Adapting to change and overcoming challenges is nothing new to Charles McClain, OAK5 Hidden Genius Alum. Charles experienced early in the program that things don’t always go as planned as he worked through the challenges of creating his app from scratch and handling life situations. After having his freshman year cut short on campus at Oberlin College Conservatory in Ohio this past semester, Charles leveraged the skills he learned in the Intensive Immersion Program and leaned on The Hidden Genius Project as he transitioned back to attending school from home.

How have you been holding up over these last few months dealing with this pandemic?

The hardest part of dealing with the pandemic was when my school sent everyone home towards the end of my second semester during my freshman year. I had to quickly readjust to living at home and take all of my classes online from a timezone three hours behind my professors.

All of the habits and routines that I had built in order to succeed at school had to be adjusted to accommodate an entirely new living arrangement. I’ve gotten accustomed to being back at home, but it’s difficult not to feel a little trapped when leaving the house becomes a rare event, especially being a full-time student online.

I’m currently enrolled in classes at Laney College this semester while I take a break from Oberlin until it is safe to go back and I feel confident in the situation over there.

In what ways have the staff of The Hidden Genius Project stayed connected/continued to support you since graduating from the program?

Immediately after graduating the program in 2018, The Hidden Genius Project has been reaching out to me with internship and work opportunities both inside and outside of the organization, including scholarships. Right before the summer started, Eugene [Senior Innovation Educator] contacted me about asking how I‘ve been, and wanted to see if I would be interested in supporting the program this summer as a Youth Educator. I agreed and ended up supporting the program by teaching the RICH4 cohort computer science basics during the summer. I enjoyed working with the new Geniuses and helping them learn how to code and create their websites. Whether I’m in Ohio or Oakland, I feel like no matter what I do later in life, I’ll always be able to check in with The Hidden Genius Project and be welcomed with open arms.

What was your experience in the program like?

Throughout my time in the program, I enjoyed learning about computer science, and how technology shapes the world around us. From field trips to different tech companies, to practical experiences with coding projects and assignments, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about various coding languages such as JavaScript, HTML, CSS, Python, and Ruby on Rails. 

Learning these languages really showed me how computers interpret certain coding languages and process data types and sets. When it comes to developing and designing your website, you get a chance to understand how HTML, CSS, and JavaScript as a trio work together. If I had to pick, my preferred language is Ruby on Rails because of its simple naming conventions and I like the way it looks based on the code blocks and indentations. 

Besides learning about coding, I loved hanging out with the Geniuses in my cohort and playing video games together as it’s one of the ways we bonded. From building websites to problem-solving coding errors together, we all developed a friendship and brotherhood within our 15 months in the program.

One of the challenges I faced in the program was learning how to stay on task and focus on completing my app projects. While I was developing my app project during the second summer, I would get sidetracked and before I knew it I was approaching the deadline to finish it. This time crunch impacted the number of features I was hoping to include in my final app. Despite this setback, I was able to make up time with proper planning and a lot of patience. I also reached out to my instructor, Hodari [Director of Curriculum and Instruction], for support when I had to decide which parts of the app I wanted to prioritize during my build. His support really helped me with completing my app.

Describe the app designed during your time in the Immersion Program.

My app project was called HGP HUB. The idea and intent behind the app was a platform that functioned like Google Classroom, but with a specific focus on coding and programming. In our program, we use Google Classroom to submit our coding assignments, but we always had to save our code as a .zip file and then upload it to our classroom. To me, this was just an unnecessary hassle. 

With HGP HUB, instructors could post their coding assignments and students would have the opportunity to submit their entire code without using a .zip file. Other features of this app would include an in-browser text editor for instructor comments or last-minute changes, and a test suite that would automatically test all of the student submissions. I wasn’t able to include these features, but creating this project really gave me some invaluable experience and a clearer idea of what goes into the creation of a web app and the management of a database.

How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?

In terms of the total instruction time, and how much time the instructors put into making sure the Geniuses understand key concepts, it was definitely the longest-running educational program I’ve ever attended outside of school. During the 15 months, there wasn’t much of a rush to get through all of the assignments which meant that we didn’t need to gloss over materials so we really had a chance to learn the topics. I had plenty of time, not just to finish my work, but to explore what else I could do with the knowledge I’d been given. 

Also, the fact that you can see your instructors outside of the context of teaching all of the time and you can get a chance to bond with them beyond the program. The barrier gets removed from teacher to student because you’re able to connect with them outside of instructional time and learn about their experiences in life. 

What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?

Because of The Hidden Genius Project, I got an early introduction to the most common ways to find solutions to coding problems in every computer science class I’ve come across, especially in college. Knowledge of where to find answers has been indispensable in times where I could only rely on myself to finish an assignment. Eugene would always tell us about his strict criteria for asking him questions about coding assignments. He said, “if you come to me about a coding assignment, it better be about an error and not about what does this term mean?” He believed that everyone should be able to ‘go fish’ and find the answers they need, and only reach out if you have exhausted all other options, and that stuck with me. 

Another skill I still use to this day is learning how to communicate effectively with others and my experience with managing projects and assignments. We were always pushed to advocate and communicate for ourselves in the program, and have confidence about sharing my projects and ideas with people, and just who I am as a person. This is especially true when it comes to sending emails. I never had to write emails until I got into the program, and now it’s something I do regularly to keep in contact with my professors at school. 

The final skill I’d say had the most impact on me is just learning how to complete a project from start to finish. Creating my app really taught me how to manage projects and understanding when I need to increase my focus and energy in order to meet my goals. I appreciate having gained that experience in the program. 

What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level (development, relationship, community, etc.) from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?

I’d say the most important thing I gained is the network you have access to as a Hidden Genius Alum. Receiving internship and job opportunities are invaluable in today’s job market, especially when trying to gain more experience as a coder. Sometimes I look at job postings as they ask for so many years of experience, and I know it’s hard to get experience when you’re just starting. That’s why I know having this experience supporting The Hidden Genius Project as a Youth Educator will be helpful when I begin applying to jobs in the future.

If you could talk to yourself just before you applied, what is one thing you would say?

I’d tell myself to keep an eye out for collaboration opportunities with Geniuses in the other cohorts. There’s no limit to what a determined group can create even with a beginner knowledge of coding and computer science. 

What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?

The Hidden Genius Project is one of the biggest and coolest opportunities in the world if you put your all into it. The knowledge this organization is giving you guys is going to be infinitely useful in your life, so always make sure you’re present and paying attention to what your instructors are saying. Technology is a door to the future, and The Hidden Genius Project is handing you the keys.

Since 2012, more than 7,000 students have revealed their genius through our
Intensive Immersion and Catalyst Programs, and so many more are waiting to shine.


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