Computer Science Education Week Teacher Profile: PLTW Master Teacher Scott Lukesh
The National Science Foundation reports that the computer science industry is more male-dominated today than it was two decades ago. Women received almost 30 percent of computer science bachelor’s degrees in 1991, compared to 18 percent in 2010. How can we reverse the downward trend and encourage more women to be computer scientists? The answer lies in getting girls interested in computer science at a young age.
Scott Lukesh, an educator with 25 years of experience, teaches Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Computer Science and Software Engineering (CSE) to an uncommon group of students: a near 50-50 split of girls and boys. Lukesh is located at Fremont Academy of Engineering and Design, a 7th- through 12th-grade public school in Pomona, California, that is part of an inner-city school district with over 95 percent of the student population below the poverty line.
“I have near 50/50 female-male ratios in CSE due to fact that every student takes PLTW at Fremont Academy of Engineering,” Lukesh explains. “But I have an educational stance on outreach: Sure, it needs to be done, but I work to have a program that retains students. A dynamic, relevant, fun, problem- and project-based classroom is the way to transition students from ‘When will the bell ring?’ to ‘I want to be a part of this!’ A classroom like this privileges depth over breadth and current/cutting edge over the staid.”
In the CSE course, students learn practical applications of computer science, such as big data analytics and programming, which translate as technology-based skills for the future.
“One of the powers of PLTW is that it shows students all the amazing opportunities available to them in the STEM world,” Lukesh says.
Lukesh notes that the CS program can inspire student interest in careers both within and outside of coding; his students apply what they learn in class to analytics, chemistry, biological simulations, and more. In addition, many of Lukesh’s students recognize there is a workplace need for computer science skills regardless of industry and that these skills, in turn, can apply to most any field in which students have an interest. In CSE, Lukesh empowers his students to apply these skills to any field they choose to pursue.
In addition to teaching CSE, Lukesh also works with the Femineers, a group of 24 girls in 10th and 11th grades at Fremont Academy of Engineering. The program, a collaboration with the Cal Poly Pomona Engineering Department, is guided by the belief that given the opportunity, girls will thrive in STEM careers. The three-year robotics and software program provides participants with academic and financial support, as well as college counseling and mentorships.
Lukesh notes that the program was funded with the understanding that to make major changes, those involved would need a substantial amount of time.
“Three years gives the time to plant, nurture, and harvest,” he says.
Students involved in this grant-funded initiative use a number of skills and have previously incorporated aspects of computer science and programming into the projects they create, such as robots programmed with motherboards.
“The program is addressing a real need,” Luskesh says. “Many programs aim to inform; the Femineers is about offering hands-on opportunities and pathways to real STEM careers.”