Costa Mesa nonprofit teaches tech skills, life lessons

Dave Cornelius said a high school career day inspired his high-tech livelihood.

He recalled listening as a career-day speaker described how computers were producing novel contraptions in the arts and music.

"I was captivated," said Cornelius, 53. "It got me thinking — wow, I could do that."

Cornelius, now a speaker and coach focusing on a particular approach to software development called agile technology, would like to see more women and minorities, like him, enter the profession.

To that end, he founded 5 Saturdays, a Costa Mesa-based nonprofit that teaches high school students software concepts, critical thinking and more. These skills are vital for a high-tech career — and valuable in life in general, he said.

Non-Asian minorities make up 26% of the population. But they accounted for 10% of the country's science and engineering workforce in 2010, a 2014 National Science Board report showed. Women made up half of all college-educated workers in the United States in 2010, but accounted for 28% of science and engineering workers that year.

"How can we change those odds?" Cornelius said. "How can we get involved in the community and go out into the community and give those students an opportunity to learn about technology?"

He created a curriculum and held his first course for high school students at a church in Los Angeles last year. The four-hour classes are taught every Saturday over five weeks, as the name 5 Saturdays suggests.

Students learn communication, teamwork and creative and critical thinking, and dig into software concepts and business strategies like Scrum, an agile way to manage a project that accomplishes tasks more quickly.

The classes are led by facilitators, local volunteers from all walks of life with specialized training. On Saturday, about 17 facilitators got their first round of training in a classroom at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa.

Cornelius will offer the first set of free classes at Estancia High School beginning June 13. Sign-ups start next month, and the summer classes are open to any high school student. Students who complete the course receive an Associate Agility Team Leader certification and training that Cornelius said would typically cost $1,000 or more.

Cornelius said elementary- and high school-age students are ripe for learning about teamwork, critical thinking and scheduling — lessons they'll carry with them even if they don't end up in an information technology career.

"It's project management as a life skill," Cornelius said.

Cornelius also is in talks with school administrators to offer the classes in conjunction with curriculum at Estancia High School. The classes could build on the school's new Signature Academy, which offers specialized instruction in engineering and design. If Cornelius' proposal is approved, the classes could start in October.

"We're giving them something tangible," he said. "It's how to be effective in life without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get there."

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