Three Wyoming students are using computer science to impact their community

The cattle tracking app Rhett created for his dad’s ranch

Some may have found it surprising when Wyoming, home to majestic mountain ranges and vast prairies a good thousand miles away from Silicon Valley, passed a bill last month making it a requirement for K-12 public schools to offer computer science education. But students Alan Merritt, Hattie Pimentel, and Rhett Pimentel in Powell, WY understand firsthand the foundational nature of computer science and its value beyond the tech industry.

Ahead of the curve, Powell High School has offered computer science as an elective course since 1986, and computer science is taught at Powell Middle School as well.

Drawn to the applied problem solving, creativity, and logic, in computer science, Alan, Hattie, and Rhett have each taken every course available at their schools since they were in seventh grade — even recently finishing a course at the local community college.

Of everything these students have created in six years of computer science, what stands out are the applications they’ve built to solve problems that affect their family and community.

Rhett and Hattie live on a ranch where their dad runs several hundred heads of cattle. For as long as they could remember, their dad had kept track of each calf’s weight, number, and mother on yellow paper tablets. After a couple of paper tablets, it becomes difficult to keep track of each calf. “So I thought, ‘this is an ideal challenge for a computer,’” says Rhett. He created an app to organize and simplify his dad’s confusing records and track each calf — along with their genealogy — in a database.

Hattie created an app for the Powell Makerspace — a local nonprofit that provides members resources and tools that would be too expensive for the average person to buy — like 3D printers, woodworking tools, laser engravers, and more. Her app was built to organize tasks and map them with volunteers.

A getting started view of Hattie’s app she made for the Powell Makerspace

And Alan wrote a program for his grandpa, a landlord who manages multiple properties. The program would help his grandpa stay organized with his taxes at each property. Hitting closer to home with his peers, Alan also made an app students dream about — a program that automatically conjugates verbs in Spanish.

Outside of areas with a high technology presence, it might be hard for people to see the connections to computer science in their own backyards. However, Alan, Hattie, and Rhett are not just learning to code in computer science class. They are learning to apply what they’ve learned in their class to solving problems within their own lives and communities. We don’t teach computer science with the intention that everyone will be a computer scientist. We teach it so students learn to approach and address real-world issues with the logic and creativity they’ve cultivated through computer science.

These students — and students across the US — understand the value of computer science and the opportunities it brings; 86% of large city, suburban, and rural and small-town students say computer science is going to be important in their future careers.

So what is their advice for other students?

Rhett says, “Even if you don’t think you want to be a computer scientist — even if it’s the last thing you want to do — it’s important that you give it a try. Often, I think people will be surprised that it’s not just some nerdy engineer hiding behind a computer. It’s breaking down problems and working towards a solution. It’s important that everyone gets a little of that exposure.”

Give more students like Alan, Hattie, and Rhett the opportunity to learn computer science by applying for our 2018–19 Professional Learning Program. Spots are still open for middle and high school teachers!

Maggie Osorio,

Know someone we should chat with? Drop me a line!® is dedicated to expanding access to computer science increasing participation by young women and students from other underrepresented groups.