The Cognizant Foundation and Teach For America are pleased to announce the winners of the inaugural Cognizant Innovation in Computer Science Education Awards—these awards were established to identify both educators and leaders who have demonstrated measurable impact expanding access to and advocating for PK-12 computer science education.
The five winners are:
- Tyree Alexander, instructional team leader and peer collaborative coach at Urban Assembly School for Applied Math & Science, Queens Village, New York
- Mehreen Butt, Co-Founder and Program Director at Culturally Tech, Nashville, Tennessee
- Cerina Livaudais, 8th grade founding computer science teacher at DreamHouse 'Ewa Beach Public Charter School, Kapolei, Hawai'i
- Laura Peters, 7th-12th grade computer science teacher and computer science/engineering department chair at Henderson K-12 Inclusion School, Boston, Massachusetts
- Ryan Torbey, Ph.D., co-founder of CS4TX, Austin, Texas
“We are so proud to recognize five educators and leaders who are tirelessly working to advocate for and inspire students to study computer science,” said Kristen Titus, executive director at Cognizant Foundation. “Technology jobs represent the fastest-growing, highest-paying careers in this country—and we must provide equitable access to computer science education at the earliest of ages to ensure all communities have access to these life-changing careers.”
By some estimates, there were 1.4 million open computing jobs in 2020, a number that will only increase as industries become more reliant on technology—yet, 49% of high schools in the United States do not offer foundational computer science courses, leaving students, most often those from historically excluded and underrepresented backgrounds, ill-prepared to pursue proven pathways to economic mobility.
“More schools are offering computer science than ever before, but huge gaps in access remain,” said Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach For America. “This is a critical issue for our students, our communities, and our country, and these five inspiring leaders are addressing it head-on. We’re excited to celebrate them and all that they’re doing to expand access to computer science, spark students’ passions and aspirations in this field, and build a future where every young person is prepared to learn, lead, and thrive in the career of their choice.”
Meet the award winners
Tyree Alexander (New York '12)
“Computer science offers a unique opportunity to address some of the systemic issues that plague the lives of my students, many of whom are often denied access to essential services, opportunities and information because of their zip code. Because it is quickly becoming essential in virtually every industry, being introduced to the field in a public school setting puts students on a pathway to enjoy a greater sense of financial security, purpose and choice—ensuring that my students have access to the field can help dismantle decades of inequity by empowering them to become active developers and not just passive recipients.”
Mehreen Butt (Mississippi '13)
“In order for our students to compete in the innovation economy and be able to access some of the highest-paying careers, they need to be digitally literate. Computer science is driving innovation across every industry and automating a lot of jobs through technology and machine-learning. A career in the tech industry has the power to bring financial freedom to our students and their families, [and] computer science is important because it teaches our students about creativity and bringing an idea or vision to life through problem-solving. I want students across Davidson Country to recognize that they don’t have to just be a programmer to use coding—instead, they can leverage technology for their own interests.”
Cerina Livaudais (Hawai'i '17)
“Technology is becoming a larger and larger part of all our lives, and it is imperative that every child has, at the very least, a basic understanding of how technology works. Access to computer science education is important so that all students can be not only consumers, but also creators of technology. To me, computer science education is a form of educational justice. All students should have the knowledge to access conversations regarding technology ethics, data and privacy."
Laura Peters (Bay Area '10)
“In my class, we discuss the importance of a more diverse tech workforce, and I work to support students in building the necessary skills to be successful if they choose to take computer science courses after high school. All of the curriculum that I have designed and selected for our school is project-based with a focus on creativity and self-expression. Even if students don’t ever take a computer science course again, I hope that they leave with a sense of what’s possible when they persevere through problems and create work that is meaningful to them.”
Ryan Torbey, Ph.D. (New Mexico '11)
“The disparities of access and participation that we see in computer science education are symptoms of inequities present in our educational system as well as society as a whole. In order to achieve equity, individuals and groups must actively work to broaden participation in computing. As advocates looking to rapidly expand computer science education, it is crucial that we keep a close eye on the data surrounding these inequities and take specific action to try to close gaps in access and participation. As a leader of the CS4TX statewide advocacy movement, we have made impressive gains on the policy front in the past several years. And, CS4TX is currently still advocating for approximately $8 million more of funding to be put toward professional development to help certify new computer science teachers."