Discover, Lead, Solve: High School Students and SAS

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Discover. Lead. Solve.

Three strong verbs describe this annual event that brings high school students who are learning SAS to the campus to learn more about careers available to them.

It’s one thing to take course in a high school classroom. When you can see real-life applications of the subject matter, it’s even better. But when you can visit the very place where the object of your study was invented – not to mention having the Chief Technology Officer drop by to give you some career advice – it’s the best.

That’s what happened at this year’s annual Discover.Lead.Solve. event when almost 100 SAS programming students from five  North Carolina high schools visited the campus for a half-day of presentations, activities and discussions about STEM careers.DiscoverLeadSolve Photos

“It’s great to see high school students get excited about developing their SAS programming skills,” said Julie Petlick, SAS Student Programs Manager, who coordinated the event.

High school students in several states have earned their SAS Base Programmer Certification, Petlick added.  “We have students entering college who already know how to program in SAS,” she said. “This gives them a foundation to build upon so they can use their time in college to build out more advanced skills in analytics and gives them a huge advantage compared to their peers.”

In opening remarks at the event, Petlick told the students to “be inspired today about the different ways you can apply your skills.”

Inspiration abounds

There was no lack of people to inspire the students.

SAS Chief Technology Officer Keith Collins made an impromptu appearance, with some hopeful and inspiring words for aspiring programmers. “I need people,” said Collins, telling them that he came to SAS on a “five-year plan” in 1984. “I’m as excited as I have ever been at SAS. You should be very excited, too. The world’s turning into an awesome place.”

Consulting Manager Cammie Dunnagan, talked about her role as the program manager for North Carolina state and local governments.

Before describing some of the projects she works on, Dunnagan talked  about her roles outside of SAS as a wife, mother to two kids (and two dogs!) and being a mentor to seven women who started out as babysitters for her children.

She also relayed her personal story of how she got to SAS. “I love science and accounting – that’s all I knew when I graduated from high school,” Dunnagan said.

But she found out in college that she really didn’t like accounting and changed her major to engineering. After switching majors and schools several times, she made the “biggest mistake of my life – I quit college with 16 credits to go.”

She later got her degree in computer information systems and found that she loved helping people make the right decisions in government organizations.

“I’m so excited about the projects we work on,” said Dunnagan, citing CJLeads, the state of North Carolina’s comprehensive view of offenders across seven different data sources;   and projects involving fraud, risk management of the state’s $80 billion pension fund and roads improvement.

“STEM drives the world around you,” she told the students. “Appreciate the mechanics of it but also enjoy the beauties of it.”

The students were also inspired by Mark Jordan’s interactive session, “The Date-ing Game: Work with SAS date values,” which introduced some new concepts to many of the students. Continuing with the TV game show theme, Petlick and Lee Ellen Harmer, Senior Account Executive in the Education Practice,  hosted “Wheel of SAS” after lunch.

Scott McQuiggan’s afternoon session on SAS Mobile Learning Apps was also a hit among the students. McQuiggan, a Software Development Manager who leads the SAS Curriculum Pathways team, demonstrated mobile apps including SAS Story Hub, Read Aloud, and Math Stretch.

“We do a lot of research to see how people are using our apps,” said McQuiggan, who urged the students to try them out and provide feedback to the developers.

What the students had to say

Naomi Thomas, a senior at Cary High School who will be studying computer science at UNC-Greensboro next year, said she liked hearing Dunnagan’s life story. “It was very inspiring.”

Laura Phan, a 10th-grader from Cary High School, said she never really knew what SAS did until she took the SAS programming class.

“Seeing what SAS can do expands the choices I have for the future,” said Phan, who plans to study computer programming or engineering in college. “You can do anything with technology if you put your mind to it.”

Ashley Zdelar, a senior at Cary High School, was more familiar with SAS than her classmates. Her mother, Kristin Barker, works here.

“I’ve always like working with computers,” said Zdelar, who will be majoring in math and minoring in computer science at North Carolina State University. “I love visiting my mom and coming to SAS.”

Zdelar said she’s liked math ever since elementary school. “I like to incorporate math into whatever I do. All I want to do is math. It’s so straightforward -- an answer is either right or wrong.”

She likes SAS for the same reason: it is a pretty straightforward programming language. “It’s really understandable. You can even teach it to yourself.”

Zdelar also mentioned liking Dunnagan’s stories of going through school and not knowing what she wanted to do. “It’s cool to know that you can change. It may take a while but you’ll get there.”

Why should kids study SAS programming?

Patrick Stone, who teaches SAS Programming and Computer Engineering at Cary High School, tells students that if they can learn SAS, they can transfer that knowledge to other languages and pick them up.

“I really believe SAS is a great introductory language,” Stone said. ““The curriculum [for SAS Programming]is flawless. I could literally push it in front of students and they could learn SAS. It’s really that good. Anyone can learn SAS. It’s absolutely true.”

Some of the students in Greg Thoyre’s SAS programming at Orange High School, have become SAS certified.

“It is so hard to engage kids in something that requires both side of the brain,” Thoyre said. “Programming requires thinking skills they don’t get in other classes.”

SAS is an excellent choice for students because it is a “language that is powerful enough to deal with big data but is simple enough to pick up with no programming background,” he added.

Thoyre uses words like “terrific “and “indispensable” to describe events like Discover.Lead.Solve.

“These events provide a concrete example for students of what might be possible for them  in the future,” Thoyre said.

“We can talk about it in class, but the visit contextualizes it for them,” he added. “It gives a little structure to their dreams.”

Advice to students

During presentations and an “Ask the Experts” panel discussion moderated by Erika Miles, a talent acquisition specialist in HR, several employees gave employees words of wisdom:

  • Chief Technology Officer Keith Collins: “Follow your passion. Life’s too short not to. “
  • Software Developer Bailey Hayes, who said she took as much math as she possibly could in high school and college: “You may not know what you want to do...I wanted to be a comic book designer and I had to learn to program in order to create cool graphics. Do what you’re really interested in.”
  • Information Technology Manager Aaron Isbell, who came to SAS at the age of 18: “Always start early, getting involved with the job you may want. You will have an opportunity to experience multiple internships at multiple companies.”
  • Consulting Manager Cammie Dunnagan: Stay in school and finish your degree. Differentiate yourself – it is OK to be quirky. Find a mentor at least 10 years older than you but who “gets” you and can’t be afraid to tell you if you are making a bad choice.

Schools that participated in the event:

  • Cary High School
  • Apex High School
  • Cary Academy
  • Orange High School
  • Weaver Academy

Want to know more:

The SAS Programming for High School courses teach students how to prepare data for analysis and write SAS programs to solve problems.  If you are a high school teacher interested in teaching SAS Programming to your students, read the brochure to find out more. Each summer, SAS provides a free workshop to high school teachers interested in offering this course. Come join other educators from around the country and be a part of this exciting program.

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Kim Darnofall

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