Executive Director and Founder Ralph Smith started Computer Mentors back in 1997. From serving five students in the first year, Computer Mentors has been growing ever since. Computer Mentors is offering free coding programs to youth in our community.

Computer Mentors works within the community to not only ignite a passion within children for careers in IT but also to benefit the surrounding economy. Executive Director and Founder Ralph Smith started Computer Mentors back in 1997.

From serving five students in the first year, Computer Mentors has been growing ever since.

“All the while, we have retained the same mission of ‘Bridging the Digital Divide,’ which means getting STEM education resources to students that otherwise would not have had access to them,” said Computer Mentors’ recruitment and marketing manager, Preston Ingraham. “Our organization has partnered with countless schools and organizations in order to pursue this mission, employing many Tampa residents, many of them college students, along the way. For 24 years, we have done all we can to aid the tech education of Hillsborough County’s students.”

Computer Mentors began offering free coding classes throughout the Brandon and Tampa Bay area on October 21.

“The idea of free coding classes is the brainchild of Mr. Ralph Smith,” Ingraham said. “Before he started Computer Mentors, he was in the tech industry. When inspiration struck, he started the organization with the financial and labor support of the friends and partners he had made in his career.”

The free coding program is split into two age groups: fourth to eighth graders and ninth to 12th graders. The difference between the two groups is the intensity of the curriculum.

“For both of those groups we have online and in-person options,” Ingraham said. “Our online programming is done via Zoom and utilizes in-browser programs; students follow along with our instructors in [a] project-focused curriculum. For our in-person classes, our mentors travel to locations on a weekly basis with enough laptops to conduct class. Some of our locations are open enrollment, so any young person can sign up and join. Places like the Temple Terrace Library, the Brandon Community Center and the Jackson Springs Community Center fall into the open enrollment category. We also have closed enrollment classes as well; with those, we partner with organizations to bring our curriculum to students they already have on site.”

Computer Mentors hopes its free coding program will make an impact on the community. “Our hopes for our programming are very much the same as always: that we can spread actionable STEM education to as many Hillsborough County students as possible, especially those that are less fortunate,” Ingraham said.

If you’d like to learn more about Computer Mentors or if you’d like to register for the free coding program, visit www.computermentors.org.

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Libby is a writer for The Osprey Observer/The Christian Voice. She started as an intern in 2009 and upon finishing her internship, she was asked to stay on as a permanent writer for both papers. Libby lives in Brandon with her two rescue dogs, Olive and Bogey.