Two University High School students recently won an entrepreneurship competition and $15,000 toward their efforts to help less fortunate children learn how to code.
Code Open Sesame — founded by junior Katherine McPhie and sophomore Milan Narula — took the grand prize out of more than 150 entries from across Southern California in the “Shark Tank”-style Dragon Challenge.
McPhie and Narula recruit and train high school and college volunteers to teach computer skills to children at local shelters. This summer, 54 volunteers taught 65 children coding skills.
“We think that a big part of the future is knowing computer coding,” McPhie, 16, said. “If these kids know how to code, it can open up great opportunities for them.”
The duo came up with the Code Open Sesame idea after they met at one of McPhie’s coding sessions at Orange County Rescue Mission
Subsequently, the pair learned of the Dragon Kim Foundation’s fellowship program, which awards grants to high school students motivated to help others. They felt this was an opportunity to bring their coding program to more disadvantaged kids.
About the foundation
The Dragon Kim Foundation is a Tustin-based nonprofit organization established by the parents of Dragon Kim, who died at the age of 14 after a tree branch fell on the tent he and his friend were sleeping in. The foundation is dedicated to making it possible for young people to pursue their interests in areas that Dragon Kim himself was passionate about, and to enable bright futures for young people.
McPhie and Narula named their project Code Open Sesame so that underprivileged children will be able to free themselves from poverty just like Ali Baba in “Arabian Nights” freed himself from the den of 40 thieves by knowing the code words “Open Sesame.”
“University High is amazing for this kind of thing,” Narula, 15, said. “We have people from the school who have volunteered with us. It’s pretty cool to have that kind of support. University High is also pretty challenging, so I think it prepared us really well for this kind of leadership task.”