Zaydee Dominguez-Chang knew personally the challenges high school students might have in the Informatics Diversity-Enhanced Workforce (iDEW) program at Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis. Language barriers were not at the top of the list, but it soon became obvious that if they were to succeed in technology, they would need help from someone who understood them in more ways than one.
Dominguez-Chang was a graduate of the iDEW program herself, having participated in the program at Pike High School. “Having heard of iDEW from my older sister who participated in the program prior, I knew the basic premise,” she said. “Once I got to high school, I decided to take the iDEW classes just for the sake of trying something new. After that first year, I realized that programming and technology was something that I was good at; I enjoyed working on the semester projects, visiting the Luddy Indianapolis campus, gaining mentors that I can rely on, etcetera. From that point on, I made sure to join all iDEW classes offered at my high school and become an active participant in the program.”
Today, Dominguez-Chang is a rising junior at IU Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering in Indianapolis with a double major in Informatics and Media Arts and Science, specializing in Web Development and Design, in preparation for a career as a Full-Stack Developer. She had learned about Luddy and IUPUI while still in high school and was attracted to both aspects of web development, the creative and the analytical. “Luddy was a school I had always known about. I knew since my first year in high school that it was one of my top choices; the environment has always been so welcoming, and the programs are one of a kind; I just knew I fit in.”
“Web development was something I enjoyed doing a lot. However, I am not the best designer by any means. Back-end programming attracted me, because I wanted to work in something analytical, but I knew that even though I did not know how to design very well, I was going to miss that part of development. When I found out that Luddy Indianapolis offered Full-Stack Development, I knew instantly that this program was perfect for me. Not only could I feed the analytical side of my brain, but I could also learn how to become a better designer and challenge myself overall,” she said.
In addition to being an iDEW mentor, Dominguez-Chang is also a Student Ambassador and mentor at Luddy Indianapolis. “We are incredibly lucky to have Zaydee as an ambassador, she is beyond excellent in everything she does. This is an amazing story—but yet not a surprising one given who Zaydee is!,” said Taylor Dooley, Director of Undergraduate Recruiting and Ambassador supervisor at Luddy.
Giving back and paying forward
Dominguez-Chang was happy to go back to Pike and work with her former Computer Science teacher, Justin Smith, who she considered her biggest role model and mentor back then. She said he introduced her to Informatics and helped her find her voice. Then she found an even bigger calling as an iDEW mentor herself at Arsenal.
iDEW program manager Vicki Daugherty described what happened next. “Our teacher partner at Arsenal Tech, Tinya Fisher, provided an update on the progress of one of her classes with nearly all Spanish speaking students. They were beyond struggling with the language barrier. This is a class that Zaydee now supports as a mentor on Tuesday and Friday mornings,” Daugherty said.
“Before Zaydee began working with this class, the majority of students were failing. With Zaydee’s bilingual support and all she brings to the class, everyone is now earning a grade of ‘C’ or better. Furthermore, Tinya is seeing full participation from the class and real enthusiasm from the students for their projects.”
As an iDEW mentor, Dominguez-Chang helps students with their semester-long projects. anything from idea creation to code debugging. She also helps translate deliverables to students as 95% of students in the classroom only speak Spanish. “Because I also work as one of the Latino Outreach Ambassadors for Luddy Indianapolis, I try my best to talk to these Latinx students about college as much as possible. I want them to know that I understand their struggles as a Latina woman myself; I want them to understand that there is a place for them out there,” she said.
“Furthermore, being able to work at Arsenal Technical High School now and help these students find their voice in tech as I did mine is a big highlight for me. I am thrilled to see how performance in the classroom has increased now that they can understand what they are doing and the importance of it. Getting to know these students and understanding what about tech makes them passionate is a reward like no other.”
I never thought the iDEW program would impact me as much as it did in high school and continue to impact me to this day.
Dominguez-Chang said the best advice she could give other would-be mentors is to not doubt themselves and go for it. She pointed out that when she first started off, she was hesitant, as she did not know what she would be able to offer the students she was going to be working with. “As time goes on, you realize that the best thing you can do is become a resource,” she said. “You are not expected to know everything. Your individual experiences are more than enough to help these students create their own paths. In doing so, I have become more confident in my skills and in my ability to help guide these students in the right direction. If you think you can’t do it, you can. You never know what the outcome will be.”
Maybe so. But perhaps we are already able to see a glimpse of that outcome at Arsenal Tech, thanks to her efforts.