Waldorf High School Senior Finds a Path to Programming

By Margaret King

Cassandra Priebe has such varied interests that she’s not at all sure what career direction she will choose. But after taking Futures computer classes through UC San Diego Extension, she’s certain that programming will be a part of whatever path she follows.

Cassie, a senior at Waldorf High School in the Oak Park neighborhood of San Diego, lists some of the subjects that fascinate her: “I’ve always been interested in animals, environmental conservation and the chemistry of how life works. But I also really like finance. I think I’m going to change my major several times,” she adds with a laugh.

Futures programming classes have clarified one thing for Cassie, though: “I believe I will major or minor in computer security or programming and design,” she says. “You can incorporate programming into almost anything.”

Last September Cassie completed a year-long series of five Futures Front-End Web Development classes held on Saturdays at Valencia Park/Malcolm X Library. In January she began a 9-month iOS Programming series on Saturdays at University City Center.

Futures was created by UC San Diego Extension in partnership with community members and industry experts to enable high school students to master skills that will be in demand for the careers of the future. Courses are grouped under headings like Program Your Future for coding and Manage Your Future for business management.

When students finish a course series, they receive an award of completion and Extension credits. Scholarships are available to cover course costs.  

Cassie has been interested in programming almost as long as she can remember. “My Dad works with computers, and I’ve always liked video gaming and thought coding was really cool,” she says. Over the years she has taken a number of coding workshops and summer camps.

The Futures classes offered her a chance to get more serious about the subject. “My mom told me about the program, and it sounded much more professional than my previous courses, and I wanted to give it a go,” says Cassie.

She knew immediately that she wanted to enroll in Front-End Web Development. “When I heard the name of the course, a light went on because it was exactly what I was looking for,” she says. “I didn’t want to sit at a computer and type the code over and over – I wanted to look at websites and see how to improve them.”

In the classes, students started with simple websites and then moved on to more complex projects. While creating a website that generates horoscopes, Cassie challenged herself to include features she found difficult. “I incorporated JavaScript and Java and a lot of more advanced functions than I was used to,” she says. “I thought I would learn more by focusing on areas where I wasn’t so comfortable.”

For another project, she and two other girls designed a website that generates ASCII images. “Our aspirations were rather high,” Cassie says. “It hadn’t really been done before. We had to create the functions, the protocols, with the help of our instructor.” The girls scaled down the final project “out of the interests of sanity and time,” Cassie says.

In fact, as she took on challenging projects, Cassie reached a point where she wondered if she should continue.

“At one point I had gotten so frustrated that I thought computer programming was not the choice for me,” she says. “A couple of classes later I decided that even if one aspect was not my forte, I should give it another try.”

As she looks back on overcoming her frustration, she feels a sense of accomplishment. “It was a unique and amazing experience,” she says. “Honestly, it was a wild ride, and I’m really grateful and happy that I chose to stick through the class. There was a lot more I got out of it than I thought I would get.” 

Whenever Cassie encountered difficulties, she could count on the instructors for help. One instructor “had various ongoing jobs with large tech companies,” she notes. “If I was delving into advanced functions or programs and I asked him a question, he would know the answer or figure out ways to research it.”

The Futures instructors don’t just teach coding skills, Cassie adds: “It got very real at some points – we learned about the business side of the programming industry. At one point they brought in a recruiter and she talked about women in the programming industry.”

Some students found “really cool” internships with help from the instructors, she says. And the instructors promised to stay in touch to let students know about future opportunities.

Cassie took the Front-End Web Development series along with her younger sister, Callianna. Although they didn’t work together on projects, Cassie appreciated having her sister with her: “Those late nights where I was finishing the assignments, I had her to work with.”

For her second Futures series, Cassie chose iOS Programming because she wants to learn Swift, the language used to program Apple devices. Ultimately, she hopes to create her own iOS games.

Cassie fits the Futures classes into a busy schedule. She has played soccer and rugby at school, and she volunteers her time for causes she cares about. “I’ve been continuously volunteering for things like beach cleanups or lake restoration,” she says. “I also like rescuing animals.”

Meanwhile, she is finding practical uses for her new knowledge: “I’ve been able to use it in school whenever there’s a website not working.” And she’s confident her coding skills will continue to pay dividends in college and afterward. “If I ever own a company with a website, I know for a fact that I won’t have to call on as many IT people,” she says.

Overall, there is no single aspect of the Futures classes that makes them so worthwhile, Cassie says. “My favorite element of it is the environment,” she says. “I love the teachers, I love the students, and I have a lot of fun in the classes, which is not typical because computer programming can be so frustrating. But I made a lot of great friends, and I liked learning new things in a great environment.”

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