A Stanford senior studying computer science, Rafael Cosman decided to put his education to what he considers a worthy cause: teaching East Palo Alto students how to code.
The project started last summer with CodeCamp, a four-week intensive curriculum where East Palo Alto youth gathered to learn coding and other technical skills and participated in a hackathon where they each built a website or online features to improve society in some way.
“Our goal is to take East Palo Alto and Silicon Valley and plug them together,” Cosman said. “We want there to be startups coming out of East Palo Alto.”
As impactful as CodeCamp was, Cosman and his classmate, friend and partner in this endeavor, Shadi Barhoumi, decided they needed to invest more time to create real change. Using their contacts in East Palo Alto, they helped create a new educational coding experience: StreetCode Academy, which launched this past November. StreetCode Academy is a program of nonprofit Live in Peace, where both Cosman and Barhoumi are working.
“What we realized from CodeCamp is that it’s not enough to have a coding summer camp or a coding class. None of those things by themselves are enough. What you need is an ecosystem,” Cosman said.
Unlike CodeCamp, StreetCode will last throughout the school year and beyond. Cosman thinks a long-term technical experience will give EPA students the tools to stay in the area in which they grew up. The StreetCode team met with executives from Google, Facebook and other top companies in the area, along with some of their EPA students, where the executives advised the group of ways they can prepare to apply and receive internships at their companies.
“I think that East Palo Alto has a lot to offer Silicon Valley because it’s got this great culture and great community focus,” Cosman said. “The things that we’ve seen our students do using technology have been very different than what Silicon Valley has done.”
“The things that we’ve seen our students do using technology have been very different than what Silicon Valley has done.”
One example of a CodeCamp prodigy is Daniel Chatman, an East Palo Alto native. Through the creators of Live in Peace, an organization that teaches students how to play different instruments as a means to keep them focused, Chatman met Cosman and Barhoumi and decided to enroll in CodeCamp. His decision not only opened career doors for Chatman, but it also inspired him to create a website called Ambition Spotlight, where he highlights the creative work of people in East Palo Alto and beyond — a LinkedIn for people with atypical career paths.
Cosman is graduating from Stanford in June and plans to continue working with his students in East Palo Alto for the foreseeable future.
“We’re not just a couple of Stanford students making another nonprofit in East Palo Alto,” Cosman said. “Because that happens a lot, and frankly, they’re kind of sick of it. We’re in this for the long haul.”
CLARIFICATION – Editor’s Note (3/24/2015): In this story originally published Feb. 19, 2015, Peninsula Press did not make clear Cosman’s and Barhoumi’s employment status with Live in Peace. StreetCode Academy is a program of nonprofit Live in Peace, where both Cosman and Barhoumi are working. This is an updated story that reflects those clarifications.