Expanding opportunities through computer science education

One student celebrated Martin Luther King Day. Another created a music video with a nod to a Frozen princess. A third invited a cold polar bear in for holiday cheer. All these students are participants in Google CS First, a program that teaches 9- to 14-year-olds how to use computer science (CS) to express themselves and their interests. In the process, they get a window into the world of coding and learn skills that may be useful to them in the future.

We launched CS First back in 2013, and since then more than 19,000 students have participated at one of 1,300+ CS First clubs around the country, most run by teachers, parents and volunteers. All our CS First materials are free and available online, and the curriculum is designed for everyone to work at their own pace, meaning it’s accessible even to people who are new to technology. It’s also designed to tap into students’ existing interests, showing them how CS can integrate with the rest of their lives. Inspired by fashion, art, music, politics and more, students have used code to build videos, games and stories on topics big and small, from how they met their best friends to solving global hunger.

CS First participants at Sedgefield Middle School in Goose Creek, SC look over a friend’s shoulder at her project

Now, we’re partnering with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Corporation for National and Community Service to bring CS First to even more students across the country. A new group of 20 AmeriCorps VISTA members will spend a year helping local Boys & Girls Clubs incorporate CS First and other educational programs into their slate of activities, giving more young people, especially those who might not otherwise be exposed to coding, greater access to computer science education.

Computer science is increasingly important to building a successful career, in fields varying from medicine to architecture to music. But today, there aren’t enough computer scientists to fill the available jobs—and on top of that, many populations aren’t equally represented in the field. According to code.org, only 8 percent of people who take the Advanced Placement Computer Science Exam are students of color, and only 15 percent are women. And while women earn 57 percent of all bachelor's degrees, only 12 percent of computer science degrees are awarded to women. We want to expand the pool of technologists, and make sure that all young people, regardless of background or resources, have access to high-quality CS education from an early age.

That’s what this new effort is all about. Our partners have long been committed to supporting young people and communities. Boys & Girls Clubs of America gives young people access to opportunities to help them become productive and responsible citizens during out of school time. And AmeriCorps VISTA taps the skills and passion of more than 7,000 Americans annually to support community efforts to overcome poverty. Working together, we can empower more young people with the technical know-how they need to succeed in today’s society and economy.

Join us in making CS more accessible to more kids, and apply on the AmeriCorps website by March 1. If accepted, you’ll come to the Google headquarters in Mountain View for training before spending a year in one of six cities. Best of all, your year of service will make a real difference in the lives of young people.

I-405 Express Toll Lanes Part 1: What is the problem?

By Jennifer Rash

Big changes are coming for I-405 drivers later this year. We’re building express toll lanes on southbound and northbound I-405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood to help ease traffic on one of the state’s most congested corridors. One of the biggest changes coming this fall is a proposed change in the HOV requirements from two or more people to three or more people during peak commute hours, part of the toll rate and exemption proposal by the Washington State Transportation Commission.

We’ve heard a variety of reactions from folks about this proposal, and decided to tackle some of them in a two-part blog series. In this first post, we will discuss the problem we’re facing through a series of common questions we’ve received. In the second part, we’ll talk about how express toll lanes are part of the solution for I-405.

The ABC’s of HOV Lanes
To get to the solution, we have to start at the beginning. Return with me, won’t you, to November 1992. Aladdin opened at the box office, in Nashville, the great Miley Cyrus was born, and in Olympia, WSDOT adopted its Statewide Freeway HOV Policy. It was a magical time.

The main goal of HOV lanes was (and still is) to maximize the movement of people rather than vehicles, whether that’s in a carpool, vanpool or bus.  The target is to keep traffic moving consistently at a minimum speed of 45 mph to provide a reliable trip.  By reducing the number of single-occupant vehicles on the roadway, HOV lanes also help improve traffic in the regular lanes.  For example, when 15 people opt to get out of their cars to ride the bus or carpool with a co-worker, it removes up to 15 cars from the general purpose lanes.

Animation illustrating how HOV lanes work.

In 1994, the HOV Monitoring and Evaluation Technical Report showed that the majority of respondents in a public opinion survey supported HOV lanes and overwhelming supported that all HOV lanes should be open to vehicles with two or more people.

What’s happening with HOV lanes on I-405 now?

Congested HOV lane on I-405.
Fast-forward 23 years. If you drive I-405, you’ve likely experienced that the HOV lanes are often as congested as the regular lanes during peak periods. That’s because there is too much demand for the lanes. Last year, WSDOT completed the I-405/SR 167 Funding and Phasing Report which found that the existing carpool lane north of SR 522, the one lane section of the future express toll lanes project, is at capacity during peak periods. It also found that there are 200 or more days a year when speeds are below 45 mph in the HOV lane on southbound I-405, south of SR 527.

What is causing the increased demand?
There’s a clear connection between the break down in the I-405 HOV lanes and population growth on the eastside.  U.S. Census data shows that over the last 10 years, Seattle’s population grew seven percent, while the population on the Eastside, from roughly the Snohomish County line to Newcastle and everything east of Lake Washington to the crest of the Cascades, increased 15 percent.
Washington’s residential and employment populations are only projected to increase.  In the years ahead, the population of the city of Portland will be added to our region. We have a tremendous challenge to accommodate this massive growth.

Shouldn’t growth mean building more regular lanes?
That’s a common perception, but over the long term, it’s been shown time and time again that new lanes eventually become congested and simply add to the problem. We also must keep in mind that continually adding lanes our highways could also have impacts to local streets. We know from experience here and across the nation that we cannot simply build our way out of congestion, and we know that we need to get creative to manage the growing demand on our roadways. One of the best ways to do that is to learn from what’s working in other states facing similar challenges.

What is WSDOT doing to create solutions for increasing demand on I-405?
Over the last decade, WSDOT has worked with cities, counties, federal agencies, transit agencies and community groups to develop consensus on a long-term vision for the multimodal redevelopment of this highway. We adopted a multi-modal approach to ease congestion on I-405 that included, adding more lanes, improvements to local roads, increasing transit service, adding park and ride spaces and vanpools, and the possibility for an express toll lane system. 

After three published studies on I-405 express toll lanes, one of which was review by a panel of nation experts, WSDOT is implementing express toll lanes on I-405. Express toll lanes are a proven strategy for congestion relief that have been implemented, studied and expanded across the country.

In the next post, we’ll discuss how express toll lanes will work in Washington as part of the solution for I-405.