“A lot of my friends don’t really know what computer science is,” says Allison Inman to me over the phone.

Allison, or “Alli”, is a 17-year-old senior at West Fargo Highschool. As the daughter of two IT professionals, Alli was introduced to the tech world at a young age. She went to a STEM based middle school, and when she took her first Intro to Computer Science class last year as a junior, she was hooked.

But she’s the exception. When she looks around at her AP Javascript class she’s in this year, there’s only 10 students (she’s one of 2 girls). And she suspects at other schools, there’s even less.

“It just doesn’t seem very big anywhere else,” she says.

Photo by Microsoft IT Academy

Alli represents a very small percentage of students in North Dakota that have interest in computer science. Exhibit A: At the end of the year, Alli will take an AP Computer Science test administered by the state. In 2014, according to data gathered by CollegeBoard, only 14 highschool students in the state of North Dakota took that same computer science test. That’s out of a reported 70, 910 total enrolled students in North Dakota’s 247 public and private highschools.

Alli is aware of this number. In fact, her teacher shared it at the beginning of the class, encouraging students to share more about why they like computer science.

“I’ve been telling pretty much all my friends they should take Computer Science, even if they’re not sure about it,” she says. “In the future, it’s a skill everyone will be looking for.”

The Hour of Code in North Dakota


Holly Erickson, STEM Outreach Coordinator and Engineering Admin at NDSU, was someone who saw Alli learn to love coding – and she couldn’t agree more with her resolve.

“Even when you work at Target and you’re a checkout person, you now need to know code.” Erickson said. “It will be like learning Spanish, except with coding, you’re able to communicate with devices.”

Holly Erickson Hour of Code

Holly Erickson and Doug Dean are bringing Hour of Code to ND.

Erickson began to notice a problem when her elementary school daughter told her she was taking “Keyboarding” in school.

“I took keyboarding when I was in school,” Erickson said, at the North Dakota IT Summit. Something needed to change, she said.

She found that something in the form of a worldwide effort to garner more interest for computer science: The Hour of Code. Right now, Erickson is working with schools across North Dakota to participate in the Hour of Code for the second time.

The Hour of Code is a one-hour activity initiated by Code.org, a public non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science. The event allows students of all ages to choose from a variety of self-guided tutorials for kindergarten and up, aimed at exposing students to basic computing concepts in a gamified way.

Schools can participate in Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week, Dec. 7-13, 2015.

A worldwide effort


Since launching in 2013, the event has reached 180+ countries and received support from big names; notably, U.S. President Obama himself.

“Don’t just buy a new video game,” President Obama says in a video, “Make one. Don’t just download the latest app. Help design it.”

As an added incentive, schools that participate as a whole in the Hour of Code event are eligible to win $10,000, which will be given to one school in each state. Last year in North Dakota, that money went to a school in Grand Forks. Each administrator will also receive a free $10 gift card to Amazon, Microsoft or iTunes.

“The benefits are good,” Holly Erickson said. “We just need to get teachers to sign up.”

Last year, 12 out of 65 Fargo-Moorhead schools signed up to participate, according to Hour of Code advocate Doug Dean of John Deere Electronic Solutions.

“We can raise that number,” Dean said. “This year, we want to have every school in the Fargo-Moorhead area do an Hour of Code.”

Their goal, they said is to get 200 volunteers – men and women who work in the tech industry who are willing to facilitate an hour of code at schools. In early November when they shared at the IT Summit, they had six volunteers signed up.

“I have 650 students signed up who want to participate, and so I need a lot more bodies on the floor,” Erickson said. “And it’s not that you have to be incredibly knowledgeable about code. It’s that you’re there. That students are able to see who is actually a computer science or IT person. They want that superhero complex when you walk in those doors.”

Photograph taken at Discovery Middle School in Fargo, N.D., on Sept. 26, 2013, for Fargo Public Schools.

Photograph taken at Discovery Middle School in Fargo, N.D., on Sept. 26, 2013, for Fargo Public Schools.

For more information on how to volunteer, contact Holly Erickson here.

At West Fargo Highschool, Alli and other computer science students are planning to host the Hour of Code in study hall, as they have done before.

This, however, will be her last year before she graduates in the spring. After that, she plans to pursue a computer science degree and then… Google.

“That wasn’t always my plan, but after I took those classes – that’s when I decided,” Alli said. “I’m just really grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to do this, that my school has computer science classes. I hope to see that grow in the future so that more schools can offer that to their students.”

Learn more about Hour of Code.

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Marisa Jackels