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Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Siegel Family Endowment Makes Ongoing Commitment to Computer Science Education

By Chris Dovi, Executive Director, CodeVA

Amidst the hustle and bustle of New York City streets, partnerships are made every day that impact the trajectory of business and industry. Some of these partnerships happen quietly, but are no less significant, like the one between CSforALL and the Siegel Family Endowment.

“We use the term institutional home,” says Thea Charles, head of computational thinking at Siegel Family Endowment (SFE). In practical terms, CSforALL, an advocacy organization that grew from a 2016 summit convened at the White House to foster the budding national computer science education community, now has a long term place to call home and shared offices with like-minded leaders at SFE.

“It gives CSforALL the operational support to be able to look at the national landscape and put attention on the things that need attention,” says Ruthe Farmer, CSforALL’s chief evangelist, and a former CS policy advisor in the Obama White House. “We’re better able to serve as an honest broker to build meaningful relationships between the organizations doing the work and the partners they need to be successful.”

Thea Charles from Siegel Family Endowment and Michael Preston from CSforALL announcing partnership

SFE was founded by David Siegel, a computer scientist by training and a co-founder of the tech-driven investment firm Two Sigma. SFE has long recognized the importance of providing high-quality computer science education for all students, and was a natural partner to support the movement by granting it an assurance of independence and security.

“Siegel Family Endowment is a natural fit,” says Michael Preston, co-founder and managing partner of CSforALL, who first worked with the organization when he was with CSNYC, the New York City-focused predecessor to CSforALL. “SFE has had this longtime priority of computational thinking. When we decided we were going to make this shift to be a national center and a hub for this community, they were willing to enter this amazing partnership with us.”

“The partnership is of high value to Siegel Family Endowment as well,” says Thea Charles with the Endowment. “As we were doing our landscape review of the field, we saw CSforALL shifting to doing more national work, we thought partnering with them would be a really great way to help achieve those goals – and learn a lot from them through our partnership.”

In a practical sense, support for CSforALL’s mission is important to long-term sustainability in some very important ways.

First by creating financial security for CSforALL to lift the organization above the fray of fundraising.

In addition to giving CSforALL more room to work as a facilitator between funders and ground-level organizations, the organization also has more capacity to grow the movement, particularly through important convenings like the CSforALL summit held this year in Detroit.

Additionally, the partnership creates capacity to support local change by seeking to replicate some of the ideas that worked in New York City public schools under the leadership of CSNYC. And tied to this is the ability to promote a research agenda that can report out on best practices and successful interventions implemented by members of the CSforALL Consortium.

Important to all of this is that the combined strengths of CSforALL and SFE give extra punch to the work that both organizations were able to do on their own.

“The knowledge that the CSforALL team holds about the community,” Farmer says, is an important asset for an organization that already was doing a tremendous amount to build awareness and to foster long-term strategies that stick for computational thinking and CS. “We have a tremendous amount of knowledge about what is happening in the CS education community; what has worked and what failed in the past. And we have broad relationships across all sectors, including schools, out of school time and the funding sector.”

Charles agrees, saying that those strengths allow her to better do her job, which is ensuring computer science and computational thinking are not just passing educational buzz terms, but have the true staying power necessary to bring about systemic change in education.

“I would say the main goal is related to equity, but it’s also about transferring power, so that schools themselves have more agency,” Charles says, “so it’s not someone coming in and saying you should do this or that. Individual leadership at the school level is what will make this movement sustainable, and help it grow deep roots.”

Roots are important, and now is a critical time in computer science K-12 education, says Jeff Forbes, formerly a program officer at the National Science Foundation, because there’s a great deal of uncertainty around how to ensure sustainability, but also how to ensure that the emphasis on equity remains core to the movement.

Bringing people together is important because we’re moving now,” Forbes says. “But you’d like us moving in a productive direction.”

It was NSF funding that first launched CSforALL in 2016, not to mention the modern K-12 computer science education movement. But sustainability for the initiative is what was launched by SFE.

“There’s a lot to like about being co-located with them,” Preston says. “As an organization, they’re looking far off into the distance. The future of learning, the future of work, [this] is what they think about. It’s a good balance for us between getting things done now, but having a plan that’s more long term. We feel this is a long game. There’s a lot to do now, but there’s a lot of preparing for what we need to be in five years or ten years.”

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