June 14, 2024
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Crash course: Harpur Fellow teaches coding skills in low-income neighborhood

Gwyneht Lopez brings Python to kids and adults in her neighborhood community center

Gwyneht Lopez ’23 put together a crash course in Python coding for a community center in her Washington Heights neighborhood. Gwyneht Lopez ’23 put together a crash course in Python coding for a community center in her Washington Heights neighborhood.
Gwyneht Lopez ’23 put together a crash course in Python coding for a community center in her Washington Heights neighborhood. Image Credit: provided photo.

Python — at least the kind Gwyneht Lopez ’23 will teach you about — is not a snake.

The popular computer coding language is integral to the functioning of today’s digital world. Python skills can give you an edge in the job market, too, which is one of the reasons that Harpur Edge offers Python crash courses to Harpur College students every semester.

Binghamton University Students in the crash course typically know what Python is and maybe a few rudiments. That’s not the case for youngsters in lower-income communities, which is why Lopez decided to focus her Harpur Fellows project on expanding access.

For “Coding in the Heights,” Lopez designed and taught a summer coding program for youth in her low-income Washington Heights neighborhood. She also collaborated with the Parris Foundation on their STEMulating Saturdays program and stayed on as a tutor to continue providing support and encouragement.

The students she taught had never heard of Python, she said.

“They thought I was talking about a snake at first,” she quipped. “It was very rewarding to give them those tools, so that they can say one day, ‘Oh, I remember doing Python during the summer when I was 12, and I want to keep exploring that.’”

An economics major and Spanish minor, Lopez developed her own coding skills through a series of fortunate circumstances. After tackling the classes she needed for her major, she had some free time in her schedule and decided to take instructor Chelsea Gibson’s Python in Action course through the Binghamton Codes! program. Lopez enjoyed the class and attended Harpur Edge’s crash courses in Python and Excel to learn more.

During her senior year, she landed a job at Harpur Edge and ended up hosting crash courses herself. After Lopez expressed interest in becoming a Harpur Fellow, Harpur Edge director Erin Cody offered a suggestion: Why not take those crash courses off campus and offer them back at home? Lopez was intrigued.

She decided to put the idea into action and still helps out at the community center today. Ten elementary school-age children attended her first class, followed by two dozen middle-schoolers in a second session through the Parris Foundation. Around 15 adults participated in a third class.

Her classes teach the basics of Python and Google Colab, which allows users to write and execute Python through their web browser. Younger learners use coding to draw and have fun, and even control a robot that Lopez purchased through her Harpur Fellow funding.

She has also invited Binghamton alumni to chat with the children about their majors and how they use coding in their work today.

“With my crash course, I want to show kids that even if you don’t go to school to study Python, you can have it on the side. It’s a tool you can use in your job later on,” she said. “You can use it in very different career paths.”

Lopez also compiled her workshop slides, links to videos and practice problems onto Google Sites, which gives people using the community center’s computer lab options for self-directed learning.

Post-Commencement, Lopez did an apprenticeship with COOP Careers and found that she has an affinity for data analysis. Currently, she’s an extern at the royalty-free music service Thematic, focusing on business development and sales.

Long-term, she hopes to break into the tech industry as a data analyst, while helping the next generation prepare for their own high-tech future.

“I still want to continue offering the crash courses on the weekends and in my free time,” she said.