The Saturday Computing Experience was an eight-week program that had been held at the University of Washington for local high school students who are deaf or hard of hearing. The program introduced students to computers and computer programming with the goal of encouraging them to consider college majors and careers in computing fields. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for three years, the inaugural Saturday Computing Experience was held in spring 2011. Approximately ten students participated each year.

Recruitment and Preparation

Students were recruited by contacting local high schools, especially those with significant populations of deaf and hard of hearing students. Students completed an application and were selected to participate in the program based on their ability to benefit from the program, their grades, and their statement of interest. Before the program began, an informational session was held for volunteers to offer suggestions for working with students who are deaf and how to communicate with and without interpreters.


Every Saturday, students met for a morning session that lasted for two and a half hours. The curriculum focused on project-based strategies. Students worked with a one-on-one mentor on a project that spanned multiple weeks. Based on students' preferences, interpreters and captionists were used throughout the program. In addition, students and mentors were encouraged to communicate directly with each other by writing and/or typing. This sort of problem solving helps prepare students for challenges that they will encounter in their careers. Efforts were made to ensure that activities were interactive and fun, and that some of the activities were completed without using computers. Projects have been completed with programs such as Arduino and Scratch. Varying the tools that were used means that students could participate multiple years without repeating the same curriculum. In addition to completing a computing project, students were introduced to professionals in computing fields and learned about career options. 

The program was held in the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Holding the event on campus, and in the computer science building, helped to expose students to a university’s computing environment. This familiarity with an academic computing environment may help encourage them to consider majoring in a computing field. In addition, students met computing faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates who participated in the weekly sessions. During the program, students joined a private Facebook group to use for social networking both during and after the program.


In program evaluations students have reported increased knowledge about computing topics as a result of attending the program. In addition, parents have reported that their children learned about, gained interest in, and were more likely to major in computer science fields.

The Saturday Computing Experience is a promising practice for encouraging students who are deaf or hard of hearing to consider careers in computing. Students participated in engaging, interactive computing projects and learned about career options in computing. In addition, gaining familiarity with an academic computing environment and meeting computing faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates may help encourage them to continue studying computing in college.

Learn more about the Saturday Computing Experience in this replication package.