Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Aaron Gordon Develops STEM Program for Underserved Central Florida Youth

Aaron Gordon
Orlando Magic player Aaron Gordon with ACE students. Photo: Park South Photography

*Standing at an impressive 6-foot-9, weighing 220 pounds, the San Jose native Aaron Gordon is a force on the basketball court, now in his fifth season playing for the Orlando Magic.  He epitomizes values that are emulated by those who are successful like his outstanding work ethic, determination, and his devotion to performing at an optimal level in each of the games he plays.

Yet, Gordon’s gifts extend beyond the basketball court.  While he was given a chance growing up to develop his athleticism, education was heavily promoted and revered during his formative years by his mother and father.  The lessons that Gordon was taught by his family about developing and building a robust, healthy mind is the same insight he wants to pass along to the youth of Central Florida.

To achieve this goal, Gordon created CodeOrlando, a STEM education program that is in partnership with CodeFWD by Facebook, Sphero, and Orange County Public Schools’ (OCPS) Academic Center for Excellence (ACE).

Gordon kicked off his initiative in December and provided local Orlando students from disadvantaged communities the chance to learn computer science, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence through creative technology projects.  The program will provide a platform for students to participate in valuable speaking and teamwork skills, and give them the opportunity to hear from distinguished technologists along with visiting various businesses and colleges.

Through the Gordon Family Giving Fund, Gordon will financially support the coding program, which will officially kick off this year and ACE will teach and oversee the curriculum. On behalf of his charitable foundation, Gordon donated $6,000 to ACE  which will allow the school to provide the necessary instruction for the coding program during the school year, purchase the equipment that is needed to expand the classes, and conduct intensive summer courses that will include 30 students from the eighth grade to the 12th.   ACE students will learn to operate Sphero robotic balls through simple block-level commands by utilizing smartphones and tablet apps to create instructions that will cause the balls to perform in a particular manner, thereby, giving students a more in-depth understanding on how the process of programming works.

Students from OCPS’ ACE playing with Sphero robotic balls. Photo Credit: Park South Photography

Gordon has a deep respect for technology and wants to impart to students how learning about this particular field can fun and rewarding.  The idea for his newly minted program CodeOrlando was cultivated from his youth where he was exposed to the benefits of the technological occupation based on his mother’s chosen career in Silicon Valley.

“Growing up this was something that was very much a part of our family with my mom working in the semiconductor industry,” said Gordon. “I understand the importance of all students being given the opportunity to learn and experience new things especially in the field of STEM.  I’m thrilled to be able to partner with giants like Facebook and Spheros on this labor of love and bring something to the underserved students in Central Florida.”

Gordon’s mother, Shelly Davis Gordon, had a career in high tech as a semiconductor for 35 years, working for such employers like Xilinx and Alera, a firm that was bought by the microchip giant Intel while she was still employed there.  She also worked on projects like Siemens’ first MRI machine and helmet cams developed for fighter pilots. Shelly Davis Gordon understood the importance of sharing her knowledge and started an after-school program that allowed local students to take old computers and dismantle them to know how they operated.

Yeseyka Davila-Anaya, OCPS ACE; Shelly Davis Gordon, Aaron's mom; Aaron Gordon, Magic forward; Shannon Currie community partnership school director; a representative from OCPS ACE
Left to right: Yeseyka Davila-Anaya, OCPS ACE; Shelly Davis Gordon, Aaron’s mom; Aaron Gordon, Magic forward; Shannon Currie community partnership school director; a representative from OCPS ACE. Photo Credit: Park South Photography

“We’d bring over 10 systems, and after three hours they would all be bits of dust,” she said. “That was their ‘aha moment,” states Shelly Davis Gordon. So it is only natural that her son would follow in her altruistic and educational footsteps by creating a STEM education program for the Central Florida community.

“I just want kids from a not-so-great upbringing who are underprivileged to have the same opportunity that everybody else has,” said Gordon, “I want them not to be cast aside because of the color of their skin or what they look like or if they don’t have both parents. I want everything to be equal and fair.” Which is one of the many reasons Gordon, along with the involvement of his family, is leading the charge to close the racial disparity in tech through his program. According to an article released by Pew Research Center in 2018, the editorial piece exemplified a dismal under-representation of black people in the technology workforce.  Blacks compose of 11% of the U.S. labor force but only represent 9% of STEM workers and adults with gainful employment that holds a bachelor’s degree or higher, blacks only represent 7% of the STEM workforce.  “It’s an opportunity for underprivileged kids to get a seat at the economic table,” he said. “It can give a chance on what could be a promising career. It’s not just about getting a job but creating jobs or creating a business for themselves.”

Facebook CodeFWD Program is a free online education program created in partnership with Sphero to increase the amount of underrepresented and female students interested in studying computer science.  For more information, please visit techprep.org/codefwd/

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