iCode leads the way fostering STEM-related mentorship projects

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National Mentoring Month, designated as such in 2002, intends to encourage more people to mentor and to promote mentoring programs.
This year, Dallas-area residents have taken it upon themselves to further the cause.
Girish Bachani, Capital One Financial Services managing vice president and chief financial officer, has worked with the city of Plano to develop an internship program.
After discussing possibilities with Mayor Harry LaRosiliere, Bachani and Capital One focused on high school students in east Plano.
“Just working with the young people is very refreshing,” Bachani said. “They are so excited and bring so many new ideas.”
Capital One also sponsors a program that helps fourth-graders with math. Studies show that kids learn the foundations of math best around that age.  The program runs nine days and ends with an exam. Many participants have shown phenomenal progress during the short time, according to program organizers.
The children also get to work with Capital One associates in a professional environment.
“Many kids have not seen an office environment,” Bachani said. “It makes math really fun for them.”
Trinity Christian Academy Director of Technology Education Lisa Wong also tries to make math and other key subjects fun for students. Wong focuses on teaching science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to high school girls.
Wong grew up in Silicon Valley, Calif., and admired her father, an engineer. She hopes to show students there are many misconceptions about what it takes to be an engineer.
Some girls have preconceived notions that only the very top students in their class can succeed in the field. Many students who did not experience math success at an early age feel they are naturally bad at it.  Often all they need is more exposure and a different approach.
“I needed mentors to help me get through it,” Wong said. “I still have mentors and always encourage my students to be mentors.”
Wong hopes to impart on students the importance of investing in the next generation. She already sees that in many of her students who strive to set examples to younger ones.
“Kids are people who have a passion for helping,” she said.
Wong also aims to show that learning STEM subjects is more than just fact regurgitation. Students excel through critical thinking and creativity.
Mauricio Vasquez knows a little about creative learning.  As director of iCode Frisco, he manages an after-school computer science and robotics program that teaches kids through a hands-on participatory learning environment.
Many assignments are game-based to serve as a fun gateway to learning complex subject matter. Students come in asking to build the next “Minecraft,” but leave with a skill set applicable to jobs in a variety of fields.
“We help them develop the logical thinking in their minds,” Vasquez said.
According to Vasquez, iCode teaches children how to build technology as opposed to learning technology.
Vasquez and his team focus on fostering critical thinking, a skill that many job providers value more than others.
“All those repetitive tasks are going away,” Vasquez said. “The jobs that require critical thinking and solving problems all the time are the ones that are on the rise.”
Classes at iCode have fewer than 10 students. The goal is to build a personal relationship between instructor and student.
Instructors are actually referred to as “technical leads” because their primary responsibility is guiding students through the learning process in a manner that allows them to discover and learn. Technical leads evaluate the week’s progress and develop a strong mentoring relationship with each student.
“Technology actually happens when you have solid teams working together,” Vasquez said. “It’s fun and it’s entertaining, and you can actually change the world if given a purpose.”

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With locations throughout Texas, iCode is a forward-thinking after school program that provides an strong foundation in computer science, preparing them for the world beyond the classroom and inspiring them to be creative problem solvers.

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