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Students weave Web sites, careers

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Saturday August 18, 2001

Switching speaking personas between streetwise youth, motivational speaker and drill sergeant, Jessy Gonzalez captivated the attention of 28 high school students on the last day of a summer computer course. 

“When people say ‘hard work,’ we don’t want you to take one step back, we want you to step forward and I mean two steps forward,” he said to the students. 

Gonzalez, a technical trainer with Street Tech, a nonprofit computer training and job placement agency, was one of a variety of speakers who addressed the students during the intensive two-week course organized by the nonprofit Berkeley Foundation for Opportunities in Information Technology. The course is free and takes place in a computer lab and classrooms donated by the UC Berkeley. 

BFOIT was founded in 1998 and was formed to address the lack of racial, ethnic and gender diversity in the information technology departments in California colleges. 

“Our goal is to get the kids on a University Campus to demystify it, increase their self-confidence and give them some technology skills,” said BFOIT Executive Director Jesse Reynolds. 

Reynolds said the students are recruited from high schools all over the Bay Area and that some of them took the bus or BART from as far away as Danville each morning of the course.  

On Friday, the last day of the course, the students presented the web sites they had made on an overhead projector. The subject matter on the web sites included things that most teenagers are interested in, Berkeley High School senior Jasmine Jackson created a page with photos of her favorite movie stars, Derrick Estrada put together a visual homage to his favorite players on the Los Angeles Lakers and Mark Edmunds proudly presented family photos and another section with photos of “tight cars.” 

Jackson, who said she planned to take computer classes at Berkeley High School in the fall, said she enjoyed the summer course. “I had to think in a different way,” she said. “On some of the projects we worked on, like the flow charts we created, I had to step back and ask myself, ‘how do I make this work?’” 

Constance Conner, a computer and information science instructor at City College of San Francisco, told the students that is was important for women to pursue a degree in information technology. “In 1998 women made up only 18 percent of graduates with a degree in computer science,” she said. “If you remember anything, remember that the four-year degree is like gold.” 

Conner, who was the last scheduled guest speaker, said she was pleased to see the gender make up of the summer course, which was over 50 percent girls. 

The web sites were the culmination of two weeks of intensive study beginning at 9 a.m. and going until 4:30 p.m. On most days, the students spent their lunch hour listening to talks from prominent people in education and the information technology field. 

The speakers included Vice President Wendy Jeansonne, of Oracle Corporation’s Product Internationalization division, Dan Garcia a computer science lecturer from UC Berkeley and Barbara Simons, visiting Stanford computer science professor. 

BFOIT is sponsored by a variety of tech companies including Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and Oracle. 

Reynolds said the students often became frustrated during the two weeks because of the amount of information they were expected to absorb. “They get frustrated but they’ll be surprised in a couple of weeks at how much they learned,” he said. “With just two weeks we have little choice but to challenge them.” 

Reynolds added that only two students did not complete the course. 

Reynolds said that BFOIT assists the students as much as possible after they finish the course by making connections with other courses, educational advice or whatever assistance they need to further their careers. 

“We’re sort of like a pipe line,” he said. “We plug the leaky pipe when we find where it is students wander off their career path.” 

For more information about Berkeley Foundation for Opportunities in Information Technology call 666-2930 or visit their Web site at