Meet the CSforPGH Learning Lab Teaching Assistants

Five computer science trailblazers are helping forge more equitable and engaging learning pathways for local students

A new path is only as good as its trailblazers: Brave, bold, and innovative, the best forge a lasting path through new or uncertain terrain.

This fall, Remake Learning’s CSforPGH has welcomed five trailblazers of its own, who will help strengthen local pathways to and through computer science (CS) learning.

By definition, learning pathways are routes learners take to discover new ideas, pursue their interests, and develop their skills. These pathways criss-cross various learning environments, including in-school, out-of-school, and online. But, forging pathways that stand the test of time—and offer both engaging and equitable experiences for learners—require a careful level of coordination and curriculum alignment between schools and OST providers.

CSforPGH’s new Learning Lab pilot project will assume this important role of connector and aligner. The project has engaged five Teaching Assistants to partner with a cohort of out-of-school (OST) programs that offer CS learning.

Building on the local work of Digital Corps and Cities of Learning, the lab will match each Teaching Assistant with a handful of OST programs. Together, they will participate in intense co-creation, identify areas for curriculum alignment, and develop strategies for growing student interest in CS and encouraging inclusive participation.

Their partnerships will not only solidify and extend local CS learning pathways, but lead learners toward a future filled with much-needed skills and in-demand careers.

Take a moment to meet these five trailblazers: the CSforPGH Learning Lab Teaching Assistants!


Erin Cawley
CMU CS Academy Program Manager

Elementary School Alma Mater: Reeds Road Elementary School, a school near where I grew up in New Jersey, right outside of Atlantic City
Favorite High School Subject: Math
Favorite Teacher: My middle school math teacher
Remote Teaching Must-Have: Iced mochas
Favorite Way to Spend Summer Break: Hiking and adventuring around the world


What inspired your interest in CS education?

Getting involved with the Remake Learning Digital Corps. It showed me how much computer science can ignite a passion for learning in students. Then, during research for my master’s degree, I found how implementing coding into reading and writing curriculum could positively impact students’ logic and sequencing skills, so that really hooked me. It’s something relevant that will give students an opportunity to make an impact on anything that they care about—they can improve it with code. But, it is also a skill that helps sharpen problem-solving skills and improve literacy. So all around, it feels like the most important skill for 21st-century learners.

Why do you think it’s important to get more young people engaged in CS?

Because of the doors it opens for them and the positive impacts they will have on the world.  I do not believe we should want all young people to be computer scientists, but I want all young people to know how to code because they can take that skill set and apply it to the field they are passionate about.

What’s your vision for an integrated CS pathway?

This really depends on the needs of the particular school, but put simply: Students should first have a whole lot of fun tinkering, exploring, and playing as they learn to create with code. Then, as they mature, the lessons can become more challenging and focused on the foundational understandings of programming. But the first step is to get them excited about it!

What do you hope you and your counterparts will take away from the Learning Lab?

I hope I am able to help them to reach their goals and walk away with a programmatic plan and knowledge of the vast array of support resources in our region, knowing who to reach out to and how to get help when needed.


Amil Cook
CS & Digital Media Teacher, Propel Andrew Street High School

Elementary School Alma Mater: The Farragut Elementary School
Favorite High School Subject: African American Studies
Favorite Teacher: Mrs. Sandra Stuppard
Remote Teaching Must-Have
:
32GB DDR4 RAM
Favorite Way to Spend Summer Break
:
Visiting Boston and Cape Cod

What inspired your interest in CS education?

From a young age, I was always intrigued by computers. I watched the evolution from 386s, 486s, Macs and early Pentium computers, to the development of the Internet. I knew that Sticky Bear, Math Blaster, and Mavis Beacon were only the tip of the iceberg when it came to computers being used as learning tools. I knew that access was important and that culturally relevant instruction in technology was even more critical. These insights and a strong background in CS created the opportunity for me to leverage two of my passions: educating Black youth and unlocking the benefits of digital literacy for marginalized communities.

Why do you think it’s important to get more young people engaged in CS?

As 2020 has unveiled for all to see, digital literacy and capabilities are essential to economic sustainability for millions of individuals. Our students must be able to operate in the digital economy. Our students having strong computer science skills will enhance their ability to dream, design, and problem-solve for the road ahead as we work to bring equity, justice, and prosperity to demographics often overlooked, underfunded, and overpoliced.

What’s your vision for an integrated CS pathway?

An integrated pathway in CS looks like students learning the highest level CS theory in culturally relevant ways, centering them at the heart of knowledge and evolution of technology, while simultaneously providing them instantly applicable digital skills. It looks like students being encouraged, supported, and trained in the various creative and problem activities from content creation to app development. Finally, it must have an entrepreneurial and economic component that teaches ownership, business literacy, and provides employment and career opportunities prior to a student graduating from high school.

What do you hope you and your counterparts will take away from the Learning Lab?

I hope that our out-of-school partners feel supported and assured that they are providing their scholars and families a unique and tailored CS education—one that helps prepare the students for a lifetime of utilizing technology to empower themselves, their friends, families, and community.


Robert DeFillipo
Computer Science Instructor, Mon Valley School

Elementary School Alma Mater: Crest Ave. Elementary School in Charleroi, PA
Favorite High School Subject: Baseball
Favorite Teacher
:
Mr. Don Roberts
Remote Teaching Must-Have
:
Jam board and a Wacom tablet
Favorite Way to Spend Summer Break
:
My favorite way to spend my summer is on a beach!

What inspired your interest in CS education?

The creativity and the new way of thinking for students with exceptionalities.

Why do you think it’s important to get more young people engaged in CS?

To prepare them for the current and future job markets.

What’s your vision for an integrated CS pathway?

My vision for integrating CS starts with CS foundations and includes opportunities for individuals to learn more based on their likes and dislikes.

What do you hope you and your counterparts will take away from the Learning Lab?

I hope that I and others see the importance of community and cherish the learning opportunities that we all have.


Samantha Edkins
STEAM Teacher, South Fayette Intermediate School

Elementary School Alma Mater: St. Catherine’s of Siena in New Orleans, Louisiana
Favorite High School Subject
:
English
Favorite Teacher
:
My 2nd-grade teacher Mrs. Moran. She is a big reason why I went into elementary education!
Remote Teaching Must-Have
:
A second monitor
Favorite Way to Spend Summer Break
:
On the beach with my family in Hilton Head, South Carolina

What inspired your interest in CS education?

I’ve always been interested in computer science education, and I think what truly inspired my interest was realizing how computer science skills are becoming increasingly integral for jobs in all industries. As a teacher, I’ve always believed that my job isn’t to prepare students for something, but rather, to help prepare them for anything. Teaching computer science education genuinely does just that! 

Why do you think it’s important to get more young people engaged in CS?

Our young people are our future, and knowing that the jobs they may have don’t even exist yet, it is so important for them to have a solid foundation in computer science skills. I want students to feel inspired by the power of computing and be able to envision themselves as computer scientists.

What’s your vision for an integrated CS pathway?

My vision is to ensure that all students, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic background, have access to computer science. The beginning stages would simply allow them to explore and engage in a simple, yet fun, introductory coding course. As students find their interests and passions, their more specific focus will lead them to develop more applicable real-world problem-solving skills that could take shape in a variety of courses.

What do you hope you and your counterparts will take away from your time in the Learning Lab?

I hope that we can learn from each other by sharing ideas and resources. I hope to share my love for computer science with all, and I hope that together we can make a difference by providing children with the opportunity to learn computer science. 


Beth Whitney
Technology Teacher, Mon Valley School

Elementary School Alma Mater: White Oak Elementary
Favorite High School Subject: Psychology
Favorite Teacher
:
Mr. Amic. He made learning fun and that’s not an easy task when you are assigning multiple-page essays.
Remote Teaching Must-Have
:
Zoom, Chromebooks (ideally touchscreen), Google platform, Quizizz, Quizlet
Favorite Way to Spend Summer Break
:
Reading books by the pool or beach. I average 4 a week during the summer!

What inspired your interest in CS education?

My coworker, Mr. DeFillippo, had begun using CS in his classroom with great success, and he introduced me to it. The CS education community, especially in Pittsburgh, is so amazing that it has kept me engaged and continues to inspire me.

Why do you think it’s important to get more young people engaged in CS?

It is where the future is headed. It is already a higher-demand job field than many other areas and there are not enough individuals to fill roles. My sister is in human resources and I have helped support her in filling positions—her sole focus is hiring for IT companies. The amount of jobs out there that pay well is larger than the pool of qualified candidates.

What’s your vision for an integrated CS pathway?

My vision is to see all students have the opportunity to learn computer science and decide if it is a good fit for them. I would like to see a requirement for every student to take an introductory course and from there have the option to continue studying computer science if it interests them. I think allowing students to be introduced to CS will help bring in those who may have otherwise never considered computer science to be a subject that interests them. 

What do you hope you and your counterparts will take away from the Learning Lab?

I hope to see more organizations embrace computer science and offer it in their communities. I hope to find activities that work with each organizations’ specific mission. I hope to continue to build and expand the computer science education network in Pittsburgh, and I hope that together we can provide every child with the same access to computer science.


Published November 13, 2020