By Margaret King
For Catalina Arreola Armenta, the highlight of learning web development through Program Your Future has been the opportunity to hone her new skills in the company of like-minded, supportive classmates.
“My favorite part is being able to go in and program whatever I want with other people who are interested in programming,” says Catalina. “We help each other out and the teachers help us out. Being in the class every Saturday, I love the environment.”
The free classes are offered through Program Your Future, which was created by UC San Diego Extension, community members and industry experts to allow students in grades 9-12 to master high-demand skills in programming and other fields.
Students who complete 1-year programs, like the one Catalina enrolled in, receive a UC San Diego Extension certificate and credits. Those who finish shorter courses get an award of completion.
Catalina got interested in coding when she attended a cybersecurity camp after her sophomore year. When she heard about Program Your Future, she says, “I decided to sign up because I wanted to learn as much as I could about coding, and I realized this is a great opportunity to do that.”
During the classes, Catalina has created a series of websites that have increased in complexity as she and the other students have mastered new skills.
“In the third class, we learned to use jQuery and Bootstrap, and that’s where I created the first website that I was really proud of,” she says. “It has a lot of Easter eggs – if you click on something, another thing appears. I thought it was a fun little website.”
Along with the coding, Catalina has enjoyed the creative aspects of website development. “I think it’s really fun to sit down and think just how the website is going to look if you add different color schemes,” she says.
For a group project, she helped create an ASCII art generator. “It shows you a picture of an anteater, and you click a button to add a hat or put shoes on it,” she explains. “Then you can copy the picture and use it.”
Catalina finds the difficulty level of the classes to be about right. “I do have questions like in any other class, but I think it’s good that we have great teachers,” she says. “If I don’t get something, they help me out.”
Program Your Future isn’t the only extracurricular activity on Catalina’s plate. She’s a member of the Robotics Club at University City High, and this year, she is taking on a bigger role as club vice president. She has also served as vice president of the MEChA Chicano club at her school.
Making time for Program Your Future classes mostly works out for her, although occasionally classes have conflicted with robotics competitions. “I like that it’s on Saturdays because it doesn’t interfere during the week with homework,” she says.
After high school, Catalina is looking toward attending a school in the University of California system, although she hasn’t ruled out an out-of-state college. She hopes to study computer science or software engineering with the idea of pursuing a career in cybersecurity or possibly video game development.
In the meantime, she knows that the skills she has acquired in Program Your Future will come in handy. “I will for sure be using what I have learned to make a better portfolio when I’m applying to colleges,” she says. “I’m also planning to make portfolios for some friends.”
Going forward, Catalina won’t forget the camaraderie that made Program Your Future so much fun for her. “I enjoy being with every single person in this class,” she says. “We really do help each other. These are great people I have had the opportunity to meet because of this class.”