A ‘Summit’ of Opportunities

At the 2023 WeTeach_CS Summit, networking, learning, resources, awards abound as educators, school districts honored

    Attendees interact with STEM teaching tools at the 2023 WeTeach_CS Summit. More than 250 computer science professionals gathered in Houston for the seventh annual Summit.

    TACC’s Expanding Pathways in Computing (EPIC) team is guided by a simple mission: make computer science (CS) education available to every Texas student in K-12 classrooms.

    At the 2023 WeTeach_CS Summit, this idea of CS for All took center stage, as more than 250 CS teachers, advocates, administrators, professional development providers, university instructors, and policy makers gathered in Houston for the seventh annual Summit. WeTeach_CS is the professional development component of the EPIC program.

    “Texas trails other states in percentage of schools that offer CS, so if we want to remain a leader in the innovation economy, we must do a better job making computer science education available to all our students.”
    Carol Fletcher, Expanding Pathways in Computing Director

    “The WeTeach_CS Summit serves teachers from school districts as small as Terlingua and Presidio — on the U.S.-Mexico border — to larger ones like Houston and Dallas ISD,” said EPIC Director Carol Fletcher. “Texas trails other states in percentage of schools that offer CS, so if we want to remain a leader in the innovation economy, we must do a better job making CS education available to all our students.”

    To achieve their mission, EPIC partners with school districts, institutions of higher education, industry leaders, and federal, state, and local government entities who are also dedicated to expanding access and opportunity for historically underserved students in computing.

    EPIC Director Carol Fletcher (right) speaks with IDEA Public Schools Curriculum Manager Efrain Lopez during the 2023 WeTeach_CS Summit.

    “The WeTeach_CS team stresses the importance of CS education to teachers, administrators, school boards, and the Texas Legislature because the jobs of tomorrow require STEM knowledge,” said Lorelei Cummings, a physics teacher in rural Lufkin. “My students benefit greatly from my partnership with WeTeach_CS.”

    Importance of Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC)

    An important aspect of this year’s Summit was inclusion of the U.S. Department of Education’s YOU Belong in STEM initiative, which launched in December 2022. The goal is to scale equitable, high-quality STEM education for all students from Pre-K to higher education — regardless of background — to ensure their 21st century career readiness and global competitiveness.

    “We often think that broadening participation in computing is about representation, but it’s so much more,” said Allen Antoine, EPIC’s director of CS education strategy. “When we open up pathways for diverse groups and nurture unique perspectives, the computing technologies of tomorrow will be more innovative and inclusive, which will create a more equitable future for everyone.”

    Computer Science Teachers Association Professional Learning Manager Vanessa Jones poses for a photo after an interview at the WeTeach_CS Summit. Jones' work focuses on bringing CS awareness to historically underrepresented students.

    Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) Professional Learning Manager Vanessa Jones agrees with the need for more equity in STEM. Jones, a former instructional technology design coach with Austin ISD, lauds the work being done by WeTeach_CS and the CSTA to bring CS awareness to historically underrepresented students.

    “It’s not enough to just know about computer science; we also have to study issues like access equity and barriers to CS education for both teachers and students,” Jones said. “The WeTeach_CS program has been an integral component to my growth as a CS educator and the growth of the state’s STEM community.”

    Importance of Cybersecurity Education

    Cybersecurity was a hot topic at this year’s Summit as educators were able to attend six sessions dedicated to improving cyber education.

    EPIC Cybersecurity Education Specialist Nikki Hendricks says students must be taught the risks and the responsibilities of using technology and how to protect themselves. In 2022, Hendricks launched the WeTeach_Cyber Collaborative, a cybersecurity-focused professional development program which brings together in-service educators from Texas school districts to deepen their cybersecurity content knowledge to challenge and pass the CompTIA Security+ industry certification exam.

    “Schools are struggling to find cybersecurity experts to work in the education sector because of industry demand and a workforce shortage,” Hendricks said. “Teachers from other fields are being asked to teach cybersecurity, so these educators need programs to provide them with content knowledge and practical, hands-on projects they can use in the classroom.”

    Brenda Sharpless of Berkner High School in Richardson ISD credits the WeTeach_CS team with creating a welcoming environment for teachers who are curious about teaching STEM. Sharpless was a participant in the inaugural WeTeach_Cyber Collaborative and lauds the WeTeach_CS team’s abundance of professional development offerings and ideas for recruiting new teachers.

    “After working in IT for 25 years, going through the WeTeach_Cyber program helped remind me of some of the things that I’d forgotten,” Sharpless said. “I loved having the opportunity to work with hands-on cybersecurity projects. I highly recommend that all teachers take the course.”

    For more cybersecurity information or help creating a cybersecurity program at your school, contact Nikki Hendricks and sign up for the EPIC Cybersecurity newsletter.

    Meet the Award Winners

    WeTeach_CS leadership presented Change Maker and Mini-Grant awards to nine outstanding educators for their contributions to improving CS education in Texas. Established in 2016, these annual awards are given to dedicated CS teachers and administrators who bring innovative strategies for learning CS to their classrooms and serve as leaders for expanded CS opportunities in their schools and districts.

    These awards are sponsored by Texas Instruments.

    WeTeach_CS Mini-Grant Award winners pose with Texas Instruments Education Technology Consultant Pareesa Schulte (left). Teachers shown here are (from left to right): Cary-Anne Cope, Tonya Cates, Cristina Jimenez, Michelle Hendricks, Stephen Michalik, and Loerelei Cummings. Texas Instruments sponsored the Mini-Grant and Change Maker awards.

    “Texas Instruments is honored to partner with WeTeach_CS in recognizing and rewarding teachers who are making a real impact in CS education,” said TI Education Technology Consultant Pareesa Schulte. “For more than 30 years, TI has helped countless math and science educators enhance their teaching practices with the use of our technology — we look forward to continuing that support.”

    Added Fletcher: “Texas Instruments has been a great partner since we launched WeTeach_CS in 2015, helping us with professional development and joining us in honoring amazing CS teachers. We couldn’t do the work we do without dedicated partners like Texas Instruments.”

    2023 WeTeach_CS Change Maker Administrator Award Winner

    • Camille Clay (Leander ISD)

    2023 WeTeach_CS Change Maker Teacher Award Winners

    • Jose Silva-Smith (Tornillo ISD)
    • Tish Wallace (Klein ISD)

    2023 WeTeach_CS Mini-Grant Award Winners

    • Stephen Michalik (All Nations Community School)
    • Michelle Hendrick (Schertz Cibolo Universal City ISD)
    • Lorelei Cummings (Lufkin ISD)
    • Cary-Anne Cope (Little Elm ISD)
    • Tonya Cates (Cleveland ISD)
    • Cristina Jimenez (Donna ISD)

    “Networking with their peers empowers teachers to collaborate, share innovative ideas, and cultivate a supportive community, which fosters a collective passion for education that transcends boundaries and creates positive, lasting impacts for both students and educators,” said EPIC Director of Outreach Amy Carrell. “We’re excited to host the 2024 WeTeach_CS Summit in Fort Worth. Holding the event in different Texas cities gives educators who might not be able to travel the opportunity to attend the conference.”