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When Christina Li took her first computer science class at Adlai E. Stevenson High School as a freshman, she never dreamed that within four years she would be considered one of the nation’s top innovators in computer education.

“I thought the class was very interesting at first,” she said Friday. “It was hard to me but I kept trying and I began to get better at it.”

Christina, 17, got better all right. Tuesday, the Macomb resident will be one of nine people honored by the White House as a “Champion of Change for Computer Science Education.”

“These individuals were selected by the White House for their leadership and innovation in expanding access to computer science education and for inspiring the next generation to use 21st-century tools to better their communities,” the White House said in a statement.

Christina, who also studies at the Utica Center for Math and Science, is one of two high school students receiving the honor and the only person from Michigan.

She was nominated by Debbie Taylor, assistant director of the engineering school and director of Women in Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan, for the week-long computer science camp she hosted last summer.

The camp, called Hello World, taught 30 middle school girls how to code robots, websites, games and apps. In addition to training, Christinia arranged online and in-person meetings with female engineers from Google, Microsoft, Ford Motor Co. and the Michigan Council for Women in Technology.

“I named the camp Hello World because that’s the phrase coders use to test if a program is working,” Christina said. “Being able to put on a workshop for girls was very important to me since there is such a big gender gap between men and women in the field.”

Over the past three decades, the share of women as new computer science professionals has dropped by more than half, according to Digitaltrends.com, an Oregon-based website that covers technology issues. In 1984, 40 percent of those entering computer science were women; last year, 18 percent were female.

Christina remembers being exposed to coding as early as third grade.

“My brothers and I decided to get a book at the library called ‘HTML for Dummies’ and we played around with it,” Christina said. “I didn’t know later on that it would be something that I would really get into.”

So far, Christina has been accepted to the University of Michigan and Stanford University, but has not decided on a school.

Jesse Siress, Christina’s welding teacher at Stevenson High School, knew early on that she would excel in his class.

“I wasn’t really surprised when I found out she was being awarded,” Siress said. “Christina is very dedicated in what she does and is really involved. She is very deserving of this high honor.”

For anyone interested in learning more about computer science, Christina says a person can start at any age.

“You learn the basics first and it’s not so complicated that anyone can’t learn,” Christina said. “You have to start somewhere.”

ksmith3@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-1855

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