Guest column: Using computer science to solve big problems

By Johlesa Orm, For the Renton Reporter

When I started high school, I knew I wanted to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. I decided to start with robotics club, one of the best STEM programs at my school, Lindbergh High School. While the electrical engineering component of the club I participated in during 9th grade didn’t click with me, the problem-solving element of computer science did. I decided to test my newfound interest by taking AP Computer Science in 10th grade. That’s the path I’m on today.

Throughout high school, I have taken advantage of as many STEM and computer science opportunities as I could. I’ve even created some of my own. Some friends and I started a club for girls to learn new coding languages and practice our skills. About 10 of us meet every other week. I am also taking an advanced manufacturing course called Core Plus Aerospace, which I decided to pursue to see how I might apply computer science in different ways. It’s the application of my field of choice to solve big problems that most interests me. This fall, I will be studying computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the goal of applying my skills and knowledge to find solutions to challenging problems in civil engineering or medicine, such as using technology to support fatigued doctors.

I was recently honored for my commitment to a STEM career during Washington State STEM Signing Day, presented by Boeing. The virtual event celebrated 49 high school seniors from across the state for our choices to pursue STEM education at technical programs, two- and four-year colleges, and universities. Like signing days for athletes, we each signed a letter of commitment to our STEM goals. As seniors whose high school careers were interrupted by the pandemic, it feels all the more exciting to be recognized for our perseverance and academic achievements.

Why honor STEM students? For one thing, the world needs a lot more of us. The future of our state in particular depends on more students getting opportunities to explore and succeed in STEM-related careers, from nursing and engineering to cybersecurity and computer science – fields my fellow honorees are pursuing. According to Washington Roundtable, an organization of CEOs and senior executives across our state, employers will produce 373,000 net new jobs here over just the next five years. Most of those jobs will require a post high school credential and, no doubt, a big percentage will be in STEM fields. The opportunities are out there waiting for us in Washington. As students and future workers, we just need to get ready for them.

If you are a middle or high school student interested in STEM, take a lot of math classes, but don’t forget about language arts – it helps with thinking skills. Always challenge yourself, do your homework, and take advantage of unique real world learning experiences! Our communities and our state are depending on our hard work, skills and passion for a bright future.

Johlesa Orm is a senior at Charles A. Lindbergh High School in Renton. She plans to pursue computer science at MIT in the fall.