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Every spring a group of Villanova University Computer Science students and faculty climb into a Villanova University van loaded with refurbished laptop computers. The group’s destination is the Julia de Burgos Elementary School in North Philadelphia.
There, the laptops are presented to seventh- and eighth-grade students, the culmination of a semester-long collaboration between the elementary school and Villanova University. The seventh and eighth graders spend four Saturdays on the Villanova campus, learning about computational thinking, coding and computer programming from their Villanova student mentors, and the laptops are a gift to the middle school students at the end of the semester.
“I think the best part of working with the kids is the expression you see on their faces when they get their code to work or understand a new concept,” says Brendan McCann ’17 CLAS.
“I loved watching the kids grow from week to week while they learned about coding and how it is used in so many things they touch,” adds Rachel Malloy ’17 CLAS.
Computer Science faculty member William Fleischman, PhD, and Villanova alumnus Lance Rougeux ’98 CLAS, '01 MA began this program nearly two decades ago. Rougeux, an Education major and Computer Science minor, was teaching at Julia de Burgos and discovered that there were no usable computers at the school. He approached his former professor for help.
Dr. Fleischman spearheaded a donation of 24 refurbished computers—all in perfect condition and network-capable—with help from Computer Science professor Najib Nadi. Villanova University Information Technologies now donates the laptops each year. Dr. Fleishmann recognized how valuable it would be to have students from Villanova serve as mentors and models to the Julia de Burgos students. It marked the beginning of a strong relationship.
In addition to Brendan and Rachel, five other Villanova students participated this spring: Kent Wu ’17 CLAS, Katherine McLellan ’17 CLAS, David Siah ’17 CLAS, Thomas Plonski ’’17 CLAS and Nolan Jelinski ’18 CLAS.
For the Julia de Burgos students, the partnership introduces them to a field of study they may not have previously considered. The opportunity sparks an interest that could influence their future endeavors.
“It was exciting watching them realize the satisfaction of programming computers, and I could tell that those students would be very good at programming in the future,” says Nolan Jelinski.
Dr. Fleischman retires from Villanova in 2017, but he leaves the program in the capable hands of Professor Nadi and Mary-Angela Papalaskari, PhD. He looks forward to watching the relationship continue, enriching both the Villanova students and their young mentees at Julia de Burgos.
“Getting 20 seventh and eighth graders up early on a Saturday morning so they can catch public transportation to arrive at Villanova at 9 a.m. is a no trivial undertaking,” Dr. Fleischman says. “It is only a very small part of what Andrew Guyon and his fellow teachers at Julia de Burgos have done to make this relationship survive.”