By Margaret King
Watch Roel talk about Program Your Future on KUSI News: https://www.kusi.com/san-diego-people-san-diegos-library-next-program/
Roel Torralba likes to code and he likes to cook. The two interests came together when he enrolled in Program Your Future and developed an app to help people eat more healthily and cut down on food waste.
Roel, who just finished his sophomore year at Otay Ranch High School in Chula Vista, first caught the coding bug in middle school when he took a summer class on cyber security. He got interested in cooking while helping his grandmother prepare favorite dishes, especially lumpia.
Last fall, Roel decided to sign up for a free year-long series of Program Your Future courses in iOS Programming (Swift). “I chose this because in the future, I plan to be a computer engineer,” he explains. He attends classes on Sunday afternoons at Valencia Park/Malcolm X Library.
Program Your Future is made possible by a partnership between UC San Diego Extension, community members and industry experts. The program’s free courses allow students in grades 9-12 to master high-demand career skills. In the series of five courses that Roel is taking, students learn how to program apps for Apple products.
At the end of the 1-year program in September, Roel will receive a UC San Diego Extension certificate and credits. Students who finish shorter courses get an award of completion.
Students in iOS Programming undertake a year-long project aimed at addressing a real-life problem. “It’s a very good hands-on experience, and it helps you think about problems that could be solved with programming,” Roel says.
He decided on an app aimed at helping users eat better. “People often go to fast food restaurants, and at times it becomes unhealthy,” he notes. He had another problem in mind as well: food waste. “Sometimes in the pantry, people have ingredients that are wasted and that become expired.”
His solution? An app that shows users how to cook healthful dishes with the ingredients they have on hand. “You scan any ingredient inside your pantry, and it will show you a list of what you can make with it,” he explains.
How does he come up with recipes to suggest to users of his app? “I sometimes look at recipes online or I learn them from my grandma.”
Roel is busy with extracurricular activities, including running the 800-meter race and the mile for the Otay Ranch High track and cross-country team. He is also part of the Young Legislators Program for District 79. Roel fits in volunteer time playing the piano at veterans’ homes and working with other programs that help veterans, which he finds very rewarding.
But he doesn’t mind spending his Sunday afternoons in Program Your Future courses. “It’s pretty easy to stick with the program,” he says. “In every class, the teacher introduces new, interesting topics – things like how the buttons or switches work on an app, how to change the background colors. I like it because every day there’s at least one new idea introduced.”
Roel says the difficulty level of the classes is “just right” for him. And the small class size – about 10 students – means there is plenty of one-on-one help from the instructor.
If he could find time to take another Program Your Future course, he would choose Front End Web Development. “Then I could add on to my app,” he says. “Instead of making an app just for an iPhone, I could make it work on computers, because not everyone has an iPhone.”
After he graduates from high school, Roel dreams of attending the U.S. Naval Academy or maybe going to UC San Diego. One field of study that interests him is cyber security. He sees a growing need for experts in that area: “I hear a lot of complaints that people have lost their identity by hackers.”
In the meantime, he is working out a few bugs in his cooking app. Eventually, he might turn it into a commercial venture. And he hopes some of his classmates at Otay Ranch High will sign up for Program Your Future. “They could also gain the experience and knowledge the program has given me,” he says.