Empowering the Next Generation of Tech Leaders
May 04, 2023
Ready to be inspired by a female entrepreneur who is changing the game in computer science education?
Meet Brianne Caplan, the executive director and founder of Code Your Dreams, a non-profit organization that's creating a pathway for youth and adults from diverse backgrounds to enter the tech industry.
Through teaching coding and in-demand technology skills and emphasizing community action and innovation, Code Your Dreams is making a big impact. And the best part? Brianne is also an imagi Ambassador! We recently had the privilege of sitting down with Brianne to learn more about her inspiring work and how she leverages imagi to show her students just how exciting coding can be. Get ready to be blown away by this trailblazing woman!
imagi: So prior to starting your non-profit, you used to work as a data scientist. We’d love to hear a little bit about your story and the inspiration behind Code Your Dreams.
Brianne: As a female student, I often felt pushed towards the humanities and away from math and science. It wasn't until college that I discovered computer science, thanks to a suggestion from my brother. Despite being excited about the field and its job opportunities, I was shocked to find myself as the only female student in my introductory computer science class. While my male classmates seemed to have prior experience, I felt like I was already behind. After graduating and breaking into data science, I continued to be one of the only women at conferences and on my team at my jobs. Even though I had support and resources, I struggled with imposter syndrome and a sense of not belonging.
imagi: Thank you for sharing this. Sadly, I know so many women have had similar experiences. When did you first have the idea to start Code Your Dreams?
Brianne: Code Your Dreams started as a way for me to make an impact, without initially knowing it would become a non-profit organization. It all began by teaching coding to high school girls at a community center in Chicago. Since then, we've come a long way, and in 2018, we officially became incorporated. Today, we serve students of all ages, from kindergartners to adults, and teach in a variety of settings like schools, libraries, detention centers, and prisons to continue to grow our impact in the community.
imagi: Wow, that’s truly amazing. We know you develop all of your curriculum in house and focus on project-based and student-centered programs that enable students to be the change-makers using code. How and why did you start to use imagi?
Brianne: At Code Your Dreams, we often attract new students through our outreach efforts at conferences and community events. With limited time, sometimes just seconds, we need to show the excitement and creativity of coding. That's why I was thrilled to discover imagi at a recent CSTA Chicago event. Among all the tables, imagiCharms stood out as something truly special, and I knew it was the perfect tool to help us showcase the excitement of coding to potential students.
imagi: We’re so happy you found us, and we are honored to be a part of the work you do! In what other settings, do you currently use our tools?
Brianne: We've had the pleasure of collaborating with various organizations and institutions to promote coding and technology education. For example, we partnered with GirlForward to host a 90-minute coding workshop at a public library. GirlForward is an incredible organization that creates opportunities for girls who have been displaced globally by conflict and persecution. Additionally, we've leveraged imagi curriculum and the Charms at events like STEAM fairs, held coding competitions and workshops, and partnered with institutions like The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago Public Library, and the Discovery Partners Institute at the University of Illinois. We're always looking for new opportunities to expand our reach and inspire students of all backgrounds to explore the world of technology.
imagi: What’s the impact you are seeing after using imagi?
Brianne: One of the most important benefits of using imagi to teach coding is the way it broadens students' perspectives. Instead of thinking of coding as a black-and-white process, imagi shows them how fun, creative, and interdisciplinary coding can be. This new perspective on coding can also draw in parents, who are often amazed at what their children can accomplish coding in Python. Additionally, imagi fosters collaboration between students, which we've seen firsthand in our workshops. Watching two students collaborate on a project and cheer each other on as they code is a truly wonderful experience that reinforces the power of community and teamwork in learning.
imagi: What advice would you give other educators who want to make an impact in providing more equitable access to computer science education?
Brianne: When I first started trying to make an impact in the field of computer science education, I felt like I was alone in the effort. But I refused to give up, and every evening I attended another meetup or event. Through these events, I met countless individuals who shared my passion and were eager to help each other and share resources in this space. Teaching is a challenging and often under-resourced field, but finding a supportive community of like-minded individuals can make all the difference. I'm grateful for the connections I've made and the support I've received, and I encourage anyone else looking to make an impact in computer science education to seek out these communities as well.
Brianne Caplan is the Executive Director and Founder at Code Your Dreams, a nonprofit organization committed to empowering young people through technology and education. After graduating from the University of Chicago, Bri held various roles as a Data Scientist in the technology sector. Bri also serves as the Program Director for Careers in Computer Science at the University of Chicago.