Cliff Freeman – Broadening Participation in STEM Education

Photo Courtesy of Cliff Freeman w/ Bob Moses

Clifford (Cliff) Freeman is currently a Program Development Specialist in Math and Computer Science Education at The Young People’s Project. Cliff recently received a Master’s degree in Technology Management from Wentworth Institute of Technology. Cliff also obtained his Bachelor’s degree from Wentworth in Computer Information Systems in 2016.

Will: Tell us a little about yourself.

Cliff: Yeah, that is a big question, Will. Well, I am Cliff and I grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts. If I would categorize myself, I would categorize myself as quiet. It happens that in order to live in this world, it is associated with how much money you have. A fast track is simply to get an education. A guarantee to become a millionaire is to become a software engineer. You will become a millionaire, easily. But, you got to go out and get a mentor (someone to guide you). So, I am in the fight to figure out how we can help people who are left out.

Will: Tell us about your involvement with The Young People’s Project.

Cliff: I have done the Young People’s Project (YPP) since 10th grade. It was a job after school for me to teach middle school students on how to do the math. And that is how I saw it. No more, no less. Then I got hooked because I found out that I was good at teaching students with math. The more math and school I did, the bigger impact I was on the YPP.

Will: Tell us about a time you failed. What advice would you give to college students that just need that extra push to keep going?

Cliff: There was a moment where I did poorly on one of the exams in my Network Administration class. On the first exam, I got a C and it was a really bad grade for me. After that experience, I came to class every day and listened to the professor. By the time I got another exam, I still did not understand anything. The class had a textbook, which I did not read and this was the moment where I knew I had to read the textbook. Well, I decided to give the textbook a chance, and I got an A once I started reading. So, every time I took a class in graduate school, I knew I had to read the text. A simple tip of success for students is read whenever a professor or teacher assigns it.

Will: What advice would you give to high school students looking to enter the STEAM / STEM field?

Cliff: Be apart of something like the YPP. When you are apart of the YPP, you will join a group of people that can mentor and teach you on a subject that is STEAM / STEM-related. Students that were apart of the YPP used to struggle on a subject like math. But now they are proficient at learning the subject and are able to teach other students. Being exposed to a program that helps students with areas like math and computer science is a great way to enter the STEAM / STEM field.

Will: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Cliff: Within the 5 years, I see myself traveling to Ghana. What I expect to see there is a land full of opportunities. When I go to Ghana, I am going to pick up a million different business opportunities that can help people with financial freedom because of the business ideas I created. I want to start a business in Ghana that creates social impact and also help people living there generate a lot of money.

Will: You know companies like Apple, Google, IBM have said that they no longer require a college degree for jobs. What is your opinion on that?

Cliff: For those that are good at coding, they don’t really need a degree to get a job. For those who want to teach computer science would need a degree to teach students. But you don’t really need a degree if you are good at Python or Java. There so many free resources online you can use like YouTube and Khan Academy where you can learn so much. When companies like Apple, Google, and IBM are saying that a degree is no longer necessary are words of affirmation and encouragement. Degrees might be the barrier to success for some because of finances, so it is good that companies are no longer requiring college degrees.

Will: The Young People’s Project is doing something special where they are having high school students/college students teach younger students computer science. Do you see this taking off in the nation or is this going to take awhile?

Cliff: By the time this article comes out, Boston Public Schools would have created a vehicle, which YPP is an instrument of producing a pipeline for students to learn computer science. The YPP is apart of helping students land internships in the STEAM / STEM field. YPP comes to schools and helps students be more exposed in that field. Since last year, YPP is now teaching three classes in computer science compared to just one class at a local Boston Public Schools high school. In order to teach more students, we just need more resources. If you want students to be ready for the STEAM / STEM field, you must create a program like this for high school students. This is how you can improve the gap for the technical roles that are left open. If we don’t have more computer scientists then we’re going to have more cybersecurity issues. If we develop and produce more individuals that are in the STEAM / STEM field, then we can fix the problems we have in society. So, we have to start somewhere, and this is the place where it starts.

Will: What advice would you give to your younger self?

Cliff: Well, I was actually thinking about this the other day. I realize that I don’t do much planning for the future. I try to set up myself up for the best possible position in this instance. So whatever that comes up in the future will be great. An advice I would give is to do more planning for the future.

Will: You recently obtained a Master’s of Technology Management degree from Wentworth Institute of Technology, where do you see yourself using that degree?

Cliff: I plan to use that degree to get a Ph.D. for a more favorable application. The most respected people in the world are Doctors. Not just by profession of medicine, but doctors in any profession. If you added Dr. in your name, people are going to respect your work. What I want to do is something innovative that someone has not done before. I just need that piece of paper that says you’re a doctor. The work that I had put forward last year was to build this elective class at YPP and we are building credibility. I just want to use my degree to get a Ph.D. Everyone thinks they have the best and coolest ideas, but you need to get it stamped and validated. By getting that Ph.D., you will be taken seriously.  

Will: What type of music do you listen to?

Cliff: I like to listen to music from Louisiana. I like the bounce they have in their music. I like what Kanye raps about, but not what he talks about before his albums come out. He says wild stuff before his album comes out to get attention on them. I like the flow he has in his music. I like old school music like Tupac, Nina Simone, Etta James, and Sam Cooke.

Will: Any morning routines?

Cliff: I try to commit myself to 100 pushups, every day. I spread out those pushups in increments of 20. I wake up around 6:00 AM every day. So, when I wake up I do 20 pushups. Then at around like 6:40 AM, I try to do 20 more before I open my computer and check my emails. Throughout the day, I try to finish the 100 pushups I commit for the day. It has been a habit that I have been following.

Will: Any shoutouts?

Cliff: I want to shout out the people I work with at YPP and the Algebra Project. I want to shout out my girlfriend Nana, my parents, and shoutout to Wentworth. I did produce two degrees from Wentworth. Also a shout out to everyone that was apart of my experience at Wentworth. Everything has a purpose in your life, like legos you build them up.

Check out this video on Explore STEM Literacy in Boston Public Schools!

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