Computer Science Education Week Profiles: Katherine Johnson and Luis von Ahn

This week (December 7 – 13, 2020) is Computer Science Education Week.

Introduced by a collection of ACM Education Policy Committee in partnership with Congress, the first CSEdWeek was recognized by Congressional Resolution. This annual call to action calls upon partners throughout the United States like iUrban Teen to advocate for Computer Science Education as well as to “underscore the critical role of computing in all careers.”

This week, and in line with the 2020 theme for CSEdWeek: CS for Social Justice, we are excited to celebrate Pioneers of Color who have helped pave the way not only for the BIPOC community but have also made widespread contributions to the field of Computer Science, globally.

As we continue to honor our heroes past and present, today we take a look at a pair of Computer Science’s greatest contributors.

Recently given the recognition due for her work over the course of a 3-decade career, Katherine Johnson is one of the first African-Americans to work as a scientist at NASA. Known as a “Human-Computer,” her rigorous computations were key to the success of some of the first US-manned space flights in the 1960s. Today, calculations like these would be performed by computers, but Johnson was able to make these space expeditions possible in a world where there were no machines capable! In fact, she and her methods were essential in pioneering the first computer systems used at NASA and beyond!

The 2016 blockbuster film Hidden Figures brought this amazing untold story to the big screen of Johnson and her co-workers known as “West Computing” and how they endured and overcame injustice, all to be an integral part of the historical Space Program. Johnson passed away in February 2020 at 101-years-old, but not before being presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2015.

Katherine’s success made it possible for people across cultures to be innovators in their own right. A modern-day pioneer in Computer Science within the fields of Identity Verification and Language Education, we highlight IT genius Luis von Ahn. A 42-year-old Guatemalan-American with degrees from Duke and Carnegie Mellon Universities, von Ahn is the mastermind behind CAPTCHA, the cybersecurity program that makes sure your computer knows you aren’t a robot, and reCAPTCHA, among others. Having sold two startups to Google including reCAPTCHA, von Ahn is referred to as a trailblazer of Crowdsourcing. His latest endeavor as Co-Founder and CEO is Duolingo, a leading language learning app launched in 2011 that allows students of all ages to learn multiple languages for free! The app has been valued at $2.4 Billion and is said to have seen a spike in new users since the onset of COVID-19 and the increased interest in e-learning.


In today’s technological world, computer science is woven into all sorts of interesting and well-paying career tracks. Here at iUrban Teen, we encourage Youth of color to pursue careers like these as we connect them with industry leaders via our many programs. Programs such as iCode, iSpy (CyberSecurity), and MindStream endeavor to give students the holistic experience they need to make an informed decision about what type of career they want to pursue based on what sparks their curiosity and creativity. Computer Science is woven into all three of these programs and in honor of CSEdWeek, we are offering (3) special classes to introduce students to Computer Science! Be sure to sign up, as spots are filling fast!

For more information on iUrban Teen Programming and to learn about volunteer opportunities, please contact us! We’d love to hear from you and are always happy to welcome new partners on our mission to serve students in STEM and The Arts! Your contribution, whether in your time or through donation is sure to help us continue to guide and cultivate Students as they become the Technology Leaders of tomorrow!

Content curated by iUrban Teen staff writers