Date August 4, 2022
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Lynda Umuhoza: Teaching coding to local campers and inspiring the next generation of women in tech

As an iProv summer fellow, the rising Brown sophomore created a new coding class for local students attending summer day camp at Providence recreation centers.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When Lynda Umuhoza considered what she wanted to accomplish during her first summer in Providence, the international student from Rwanda set two goals: explore the city and make a positive impact.

The rising Brown sophomore secured an internship with the Partnership for Providence Parks through the Swearer Center’s iProv fellowship program, which connects approximately 30 Brown undergraduates with full-time summer work experiences in partnership with Providence-based nonprofits each year.

“When I looked at the local organizations that have a partnership with the Swearer Center, P3 seemed very directly engaged with the community and students at summer camps, which was what I was looking for,” Umuhoza said. “P3 also allowed me to tailor the internship to fit my interests and passions.”

During the summer, P3 partners with city departments to create new experiences for students attending summer day camps at Providence-area recreation centers. Tasked to help build a new program, Umuhoza, who is concentrating in computer science at Brown, knew she wanted to create a community of young girls interested in computer science. She was inspired by her work with the Women in Computer Science student group on campus and wanted to create a similar empowering environment for girls in Providence.

“My initial goal was to help create an environment where these girls can nurture their interest in computer science and develop their skills, especially since they are underrepresented in this field,” she said. “Most of these students also go to public schools, which sometimes may not have the necessary resources to explore and develop these skills.”

To introduce the young campers to computer science, Umuhoza developed a one-hour coding class that she taught Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout July and August at two center locations: Rogers Recreation Center and the West End Recreation Center. Each center hosts more than 50 local students each week from nearby Providence neighborhoods. In groups as large as 10, the students — mostly age 7 to 12 — took turns in the computer labs building animated dance parties and music videos using educational games from, Scratch Jr., and Khan Academy. For many participants, it was their first introduction to coding.

As she nears the end of her internship, Umuhoza hopes to create a curriculum that P3 and the Providence Recreation Department can adopt so the coding class can continue in local community centers each summer. When she successfully achieves that goal, she’ll join other Brown interns that have had a lasting impact on P3’s youth programming. In 2016, Brown undergraduate Kobe Kase and P3 created Blender Bike Madness, a stationary exercise bike that makes healthy smoothies when kids spin the pedals. Since its inception, the traveling Blender Bike has served approximately 10,000 healthy smoothies in parks and recreation centers across Providence, and it remains a favorite among local students today.

“Through their iPROV experience, Brown students understand that they, too, can shape what these spaces look, sound and feel like,” said Helene Miller, executive director for the Partnership for Providence Parks. “Indeed, they can connect through this work not only to public spaces but also to the citizens of our city. This connectivity can deepen their experience in college and beyond as it creates lifelong lessons and sharpens civic engagement and community-building skills. Students and spaces are transformed, and P3’s goals are realized. It’s truly a win, win, win for the interns, the public and P3.”

This fall, Umuhoza is excited to begin working as a teaching assistant and believes her time with young students this summer has prepared her well for aiding Brown undergraduates taking introductory computer science courses. When she reflects on her summer experience, Umuhoza believes she accomplished what she set out to achieve.

“I love that I got to share the things I am passionate about with students,” she said. “STEM is still a very male-dominated field, especially computer science, and I believe many young girls are interested and passionate about computer science. They need a little more encouragement and guidance to take on these careers. Being able to do this every day has been my favorite part of this internship.”