Bulldog Bytes inspires K-12 Students to pursue computing

Thomas Weaver recognizes the positive impact a knowledgeable mentor can have on a student’s life.

Having received encouragement from his father, 1985 computer science alumnus Bill Weaver, to pursue a degree in computer science at Mississippi State, he now looks for ways to inspire the next generation.

This past summer, the sophomore shared his knowledge and passion for technology as a co-leader for the university’s Bulldog Bytes Cyber Dawgs Camp. Along with the Bulldog Bytes Digital Divas camp for middle and high school-aged girls, the residential computing camp for middle and high school-aged boys is sponsored by the English and computer science and engineering departments at MSU.

Weaver, who was born with a muscle, nerve and joint disorder known as arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, was able to fund his camp involvement through a grant from the Alliance for Access to Computing Careers, which works to help students with disabilities successfully pursue degrees in computing fields.

Sarah B. Lee, assistant clinical professor and undergraduate coordinator in the computer science and engineering department, recognized Weaver’s passion for encouraging others and requested his assistance for the camp.

“I had never worked a camp before, so this was new for me,” Weaver said. “We spent a couple of months preparing for it, and that included having meetings about the curriculum and then actually learning how to program the robots the kids were going to be working with.”

Lee said the university was able to offer the camps at no cost to all participating students, thanks, in part, to support from the National Security Agency and its initiative to support cybersecurity camp experiences for K-12 students and teachers.

The market for computing professionals is one of the fastest growing in the country, but there aren’t enough graduates to fill the need. To bridge this gap, Lee, a 1989 Mississippi State graduate, said it’s important to spark students’ interest in computing when they’re young to encourage them to pursue and stick with the field.

“It is imperative to develop middle and high school initiatives to support computing literacies and encourage interest in the field,” Lee explained. “It is also important that we study the variables that impact adolescents’ successful pathways to computing majors and professions.”

Throughout the Bulldog Bytes Cyber Dawgs program, campers received computer-programming guidance from Weaver and other CSE undergraduates during hands-on technical sessions. They also had the opportunity to develop their computational thinking, communication and design skills while experimenting and exploring their own interests. Cyber safety and the ways in which computer crimes are investigated also were addressed.

“A lot of the kids were interested in working on the robots, so they were able to do that,” Weaver said. “During their free time, they also could play in the courtyard of Ruby Hall where we were staying.”

Grateful for the opportunities he’s had thus far to give back to his major, Weaver said he looks forward to assisting with more summer camps and activities in the future.

“Whenever you’re in camps as a kid, you don’t know about all of the planning that takes place behind the scenes, so this was a great learning experience for me,” he said.

By Sasha Steinberg | Photo by Megan Bean