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For Good: Sarasota Hackathon seeks computer science mentors for teens

Keeping up with computer technology in the 21st century is no small task, even for the most tech-savvy teens. With the computer science industry growing at dizzying rates and creating an increased demand for coding and computing training, the race is on for today's high school computer whiz-kids to download the most competitive skills in tech, logic, critical thinking and design.

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County estimates that over the next 10 years, there will be 1-million more computing jobs than there are graduates to fill them -- an up to $500 billion loss in potential salaries -- and that 30 percent of jobs will require technology and coding skills. In an effort to address the critical need to introduce high school students to education and career opportunities in computer sciences, the Education Foundation will host the region's first #SRQHacks Student Hackathon, Oct. 14-16. 

Limited access to advanced computer science and technology training for students from low-income families is among the greatest challenges Sarasota County schools face in fostering future generations of computing professionals. Today 52 percent of the 43,000 students enrolled in Sarasota County schools qualify for the income restricted National School Lunch Program, and while public school classrooms offer basic computer science training, kids from lower-income families struggle to access learning opportunities beyond the classroom basics. 

The #SRQHacks Student Hackathon aims to reach students whose families may not have the resources for after-school clubs or technology-enrichment programs. Student participants will include Sarasota County students ages 13-18 recruited through Sarasota County Schools, the Education Foundation’s Digital Learning Lab partners and community organizations. 

The hackathon's three-day immersion experience pairs students with tech mentors to build a web or mobile app that positively impacts the community. Prior to the event, Sarasota and Manatee County communities will select area-specific issues, which the student-mentor teams will be tasked to provide app-based solutions for by applying computer science skills and outside-the-box thinking. 

"Our partners and sponsors recognize that an intense immersion coding experience like this has the potential to grab the interest of a student and set him or her on a career path they might not have considered attainable,” says Jennifer Vigne, Executive Director of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County. 

Supporting partners include the City of Sarasota Police Department, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, New College of Florida and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

“It is part of our mission to create a culture where all students aspire to some type of post-secondary education, whether that means community college, technical school, or a university. This hackathon is a unique way to expose students to coding and match them with mentors who can inspire their interest in pursuing a technology-based career," Vigne says.

The hackathon is currently seeking three types of volunteer mentors to work with students in October: Developers (programmers, engineers and computer science college students or graduates), designers (front-end developers and graphic designers), and innovators (educators and entrepreneurs), as well as event sponsors.

Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

 Jessi Smith is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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