PHOTO: Joumana Rahime, right, with a student at a DigiGirlz High Tech Camp student/MyFirst Code.
By BROOKE WANSER
Born in Canada and raised in Lebanon, IT entrepreneur Joumana Rahime moved to the Nashville area in 2006 with her family.
But when she sought out camps for her three young children a few years ago, she was surprised at the lack of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) offerings.
Rahime is the innovator behind my1stCode, an initiative she formed in 2014 to promote computer science education for students K-12. She used this initiative to create and implement programs throughout numerous schools, camps and organizations.
Rahime won the Community Leader of the Year award in 2017 from the Nashville Technology Council for her efforts with my1stCode.
She has 15 years’ experience under her belt in IT, as a programming analyst and in web development. She also sits on the board of Women in Technology in Tennessee (WiTT).
“I do focus on a lot of girls to give them the opportunity to choose for themselves,” she said, adding that they feel a “spark at the passion that they discover” when they first learn about the STEM fields.
As a member of the Williamson County Technology Advisory Board in local schools, Rahime also develops curriculum for non-tech people who want to learn and teach tech topics; programs are in several area middle schools.
But through my1stCode, Rahime said she wanted to highlight the unique experience two high school students received at a more in-depth level.
Student involvement at Ravenwood
Ravenwood senior Jude Hammoud spearheaded Creative Coding Club at the school after volunteering at my1stCode camps supporting a Nashville Technology Council event.
Natalie Hasbrooke, also a senior, joined the program after joining Ravenwood’s coding club with her friends as novices.
“I wasn’t really interested in doing anything with technology,” she said, noting her plans to go into the medical field as a surgeon after college.
But Hasbrooke said she knew the technology side of medicine was vitally important.
“When you think of a teacher or nurse, it’s typically a woman that comes to mind,” Hasbrooke said.
She wants to flip that gender script: “I want to be involved in the more manly careers,” she said.
The idea for the duo’s main project came after the current system was overloaded as students signed out of school before last year’s solar eclipse.
Hammoud’s idea was for a new, more streamlined system to sign students in and out.
In the new, “all-digital system, all can be done in a couple clicks,” Hammoud said.
Students work with IT professionals
For the extracurricular course, Hasbrooke and Hammoud met with IT professionals Blake Crozier and Reed Tomlinson once a week to learn programming concepts.
Crozier said creating a prototype involved four components, using HTML, CSS, Python and SQL web languages to create a database and web interface to communicate with each other and retrieve information.
Tomlinson, the director of engineering for video production group Studio Now, said the group developed lessons as they worked their way through the year, eventually developing a prototype system.
“I’ve always been interested in education and technology and how the two overlap and how we teach people to code and responsibly teach technology,” he said.
Crozier, an associate database administrator with HCA, said he reached out to Rahime about my1stCode after reading a magazine article about her goal of teaching students code literacy.
As a teenager, Crozier said he became interested in writing code.
“When you get it, once you get it, it’s fun,” he said. “People can grow through the process of learning to think logically and challenging their attentional resources.”
Coding and the future of education
Rahime hopes to expand the program from Ravenwood to other area high schools, with the help of local administrators.
For now, she is working on an educational series for a technology awareness program that will, “help students build an understanding about the exponential technologies that are driving and transforming our world, their applications, and the skills needed to help them thrive and succeed in today’s world,” she said.
Hasbrooke will attend the University of South Carolina’s honors college, pursuing degrees in biology and public health. Hammoud will attend Northeastern University to study bioengineering and computer science.
When Hammoud graduates, brother, Adam, will step in and help advance my1stCode at Ravenwood, along with other sophomores and freshmen.
“I never thought I’d do something that would have such a long lasting impact,” Hammoud said. “I also feel like I haven’t done enough. It’s just a stepping stone to what I can do in the future.”
Hasbrooke also said schools should present more offerings to students interested in gaining coding knowledge.
“I think more students should be taking these kinds of classes,” she said.