"Thanks for inspiring my daughter to reach for the stars! Since 'Code Day,' she hasn't stopped talking about attending Claflin and becoming a software engineer."
Sarai Winkler's mother, Brittany Winkler, credits the Massey Global Innovation Foundation for getting her focused and sparking the fire that ultimately led to her being the last female standing in an inaugural core group aimed at helping young people learn how to build their ideas with code.
Eddie Massey, the organization's founder, recognized Sarai and five other distinguished AI in Action participants during the company's first awards banquet at The Broughton on Jan. 25.
For just over a year, Anavami Isa, Cameron Stewart, Christian Ihekweazu, Rohit Swain, Sarai Winkler and Aman Singh not only received crash courses on coding from Microsoft, Yahoo and Google engineers, they also built websites and apps, Massey said.
From self-driving cars to robot-assisted surgery to social media, computer science is revolutionizing every aspect of our lives.
Sarai, 13, wants to be a part of that revolution.
This past summer, the aspiring engineer and William J. Clark Middle School student developed the game "Fashion Ping-Pong" to go on her peers' website "A to Z Fashions."
"... you know, in case someone got tired of shopping for clothes," Sarai said.
She said she went through several ideas before settling on the ping-pong game.
"It was trial and error ... and very difficult at first. Sometime the codes wouldn't work and I wanted to make sure that it was fully functional," Sarai said. "I had serious doubts about how it would look, but with the help of Mr. Massey and the other coders, I got the encouragement I needed and I was happy with its overall success."
The seventh grader said she's working hard to not only achieve her goals on becoming a developer, but to help her single mother fulfill some of hers.
"I'm equally proud of her," Winkler said of Sarai. "She'll be graduating in a few weeks, and I would like to become a developer in a high-paying job so she can have some of the things that she would like. This coding program opened the door for me to get an early start on making that happen."
Learning to code is similar to learning a second language and should begin early, Massey noted.
"Coding can build confidence and translate into success in other areas of life. It is incredibly empowering for children to be able to create projects and show them off to family and friends."
Cameron Stewart admits that he is not much of a talker, but the coding program allowed him to open up and to tap into his abilities.
"I knew that I had a desire to work with computers, but I wasn't familiar with coding," he said.
"This program helped me hone into what I really wanted to do in the coding industry," the 14-year-old said.
Cameron collaborated with fellow High School for Health Professions students Anavami Isa and Christian Ihekweazu to create a website that offers five steps to landing a job.
Coding also opened up a new window of understanding computer science for Rohit Swain, who is using his skills to gather data science and machine learning algorithms for an upcoming competition at the University of South Carolina.
The Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School sophomore said his project is based on the effects of global warming on the prices of bread in rural India.
For Aman Singh, "Massey Global opened my eyes to the world of software development and paved a path that I will follow into the future."
He developed a website with others to provide a safe haven for students who are suffering from depression.
"When attending William J. Clark Middle School, my friends Cameron, Christian, Anavami and Rohit and I saw a lot of our fellow classmates depressed, stressed out and lacking motivation," Aman said. "This caused many of them to be unsuccessful."
After a month of coding classes, the young men said they used the tools they learned and the power of the internet to develop the online community "Therology," where youth their age can find someone to talk to and seek anonymous help from expert therapists.
The website sneeds further development, but Aman said it will soon be able to offer "voice and video calling, a network of trusted therapists, reduce dropout and suicide rates and bring light back into our world."
Longtime City Councilwoman Liz Zimmerman Keitt applauded the efforts of the students and Massey.
"This is phenomenal," Keitt said. "I want to commend the work that is being done in the City of Orangeburg, I wish the place was flooded with other students so they can see that people their age are changing and shaping their future right now."
The projects offered by AI in Action offer easy to follow, step-by-step guides that help young people learn Scratch, HTML & CSS and Python by making games, animations and websites.
The projects gradually introduce coding concepts to allow young people to build their knowledge incrementally, which also means there’s no need for the adult running the session to be a computing expert, Massey said.
"We will help train anyone who is interested in being a part of the team," he said.
Massey said expansion is on the horizon "as we begin to serve in more underrepresented cities and rural communities both in and out of South Carolina."
There are plans to start coding clubs in Allendale and Bamberg as wekk as as in Cleveland, Ohio and Bronx, New York.
According to the organization's impact report, 261 youth learned in depth web development and game development across seven after-school programs and 114 innovative youth learned to build websites and made games in workshops and summer programs.
What impressed Massey about this group of students was "their willingness to learn. Everyone wanted to understand what they were doing, not just do it."
"Computer scientists are changing the world," he said. "They are creating the products that we use and solving global problems. I would encourage anybody to not just be a consumer, but to be a producer. Create, innovative and change. These scholars are well on their way to doing that and more."
To get involved or to learn more about Massey Global, call 803-262-2337 or visit masseyglobal.org.