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Michigan’s Upper Peninsula focused on growing the next generation of computer programmers

Michigan Tech students work with local Middle and High School students to build a strong foundation for the region’s growing cyber economy

UPPER PENINSULA, MI – OCTOBER 2019 – When two Michigan Technological University professors discovered an opportunity in their community to continue expanding the region’s growing reputation as a cyber economy, they developed a program that would introduce middle and high school students to computer science. Charles Wallace and Leo Ureel, both professors in Michigan Tech’s College of Computing, created a local program for middle and high schoolers called Copper Country Coders.

This educational program, led by Michigan Tech students, allows middle and high school tech-oriented students to explore computing topics and different programming languages. Introducing these topics to students at a young age will set them up for success in a future career. A background in computer science could lead to a myriad of careers in different fields such as information technology, science, data analysis, engineering, and even art and design that could lead to jobs such as software application developer, web developer, computer systems engineer, or computer programmer, or an app developer.

In a study by CareerCast, it was determined that an app developer is the most in-demand job of 2019, as well as the highest paying job of those in the top ten rank. Through 2024, the hiring demand for people with programming experience is projected to increase by 31%. The average salary for someone with a computer science degree is $110,100 with an average starting salary of $65,900.

While programming is a skill in itself that will, no doubt, benefit the students’ futures, it also teaches soft skills. Collaborating on projects, developing solutions, and controlling the computer teaches students how to work within a team, how to think critically, solve problems, determination, communication, and creativity. These are all skills that future employers will be looking for. Fostering these skills at a young age will give them more success before they leave high school and for the rest of their careers.

Working in small teams, students are given open-ended project ideas that allow them to learn through exploration. One group was working with Raspberry Pi, a small, credit card sized computer that can plug into a monitor or TV. Commonly compared to the “LEGO of computers”, the Raspberry Pi is a device that allows beginners to explore computing. Small but mighty, the Raspberry Pi can be used for many different purposes. You could build robot cars, play Minecraft, control electronic toys, connect it to your TV and use it as a home theater, or build a laptop using the Raspberry Pi as a brain. The opportunities are endless.

Michigan Tech students are able to use their creativity and enthusiasm to create their own curriculum and hone their teaching skills throughout the year. “Many of them had good experiences with computing in middle or high school, and they enjoy giving back,” explained Wallace. “Plus, it is undeniably fun to see young people discover how creative they can be in a digital context.”

With the Michigan Tech and middle/high school students working together, they both benefit from this program. This opportunity benefits Michigan Tech students and allows them to improve their public speaking skills, enhance their resume, and strengthen connections with their professors. Meanwhile, the middle and high school students get to interact with kids in the community that have similar interests, experience a new environment, and learn valuable skills at a young age.

Academic and business leaders from across the Upper Peninsula continue working together to create programs and build a cyber economy. With a world-class engineering university and College of Computing in their backyard, schools like Dollar Bay High School, Calumet High School, and Houghton Middle School are grooming their students for careers in computer science. The Upper Peninsula is the perfect place for the next generation of computer programmers to thrive.

About Copper Country Coders
Copper Country Coders (CCCoders) is an educational program provided by Michigan Tech students, with assistance from Computer Science faculty members Leo Ureel and Charles Wallace.  We introduce students in middle and high school to the world of computer science and programming.  In our weekly sessions we introduce students to new computing topics and programming language features, and we give them open-ended project ideas so they can learn through exploration.

About InvestUP
InvestUP is a private sector-led economic development organization keenly focused on driving economic growth across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Founded by the region’s leading private sector businesses and the region’s universities, its mission is to deliver business and job growth across the peninsula.

As a part of our commitment to the Upper Peninsula, we collaborate with partners to share some of the most compelling stories about business and job growth across the region. Our goal through these stories is to get at the heart of what makes the U.P. unique — and to ensure these stories travel beyond our peninsula and broadly illustrate why the UP is the place to live and work.

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