The tech industry isn’t very diverse. In fact, only 3% of Black and Latino employees combined work at Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter. This lack of diversity extends to education, where only 7% of Black students earn STEM bachelor’s degrees, and students of color often get excluded from STEM activities in middle and high school.
To tackle this problem, Kurani and Google have teamed up to create Code Next, a free computer science lab for underserved students of color in grades 8 to 12, in Oakland, California. Read more
The lab offers after-school and weekend classes, and its accessible location, adjacent to the Oakland Public Library and only a minute away from the BART metro station, makes it easily accessible to kids.
As soon as kids walk in, they’re greeted with a space that’s intended to promote learning and put them at ease. The floors are durable, the ceilings are exposed, and tools and projects are on show everywhere, creating an authentic workshop feel. Everything in the lab is designed to encourage kids to be makers, with a coding room, makerspace, design studio, and communal areas.
Kids have access to 3D printers, a laser cutter, CNC and Cricut machines, soldering irons and circuits, and robots. Supplies are stored openly so that students don’t need to ask for permission and can feel a sense of ownership over the lab. “The lab makes me feel like I can express myself in every way, from thoughts and ideas onto paper” is how Jovir Llanes, one of the students, describes it.
Large windows let kids to see into the different spaces as soon as they walk in, and the angular walls converge their eyes towards a fabrication area, where they can see the latest creations their friends are 3D printing.
“When all the kids walked in for the first time, their eyes lit up. They knew this space belonged to them and that it was a really special space” says Bryson Gauff, one of the instructors.
The lab has a digital billboard where current students are celebrated alongside their aspirations. By seeing what their peers are striving for, the hope is that kids will be inspired to dream bigger.
93% of students have said being in the lab makes them feel like an inventor. Student Xochitl Valencia feels the transformation, sharing “Before I came here, I really didn’t like computer science. Now I feel more experienced and more calm about working with technology.”
To get kids to think like makers, the furniture and materials in the lab are etched with origin stories explaining how the materials were made. For example, some of the etched messages teach students about eco-friendly materials used to build the lab, such as countertops made from recycled cardboard and metal scraps or the lab’s plant-based floors that mimic concrete.
Several walls inside the lab can disappear in 60-seconds, giving the educators flexibility to combine classes or host demo nights and community events. As an educator, Gauff also appreciates the non-traditional layout of the lab: “One thing that I enjoy about this space is actually not having a desk. It makes me really want to get around and flow and check in with my students a lot more often.”
Tuned lighting helps improve kids’ circadian rhythms so they have more energy, while special filters continuously purify the air so their cognitive functioning improves. With cameras mounted above each station, even remote students can take part in the experience of operating 3D printers and laser cutters, as well as other educational opportunities.
The lab also offers plenty of food options, cozy hangout spots, and friendly faces to make kids feel like they belong. And that sense of belonging pays: 73% of students say their experience here has inspired them to pursue a career in Tech.
Since its opening, Code Next has had a tremendous impact, with over 2,500 kids benefiting from the program. An impressive 91% of Code Next students gain college acceptance, compared to only 37% of Black and Latin kids nationally.
Perhaps more striking is that 88% of Code Next graduates have majored in STEM fields, compared to the national average of only 19% for Black and Latin students. Code Next students have earned scholarships to Ivy League universities, launched businesses earning over $10,000, and interned with top tech companies. Kids who were once underserved are now in the lab making academic strides.
“This investment is worth it” feels April Alvarez, Google’s Global Head of Women, Latinx and Indigenous Communities and Programs. “When you come in here on a Saturday and you see twenty-five Black and brown kids huddled around computers and making things, it’s something very special.”
As for the process of building a lab, Google director, Errol King, recalls “My expectations of an architect were to select paints and furniture and make our spaces look nice. What Kurani gave us was much more. We weren’t just looking at dazzling renderings but were given context for why design decisions were made and how this helps us achieve our vision.”
Through intentional design, Code Next has become a transformational place that gives underserved kids a chance to learn about computer science and tech in a fun and engaging way.