By Margaret King
Futures programming classes from UC San Diego Extension have helped Yusuf Morsi prepare for college and a tech career. They have also given him skills he can use as a volunteer for causes he cares about, such as opposing gun violence and alleviating world hunger.
“I want to use what I learn to do work that’s not just for me and not just to get paid,” says Yusuf, who recently graduated from Patrick Henry High School and is headed for UC San Diego in the fall. “I want to do something that actually matters.”
In 2019 Yusuf completed a two-part Futures series on iOS Programming held at his high school, located in the Del Cerro area of San Diego. Now he is enrolled in a three-class Futures series on Front End Web Development, which met at San Ysidro Library before moving online because of the coronavirus pandemic.
UC San Diego Extension created Futures to allow high school students to acquire high-demand career skills while earning Extension credits. Courses are grouped under headings like Program Your Future for coding and Manage Your Future for business management. Scholarships are available to cover course costs.
Long before he signed up for Futures, Yusuf had a career path in mind: “I wanted to be involved in tech – I knew that from a long time ago.” He was inspired in part by his father, a professor of mechanical engineering at San Diego State University.
For a time, Yusuf thought about pursuing mechanical engineering, but when he discovered how much he liked computer programming, he switched his focus. Now he plans to major in electrical engineering at UC San Diego.
“I like the freedom of electrical engineering,” he says. “It’s a versatile career. I could work with computers. I could work in construction. I could do a lot of different things with that kind of degree.”
Yusuf already had taken some coding classes before enrolling in Futures. He had also taken part in career-oriented programs, including a week-long summer camp in construction engineering in Sacramento and the five-week Young Engineer Experience at SDSU.
The Futures iOS Programming class introduced Yusuf and his classmates to Swift, the language used to program apps for Apple devices. “We created a number of apps,” Yusuf says.
“My favorite was one where we could play an audio clip and then press a button and just play that song.”
He found that he had a knack for picking up new coding languages. “In both of the classes, people were sometimes struggling, but it was pretty easy for me – it kind of clicks with my brain,” he says. “Sometimes I was able to help other students in the classes.”
After the Front End Web Development classes moved online, Yusuf missed the fun of the in-person interactions. But he appreciates the flexibility that comes with online instruction.
He also appreciates that the instructor, Phillip Ballo, is readily available when students need help. “The teacher is really nice, and he’s really open for students asking him questions,” Yusuf says.
Yusuf has balanced Futures classes with a heavy schedule of extracurricular activities. At Patrick Henry High, he helped found the Leadership Club and served as president. Yusuf also helped reboot the school’s Math Team and served as treasurer. And he was active in a club called Hear Our Voices, which focuses on social issues. Activities included a trip to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
In 2018, the horrific mass shooting at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, motivated Yusuf to become active in the anti-gun-violence movement. “When that shooting happened, it made me realize that it could happen to anyone,” he says. “The kids who were killed have parents and families. I just wanted to get involved in that cause.”
Yusuf has been able to call on his coding skills to help in his volunteer activities. He serves as head of web development and media outreach for the anti-gun-violence group Team Enough Central San Diego. He’s also treasurer for March for Our Lives San Diego, and he has been assigned to create a website for that group.
“I feel like it’s a good use of my time,” Yusuf says of his activism. “It’s more important than playing video games.”
Yusuf is keeping busy during the coronavirus pandemic – and broadening his career skills – with other online studies in addition to Futures classes. He is taking Machine Learning with Stanford University via Coursera and Cybersecurity for Critical Urban Infrastructure with MIT through edX.
After he earns his bachelor’s degree, he plans to get a master’s degree in electrical engineering along with an MBA. “I hope for my main career to be as a manager in electrical engineering,” he says.
The Futures classes have helped set the stage for that career and also for side activities. “I think learning about web development and iOS programming is helping me diversify my background,” he says. “I might want to do some freelance app development or freelance web development in the future.”
At the same time, he plans to keep using his skills to make a difference on issues like hunger and gun violence. “Maybe in the future I could work with nonprofits on the side,” he says.
Yusuf says he would recommend Futures classes to other students – even those with little coding background. “The classes start from the bottom – they teach you everything you need to know,” he says. “Going into Front End Web Development, I didn’t know how to make a website from scratch. And now I can.”
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