Maximilian Dennison was born and raised in the city of Pittsburgh. His passion is educating young people and exposing them to opportunities through meaningful learning experiences that build on traditional education. He received his BA in Political Science from Point Park University and is currently working towards my MA in Education. He’s passionate about finding ways to connect young people to computer science because of the economic opportunity it presents. That passion drives his leadership of Beta Builders, a program teaches students from City of Pittsburgh Schools how to code and write software. Now, as Digital Equity and Inclusion manager for the City of Pittsburgh, Max is turning his personal passion into a citywide commitment to equity and opportunity in STEM fields.
We sat down with Max to learn how STEM has shaped his life as a coder, educator and lifelong learner.
This interview has been edited for clarity and concision.
Willy James: What was your STEM “a ha moment”?
Maximilian Dennison: My STEM “a-ha” moment was working in the schools once I began programming and being able to see a lot of kids who didn’t understand languages or really didn’t understand the ideas behind coding or programming. So, that made me interested in trying to create something where they can know about AI, know about so many of these things that are really gonna take over the next few years.
Willy James: What has a career in STEM meant to you?
Maximilian Dennison: A career in STEM is the ability to be at the forefront where everything is going. To me, it’s not really a choice. We know that AI, programming, all these things are gonna take over jobs, they’re gonna take over industries. So it’s important to be a part of the forefront so you can be a part of wherever society is going as opposed to having to catch up to what’s going on.
For me, I started to make the transition a few years ago just seeing where technology is going. So I would say being a part of STEM allows me to be a part of the forefront and what I do allows me to bring other people along. That’s why I like to work with small children because this is something they’re really going to inherit over the next few years.
Willy James: How does STEM show up in your everyday life?
Maximilian Dennison: STEM shows up in our everyday life in every possible way you can think. From your applications that you download on your phone, to checking your bank account, to communication with your friends. I was just in a conversation with a friend and we were talking about how just 10 years ago in high school it was popular to have a Nextel phone where you “chirp” people and that was like, amazing technology that you can chirp your friend across the city. Now, you can talk to somebody—and visually talk to them from another country—while they’re on vacation.
So, I just don’t see how tech doesn’t affect people’s lives on a daily basis. It’s literally everywhere.
Willy James: What’s one thing you wish more people knew about STEM?
Maximilian Dennison: It’s not as hard to get involved with as you would think, I think that’s what kept me away from it some time. I was a humanities major. So, I always thought technology and coding and computer programming was just something outside of my skill set. But when I got actually involved, it’s not as difficult as you’d think. And the basic person if they have the time and energy can learn how to code, can learn how to program, and learn how to create their own applications. If they just have time and energy.
Willy James: What’s one STEM experience/resource/book/program/event you’d recommend?
Maximilian Dennison: Would I be biased in saying join Academy Pittsburgh/Work Hard? (laughs) I would say join a bootcamp like Academy Pittsburgh/Work Hard and go there for 3 months and learn how to code, learn how to program. And if you have a kid, send them to Beta Builders which is the program I run. And have them coding from the ages 10-18 so that when it’s time for them to choose whether they’re gonna go in a trade or go to a university, they already have the skillset that’s based off of tech, that’s tech-adjacent to anything they’re gonna be doing.
Learn more about Max and his work with Beta Builders at academypgh.com
This post is part of the #PghSTEM Spotlight, a project to lift up professionals who represent a more diverse and inclusive future for STEM careers.
Follow the links below to check out other spotlights in the collection.