The Coding with Empathy Challenge: Collaborating across the world through STEM and SEL

We’re so excited to announce the launch of our newest program, the Coding with Empathy Challenge. Developed in partnership with and with funding from the Stevens Initiative, this program will bring together middle school students from the United States and Egypt to collaborate in a series of empathy-building computer science and virtual exchange experiences. 

The Coding with Empathy Challenge is designed to infuse empathy and social-emotional skills into a STEM curriculum. Through live and asynchronous exchanges guided by educators, students in Egypt and throughout the United States will explore how empathy and other social-emotional skills can help solve challenges in modern computer science. Our activities highlight the importance of including different perspectives in the problem-solving process, empowering students to address challenges such as ethical concerns (e.g., machine learning) and diversity gaps in STEM. Further, this program allows students to learn about the world outside of their communities and share their experiences with children across the globe. 

Cynthia Carpenter, a STEM educator from Arizona, shared her excitement about her students getting the opportunity to participate in the Coding with Empathy Challenge: “As educators at a female-focused STEAM and leadership academy, one of our goals is to encourage learners to explore and engage to be responsible members of a community. We would like our 5th-8th grade learners to take the elements they learn about SEL and computer science with Empatico and to mentor the younger learners of our school. Computer science and SEL are key components to the future of our community of learners in society. The Empatico challenge will . . . expand their capacity for understanding others and their cultures.” 

Program coordinator Kelsey Moore, who works in the New Mexico State University STEM Outreach Center, is looking forward to seeing her students benefit from both the STEM and SEL lessons in the challenge. “Middle school students learning about coding as well as experiencing it alongside students from across the world is something we have never done before. We know that middle school students are more likely to engage in risky behavior outside of the regular school day, so offering this program after school is offering students a safe place to be as well as engaging them in high-quality programming. Not only will this give our students experience with coding and technology, but it impacts their social and emotional learning. SEL is a very important aspect of a child’s development and being able to incorporate this with technology skills that our students can use in future careers is a great idea.”

She also shared enthusiasm for the professional development that the program experience offers: “It will also directly impact our instructors in a positive way by giving them the professional development they need to learn about new tools that they will use in the program and their regular day classroom. By having multiple educators participate in this program, we will start to build a social network for those that love technology and care about our students’ social and emotional learning. This will give us some great research on how programs like this can affect our students academically and behaviorally to help them grow into productive members of society. We look forward to all the fun and amazing things this will bring!

The Coding with Empathy Challenge launched on April 6, and it will roll out in classrooms in Arizona, Washington DC, New Mexico, and Egypt in September 2021. Stay tuned for more stories from the program.

The Coding with Empathy Challenge is supported by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding by the U.S. Government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute. The Stevens Initiative is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.