Logo: University of Southern California

Area Students Build a Star Wars Galaxy Through Code

Computer Science Students Help School Children Participate in “Hour of Code”
By: Rashid Binnur
January 19, 2016 —


Photo by: Rashid Binnur


Last month, students all over the world learned the basics of computer coding through activities that included Angry Birds, Star Wars, Minecraft and characters like Elsa from Frozen. The activities are part of a global initiative by Code.org called “Hour of Code” in which school students spend an hour engaging in the basics of computer science.

Over the past few years, USC Viterbi has taken an active role to get public schools students interested in coding. It’s part of the school’s mission to generate interest in STEM. The school participated in “Hour of Code” as part of Computer Science Education Week, Dec. 7 - 13.

USC Viterbi’s participation in “Hour of Code” was organized through its Viterbi-Adopt-A School-Adopt-A-Teacher (VAST) program. VAST held various “Code Dojos” where students engaged in discussion with USC computer science students. (The word “dojo” is a Japanese name for a place in which students gather to learn, and is traditionally used for the study of martial arts.) The event took place online via Google Hangouts and for the first time, in-person at USC’s Community Computing Center at which there were multiple events for a total of 199 K-12 area public school students and their families.

USC Viterbi Computer Science undergraduate and graduate students staffed the event. Some answered online queries about what it is like to be a computer science student. Others were guiding the participants through the series of steps in the “Hour of Code” coding activities.

“I always wanted to do something like this on campus, so it was a great opportunity to be part of it,” said computer science graduate student Dipankar Patro. “We need a new generation of people that learn how to code at a younger age.”

Parents engaged with the coding activities just as much as their children did. Several 5th graders from the USC Robotics & Coding Academy (RCA), another VAST program, showed their parents the new skills they were acquiring. The Academy is supported by the Good Neighbors Campaign.

Bertha Rodriguez brought her two young daughters, nine and ten year olds. Her ten year-old daughter aspires to be a mechanical engineer and loves coding.

“She is really interested in events like these,” said Rodriguez, “She signs up to coding events on her own.”

Dominic Caguoia, a Code.org affiliated instructor, helped lead the Hour of Code activities. Computer science education is very important to him.

“Growing up in the Philippines, I hadn’t any experience with computers until I went to college. If I could have learned all this at a younger age I could have done much more than I am doing now. This is why I believe that giving kids this opportunity not only makes them less passive consumers or users of media and content but enhances creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication,” said Caguoia.

Maja Matarić, vice dean of research, believes it is crucial for the youth to attend programs like Code Dojo because it increases access to learning.

“The digital divide is increasingly becoming about youth who have access to learning to program versus those who do not. As one of the top engineering schools in the US, the Viterbi School has both the responsibility and the privilege to minimize that divide, by showcasing the excitement of computing by engaging local K-12 students in conversations with Viterbi Computer Science students as role models.”

For more resources on coding and Computer Science visit STEM Spotlight.