Colby College senior Regan Bragg started the Waterville Junior High School Coding Club as part of her O’Hanian-Szostak Fellowship for Civic Leadership. Photo courtesy of Colby College

For as long as she can remember, Regan Bragg gravitated toward mathematics. At Colby College, she found computer science.

A 22-year-old native of Marshfield in rural Washington County, the Colby senior is the driving force behind Waterville Junior High School’s Coding Club, combining her academic interests and passion for working with children as an O’Hanian-Szostak Fellow for Civic Leadership.

“It’s just really encouraging to see the kids come in and be like, ‘I’m so excited to be here, what are we learning about this week?'” Bragg said in a Zoom interview. “That is a daily highlight for me.”

Entirely run virtually through Google Meets, the eight-week program started in late February and runs through April. Students in grades six through eight choose between Monday and Tuesday afternoons for a 75 minute session. The club, which has approximately 10 students, uses coding program Python.

Just 45% of public high schools in the United States offer a computer science curriculum, according to the Pioneer Institute. Although the club is not a full-time class, it lays the foundation for computer science education to a young population of students.

Sixth-grader Gabby Johnson is a regular participant of the Waterville Junior High School Coding Club meetings. The 12-year-old said all sixth-graders got an email, and Johnson wanted to join because she’s interested in coding and “how it works.” She started casually coding in third grade.

“When I first joined the club, I assumed coding was just writing scripts,” Johnson said. “It’s de-bugging, finding errors, which is something I’ve always loved to do.”

Regan Bragg, a double major in mathematics and computer science, works with the coding program she’s teaching students of Waterville Junior High School. Photo courtesy of Colby College

Established in 2019, the civic leaders fellowship program funds up to 10 Colby students each academic year to pursue self-identified projects.

A double-major in mathematical sciences and computer sciences, Bragg got her first taste of coding as a Colby freshman. She was hooked, immediately.

Bragg will be pursuing a master’s degree in computer sciences. She is not sure where yet, but intends on starting in the fall. After that, the Machias High School graduate hopes to get a Ph.D.

“I am very interested in learning more about machine learning and artificial intelligence and big data and how it can impact rural community development,” Bragg said.

As a first-year student, Bragg joined Colby’s Math Mules program. The partnership with the George J. Mitchell School in Waterville pairs Colby students with elementary school students. A participant since her first year, Bragg works with second grade students at George J. Mitchell.

“Seeing that program being very individualized to math and math skills, it made me realize I could do something very similar in the world of computer science,” Bragg said. “Reflecting on my own experiences and upbringing in rural Maine, I imagine the type of impact that would’ve had on me growing up.”

Working with faculty advisors Stacy Doore and Stephanie Taylor on a plan to put thoughts into action, Bragg knew the fellowship would provide the support to get the club up and running. Bragg said the process to getting the club approved went smoothly.

Bragg was the first student Doore met at Colby and they started working on the club last summer. An assistant professor of computer science, Doore described Bragg as “truly one of the most remarkable students I worked with.” They met weekly throughout the summer and fall, and Bragg did an independent study with Doore during Jan Plan and this semester on curriculum development.

Taylor and Doore both said Bragg is helping to broaden the diversity and inclusivity of who participates in computer science.

“I think she is a trailblazer for us in the CS department for us to be able to show different ways that our students can contribute in meaningful ways to the local community,” Doore said. “It’s role modeling, mentoring and diversifying computer science.”

Taylor is an associate professor and chairperson of Colby’s computer science department. She is also the mother of an eighth-grader at Waterville Junior High School.

“Students are able to share something they’re really passionate about,” Taylor said. “This is just an awesome opportunity for my students to develop a relationship with younger kids, helping them learn and also teaching themselves.”

After meetings with Waterville Public Schools administration, Bragg brought forth her idea.

Waterville Junior High School Assistant Principal Doug Frame heard from Bragg early in the school year and “loved the idea from the get-go.”

Frame was impressed with Bragg’s ability to connect with the students, her peers and school administration. Bragg remembers preparing a “very, very elaborate” proposal. About three minutes in, administration liked what they saw on jumped in.

“She’s quite aware of things that people from the outside aren’t as far as logistics with kids schedules,” Frame said. “She really did a lot of great work and thought of everything, honestly.”

Bragg trained 20 additional Colby students to be mentors. The mentors and mentees all meet in one large virtual room. That model has worked out well, Bragg said, because it demonstrates just how collaborative computer science can be.

Regan Bragg, a double major in mathematics and computer science, works with the coding program she’s teaching students of Waterville Junior High School. Photo courtesy of Colby College

“It feels more normal to share ideas than it does with my normal teachers,” said Johnson.

The goal is to continue the club after Bragg’s graduation. She is in conversations with Colby’s Office of Civic Engagement and Community Partnerships to make it a club funded by the Student Government Association.

“That way, it stays a Colby staple,” Bragg said. “I hope that I will be able to pass leadership on to one of my current mentors, train them and give them all the resources they need to carry on.”


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