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Pipedreamers App Brings College-Level Compsci to High Schools

A startup app called Pipedreamers offers high schoolers an after-school, dual-credit Introduction to Computing course led by Standford professors that covers coding, databases, website design and using AI tools.

computer science illustrated web graphic
(TNS) — Angelic Adkins has always had an interest in electronics. When she was younger and her laptop broke, she looked up every video she could on how to fix it.

"I ended up taking it apart, putting it back together and it ended up working," she said.

The Niagara Falls High School senior is now one of a handful of students expanding their technological prowess with a new college-level course the school is offering in partnership with Stanford University and Pipedreamers.

From September through February, Niagara Falls High School students are taking a Stanford University-level introduction to computer science course, the same one that 200 other enrolled Stanford students are taking.

The program is also supported by Pipedreamers, a startup app providing Ivy League-level resources to underserved communities co-founded by Buffalo native and Niagara Falls resident Dante Richardson.

In the three-day a week after school program, two Stanford professors and guest lecturers teach an Introduction to Computing course, instruction on how to use computer programing software so that students can learn code, build databases, design websites and use artificial intelligence tools.

While Stanford has put on similar programs in the Oakland Unified School District in Oakland, California, this is the first program of its kind where Stanford offers dual-credit courses for technology. Those credits can be used toward a degree at any college in the county.

A graduate of Stanford's Accelerator for Learning, Richardson has been in the tech sector for the past seven years, working for companies like Liven and Bubble. He moved back to the region in part to launch a new start-up called Stooty Technologies.

"When I was coming back to the region, I decided to live in Niagara Falls instead of Buffalo because you can't grow the region of Buffalo-Niagara without Niagara Falls being at the front center," Richardson said. He added the city was built off of the innovation of Nikola Tesla, the social impact of Harriet Tubman and the entertainment factor of Marilyn Monroe.

School administrator Bryan Rotella said conversations first started in late August, too late for it to be a proper course. While the high school already offers computer science courses and 45 other courses ending in college credit, none of them have an AI component or are connected to a school outside Western New York with the pedigree of Stanford.

The program had an open enrollment period for anyone interested no matter the grade, though there was a preference for seniors. It started off with 20 students, now down to 14 coming consistently.

"The students I've spoken to seem to enjoy it," Rotella said. "It's a rigorous course. Computer science is not an easy topic."

The only qualification to participate in this free program is the student has to be from a justice-impacted home or environment or be from an underserved community.

"It's more so trying to get kids from homes that would never be awarded to go to college or never be able to have access to get into Ivy League school opportunity," Richardson said.

L. Anthony Townsend, another high school senior, has taken computer science classes before, but became interested after he heard this was a Stanford course. While he plans on going into the medical field, this is still a hobby in his free time.

"It's an amazing opportunity," Townsend said. "I don't think that the workload is too demanding. The deadline are a little strict sometimes, but they're pretty reasonable."

Adkins wants to become a psychologist, but would want to take more computer science classes if the opportunity came up.

"It's not as hard as I expected it to be," Adkins said. "It makes the computer not so magical, that you understand what you're doing."

Senior Asa Gates, who has an interest in computer science, likes taking courses offering college credits to help save money in the future. He sees himself getting a job in software engineering or coding.

"I got to learn more about the ins and outs to even make a website," he said.

Priscilla Fiden, the associate vice provost for Stanford Digital Education, said her office was created in 2021 with a goal to create more equitable pathways for education for those who would not have it otherwise.

"I think this area is so well positioned to be part of the tech transformation that's going on in the country," Fiden said. "It's really exciting for us to be able to reach students here and give them background in computer science."

After the students complete the course in February, there will be a graduation ceremony planned. Pipedreamers would continue supporting them in building skills and getting tech industry jobs, even right out of high school.

"If you're a good developer, you can get a job," Richardson said, comparing the skills learned to tradesmen like carpenters or plumbers.

Pipedreamers also wants to start workforce development programs for adults to gain the same digital skills these students are learning. They are currently looking for partners to host the courses.

©2023 the Niagara Gazette (Niagara Falls, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.