North Farmington High School alumnus Jamie Tucker works from home through his Google STEP internship.

North Farmington High School alumnus Jamie Tucker works from home through his Google STEP internship.

Photo provided by Kayla Conti

North Farmington alumni creates computer science app targeting diversity

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published August 25, 2020


FARMINGTON HILLS — If you look back at the world of computer science 30 years ago, that world was primarily male and white.

Diversity gaps in computer and informational science — as well as other science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields — have existed since the rise of the information age of the early ’90s, and while academic institutions and software companies have made strides to improve representation, there’s still more work to be done.

That’s where Jamie Tucker, a North Farmington High School graduate of 2019 and current Google Student Training in Engineering Program intern, decided to step in. Tucker is a sophomore at Ohio State University studying computer science engineering.

“We all thought of a way to give back to the community,” Tucker said of his 12-week internship experience. “Me and the two other interns, we came up with an interactive educational website directed toward underrepresented communities — Black, Latinx, Native American, etc.

“A lot of kids going into computer science in those communities don’t start learning about computer science until college, and then they’re playing catch-up. We wanted to create a resource for them to learn about computer science at an earlier age.”

According to a 2016 Gallup poll, only 47% of Black students polled said they had classes at school dedicated to teaching computer science, whereas 58% of white students had such classes. Black and Hispanic students were less likely, 58% and 50%, respectively, to use a computer on most days, potentially influencing a lack of confidence in their ability to learn about computer science.

The project is still in the alpha phase of design and development, Tucker said, but fully fleshed out, the web application would provide students with access to lessons on basic coding of conditional statements, looping within coding and real-world applications they may find in the field.

Josh McAdams, a Google software engineer and Tucker’s internship manager, said that on the surface, Tucker’s web application isn’t considerably different from other educational tools out there. The project’s uniqueness comes from the method they’re using to pique the students’ interest in the subject.

“What makes their product unique is that (they) were able to create content from their unique perspective. The lessons they created come from the voices of the very students and communities that are currently underrepresented in tech,” he said. “Their content is more relatable to a diverse audience than the generic computer science lessons that are typically taught.”

Tucker said he and his team thought to use popular figures, such as Golden State Warriors basketball player Stephen Curry, to create educational scenarios and questions the students will want to learn from.

“We basically engineered a way to relate questions and problems to those popular figures that they’re aware of, because a  lot of students will be more inclined to learn if it’s related to something they’re interested in or someone they know, that they idolize or look up to and want to learn more from.”

Tucker isn’t entirely sure where the project will go once his internship is complete, though if it were to be fully developed, he’d look to bring it back to metro Detroit to help students in the area.

“If I were able to make it, I would definitely love to have some sort of homage back to Farmington Hills or the metro Detroit area, and give it back to the underrepresented kids there,” he said. “It would be cool if I were to develop this and bring it back to the community.”

McAdams added that he believes Tucker’s project could be “a valuable and relatable educational resource for many aspiring technologists” if he were to see it through to development.