-school program started during the site visit to Google in Bakery Square.

Mike Capsambelis and Timothy James, product managers at Google Pittsburgh, told The Incline via email that they wanted to come up with a way to have a lasting impact on young people who are learning to code, and All Star Code had a “great mission” to help underrepresented students.

“We knew we wanted to continue working with these students on a consistent basis,” Capsambelis and James wrote.

The pair from Google and Gray started planning, crediting the quick organization to Pittsburgh’s culture.

“Pittsburgh is about relationships and collaborations,” Gray said, adding that in some cities it’s easy to do things alone, but not here.

Eight students from the summer intensive signed up for the after-school program, which meets six times during the fall semester, every other Monday for 90 minutes. Students work on projects with volunteers from Google, either in groups or individually.

McCree, the Serra Catholic student, is working on his project from Demo Day. He said he’s not quite ready to reveal the details yet, but said it’s similar to Uber and Airbnb.

He signed up for All Star Code because he wanted to learn about tech as a career and “how people make millions on apps.” And now, he’s excited to spend time at Google learning from employees, something he said he never could have done without All Star Code.

Allowing the students “to be in this space [at Google] does so much for their confidence,” Halpern said. She added that a majority of All Star Code participants say they work harder in school after the summer intensive.

Ariel Hermitt agreed. She’s a Carnegie Mellon University graduate student and All Star Code’s program manager intern in Pittsburgh.

“I wanted to work with this demographic because my dad, a man of color, is a programmer, and he is largely self-taught,” and All Star Code gives these students exposure to coding, Hermitt said.

Looking forward

Although the after-school program is a pilot, Gray said, he and others are already thinking about the spring and ways to keep it going.

Plans are in the works for a recruitment event during the city’s Inclusive Innovation Week in April to help attract students to All Star Code and other computer science programs.

In the spring, students could work with Google employees on projects for the Alice Challenge at CMU, which asks middle and high school students to create 3D animations, games and more, Gray said. Another option would be for students to take on local nonprofits or small businesses as clients, and build them websites.

“It’s up to the students,” he said.

Want to get involved? Applications for the 2018 All Star Code summer intensive open in the spring. Learn more here or by emailing Gray.