LAKEVIEW — It's not every day you get to hand the mayor your business card.
Particularly when you're 18 years old.
Damian Medina, a senior at Lake View High School, met Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a breakfast last week where the five Chicago early college STEM schools discussed their successes. As they shook hands, Medina slipped the mayor his card.
"At first, [Emanuel] was a little confused, and he looked at it like, 'What's this?' " Medina recalled. "And I saw him looking at it when he walked away."
Medina created the business card — which features a design highlighting his coding skills — before his programming internship last year. He's handed them to his principal, teachers and the director of sales at Microsoft.
"I've got a lot of connections now, just because of a little business card," he said.
This year, the computer science program at Lake View turns four years old; Medina is part of the first class to start the program as freshmen.
Since 2011, Lake View freshmen have taken an introductory class in coding. Those interested can continue programming through high school, eventually learning how to build smartphone apps and websites. Some classes also offer college credit.
"They're basically learning another language. They're learning code, but then they're able to apply it," said Principal Scott Grens.
A partnership with Microsoft gives the program an edge, sponsoring 15 summer internships for Lake View students each year. Medina, for example, helped build a website for the Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance. Others worked with Literacy Chicago and Mercy Housing.
"It wasn't a little workshop; we were getting paid to do a project, put all those skills together and make a product for a client," Medina said. "I wouldn't get this anywhere else. It was like working a real job, and that made me realize I want to make websites."
Lake View is taking a close look at the graduating class to see how effective the program is and what steps it can take to get more students involved.
But so far, Grens is thrilled with the program's success.
"We've taken a lot of pride in this program, and we're excited about really getting these students out in front of not only college recruiters, but also the workforce," Grens said. "So many of them are prepared to work right now."
You'd be hard-pressed to find students enjoying class so much they'll volunteer their Saturdays to do more work; at Lake View, it's becoming the norm.
"A lot of kids come and learn on Saturdays. We can stay for at least two or three hours and get some extra work in," Medina said.
And the hard work seems to be paying off. In December, Medina and six other upperclassmen won the Chicago Police Hackathon. The team built the WindyCity Crime App, beating out Lane Technical High School and Whitney Young Magnet High School in the final round.
That same month, students worked with Coonley Elementary School to give their younger cohorts a taste of programming during the weeklong Hour of Code.
Last year, the school also won the Research and Development STEM Challenge, where 17 schools designed plans to solve water management issues in Chicago.
On Wednesday, the school received a $20,000 grant from Verizon Wireless to improve STEM engagement at Lake View.
On his own, Medina has twice won the Land of Lincoln Hackathon run by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Last year, Medina created the Home Health Care app, which connects users with a director of medical companies that can provide minor medical care with home visits.
Medina "does really capture all of what we want to see in a computer science student," his principal said. "It's really great to see he found a fit and is applying it not just in school, but outside of school. He's really embraced it."
As graduation nears, Medina is waiting to hear back from colleges like the University of Illinois Chicago and Urbana-Champaign campuses and DePaul University. Despite knowing nothing about computer science before starting at Lake View, he "absolutely" plans to take it as his major.
"I've gone this far writing [code], and I can just imagine going farther," he said.
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