The Sitdown: Jessie Chavez, software engineer at Google Chicago who coordinates STEM initiatives


Originally published in the Sun-Times 6-20-2014

By Sandra Guy

Jessie “Chuy” Chavez, a 40-year-old native of the Little Village neighborhood, who attended Eli Whitney Elementary in Little Village and Morton West High School in Berwyn, was one of the first software engineers in Google’s Chicago office and now coordinates its science, technology, engineering and mathematics education initiatives.

On this day, a group of CPS teachers was next door, participating in a summer professional development program that Google hosts in its efforts to bring computer science to schools in K-12 throughout Chicago. The launch of CS4All, in partnership with and supported by Google, starts this fall in 60 CPS schools to try to bridge the digital divide and prepare students for technology jobs.

Chavez combines his background as a K-12 teacher with his software expertise and Google’s 20 percent policy – employees spend 20 percent of their time working on their own ideas and initiatives – to show students what STEM careers can look like and how to save the world while leading fulfilling professional lives.

At Google, no manager will look at you for spending 20 percent time at a school, a cultural night or a Spanish lunch hour. That empowers me to be a change agent and for all Google employees to be agents of change.

It’s about building a place you want to be successful at and be passionate at. I tell students that whatever their passion- perhaps it’s academia or becoming a medical doctor – the idea is to not settle, and to find ways to make change happen, even if it’s slow.

I encourage students to not give up on this role even if their future employer has a hierarchy in place. No one wants to be brash and destructive, but there is a way to innovate in places that are hierarchical.

In the CS4All initiative, we’re partnering with to train teachers to teach computer science, and that doesn’t mean “screen” time. It’s all about concepts: Troubleshooting, computational thinking, algorithmic thinking and problem-solving, from kindergarten through 12th grade.

We don’t want students to be just consumers of technology. All of us who’ve been invested in promoting computer science in schools want the students to have access to being creators of technology. Continuereading.