Niswonger Foundation Vice President Richard Kitzmiller, Student Veronica Watson, ETSU Coding Lecturer Matt Desjardins, EHS Vice Principal Sheri Nelson
If you asked a high school student what his or her summer plans are, you probably wouldn't expect to hear Veronica Watson’s response – teaching teens computer coding.
The Elizabethton High School (EHS) sophomore first began coding at a week-long summer Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Camp for 5th – 12th grade students organized by East Tennessee State University (ETSU) and the Niswonger Foundation. As a middle school student, Veronica began teaching at these camps – the only instructor who wasn’t already in college or graduate school. During the school year, she continues her education independently and in high school courses.
This summer, she’s excited to help write the curriculum for a redesigned STEM Camp and to have the opportunity to get published. Her dedication to coding education has not gone unnoticed. Recently ETSU and the Niswonger Foundation presented her with a personal laptop to thank her for her continued involvement.
“The Niswonger Foundation wanted to recognize her dedication to service and her spirit of giving,” said Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO of the Niswonger Foundation. “We hope the computer will be a reminder to her that we can use our own hands to make a difference in the lives of others.”
For Veronica, this meant a lot.
“I’m not in sports, and I’m not in band or a cheerleader. I’m in a typically unrepresented group, but I’m doing important work,” she said.
“It’s important to learn code because it is a very lucrative and rapidly growing field which most people aren't applying for,” she said. “Technology is the future, so it is amazing to be a part of shaping that picture.”
Dishner said Veronica is an extraordinary example of the power of the STEM Camp experience.
“She was not only a participant, but became a mentor and teacher to other students,” Dishner said. “She volunteered countless hours to assisting with the camp’s activities.”
And she doesn’t do it for volunteer hours or recognition. Coding opened her eyes to a world of creativity and opportunities, and she wants to share that with others.
In addition to her work the STEM Camps, she worked with the EHS Bartleby Junior program to teach 4th and 5th grade students the fundamentals of coding using a simple program called Scratch.
“It’s easy if you work hard and start with simple programs such as Scratch,” she said. “It’s similar to learning another language.”
Because of the indispensable perspective that she has to offer on helping students get plugged in to this field, she was invited to attend an XQ Live Student Roundtable in Nashville. She also attended a meeting with community stakeholders to determine the viability of a virtual reality design program at EHS. That program is expected to launch in the 2019-20 school year.