Education

Carrollton teen is an expert in computer coding; now she’s teaching other girls

Lourdes ‘Lulu’ de la Peña teaches an elementary school girl how to create her own game using Scratch, a programming language.
Lourdes ‘Lulu’ de la Peña teaches an elementary school girl how to create her own game using Scratch, a programming language. dmorales@miamiherald.com

Lourdes “Lulu” de la Peña defies stereotypes of modern coders: She’s a 14-year-old Miami girl proficient in web design and code art.

“I’ve always been fascinated by every kind of technology,” Lulu says.

From computers to cars to elevators, almost every aspect of everyday life requires code to direct the machine to do its function. In sixth grade, Lulu began working to gain the skills to follow her passion.

“My first mentor was Mrs. [Maria Teresa] Valle in school. We would do robotics and that was when I really got into coding,” Lulu said.

She first began exploring the field of technology in fifth grade as a member of Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart's robotics team. The team participated in a FIRST LEGO League competition, in which students research real-world problems such as food safety, recycling, energy (among others) and are challenged to develop solutions by designing, building and programming a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS.

Since diving into the world of code, Lulu created her own blog, LulusCode.com, with the help of mentor Jorge Vargas, a family friend and engineer at Florida Power & Light.

Vargas explained that through Lulu’s blog, she could create a “movement for girls to think about code.”

“I’ve always been really fascinated by YouTubers and a lot of vloggers and bloggers,” Lulu said. “After that I thought ‘this might really make a difference’ so I thought maybe I should start a blog and increase the amount of girl coders.”

About two years into the movement, the LulusCode blog is evolving and extending onto other media outlets, such as YouTube.

As part of her movement as a girl trend coder, Lulu teaches other girls during an after-school program every Monday at Carrollton. The younger girls, in grades two and three, learn the basics of coding using Scratch, a programming language and online community where they can create their own interactive stories, games, and animations.

The older and more advanced students are taught more intense coding with Java, a programming language that is object-oriented and specifically designed to have as few implementation dependencies as possible.

“Technology is in the DNA of this generation. Teaching coding models their commitment to mentor the younger ones. Lulu can be a great example to her peers,” said Valle, Lulu’s mentor and director of technology innovation for primary and middle schools.

During summer 2016, Lulu taught coding at Barry University to girls ages 8 to 13 who are learning computer science in public schools. The camp showed the youngsters how to expand their horizons in the world of coding. From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Lulu taught girls how to code using Scratch.

Lulu is now working to master Code Art, with which she will be able to design fashion, picturesque graphics and just about anything imaginable.

“I really like design,” Lulu said. “Code Art is really starting to become popular. You can make anything you want out of code art. I find hacking really interesting too so once I’m finished with my fascination with code art I’ll start focusing more on hacking.”

Lulu wants to continue teaching other girls that they too can code.

“I will probably pass [LulusCode] down to some of the girls I’m teaching now once I finish high school,” she said.

Lulu expects to someday “go into computer design and become a CEO of big hits apps like Facebook and Instagram. I want to make my own business.”

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