Michelle Pierce is in her fifth year of teaching middle school computer science at Mallard Creek STEM Academy in Charlotte, NC, where she also teaches digital citizenship to all the school’s students, grades K–8. She was named the 2022–2023 Middle School Teacher of the Year. In addition to her teaching, she serves as a Girls Who Code facilitator, team lead, and mentor. She is now an Amazon Future Engineer Teacher Ambassador. Michelle is supported in all her endeavors by her husband, Michael, and her two children.

As a teacher, Michelle is committed to helping students feel successful as programmers, by meeting each kid at their ability level and providing lessons that reflect the students’ experiences and identities. The majority of students at her school are Black and receive free or reduced lunch, so Michelle is intentional about choosing curricula and supplemental materials that include people and communities similar to her students. She says, “My Black and female students are always excited to see artists, athletes, and actors that look like them talking about the benefits of CS.”

Her project-based lessons are designed to help students realize their potential through real-world problem solving. Michelle takes care to use differentiated lessons that allow more advanced students to go above and beyond the basic requirements, while students with less experience or learning challenges receive modified assignments and assessments. “This offers every student the chance to be successful,” says Michelle, “no matter their prior coding experience.” Her teaching includes activities that let students explore the real-world applications of computer science, while an end-of-semester project encourages students to use their creativity to apply what they have learned. Michelle says, “My goal is to make computer science relatable, enjoyable, and relevant to my students’ lives.”

Michelle has been widely recognized for her outstanding success in pursuing that goal. In May 2023, she received CSTA’s Teaching Excellence Award for her commitment to inspiring underrepresented students to study—and love—computer science. She was also named an Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year in 2021, an honor that celebrates teachers who are bringing the possibilities of computer science and robotics to underserved students and schools.

Michelle feels a duty of care to her students that goes far beyond the classroom. “When students know that I care about them,” she says, “they are more willing to be open to learning.” She facilitates an afterschool Girls Who Code club, beginning every lesson with a Women in Tech video that lets female students learn about some of the women doing amazing things in tech industries. Each semester, Michelle encourages the students in the club to take ownership over their learning by choosing what they want to work on together.

Last year, she organized her school’s first-ever schoolwide hackathon, which brought in over 100 families and included hands-on activities as well as presentations from women in tech. The second annual hackathon achieved the same success. Girls Who Code club members served as event ambassadors, and Michelle partnered with a local tech company to provide swag, prizes, and snacks for hackathon participants. “It was a terrific way for parents and students to engage in computer science together,” says Michelle. “For me, the greatest compliment is when a parent or former student thanks me for inspiring an interest in CS.”

One of Michelle’s proudest achievements is the digital citizenship class she developed at her school. For the last two years, she has taught digital citizenship to every student at the school, tailoring lessons in an age-appropriate way to help students understand how to navigate the online world responsibly. “Although today’s youth are constantly connected to technology,” she points out, “many have received little to no guidance about how to interact online.” In Michelle’s course, students learn about topics that affect their everyday lives, ranging from digital footprints to social media drama to (for the older kids) sexting.

Although Michelle is the only CS teacher at her school, she doesn’t let that stop her from collaborating with like minded educators. Last year, she was a mentor for a yearlong program to support Black, Native American, and Latine in-server teachers in Florida who might be interested in becoming computer science teachers. She is an active member of CSTA’s Black Affinity Group, and she became a founding member of Charlotte Women in Tech for Good, a Grapevine group that brings together women in tech to build connections and pool donations to common causes.

As a CSTA Equity Fellow, she’s excited to build her network of collaborators. “I have to be intentional about putting myself in spaces where I can work with other computer science educators,” she says. The fellowship offers an opportunity to work with a group of computer science educators, but even more than that, it will situate her in community with other teachers who are as passionate about equity as Michelle is.

Recognizing the wide gap in her home state of North Carolina between students who have access to quality CS education and those who don’t, Michelle would like to leverage her existing partnerships to expand computer science equity. All of the larger tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Meta sponsor initiatives to improve CS access among historically underrepresented groups. Michelle says, “It would be amazing if we could find a way to get them to combine their resources (Voltron, anyone?) to have an even bigger impact.” A partnership among big tech companies could sponsor curriculums, purchase hardware and software for CS classrooms, and even support organized advocacy efforts to promote legislation that provides CS to all. Another exciting project would be the development of a database where teachers and school administration could look up CS opportunities and programs in their area.

“I pride myself on being a lifelong learner,” says Michelle. “I am always looking for opportunities to develop myself as an educator and push myself out of my comfort zone.” She knows that the CSTA Equity Fellowship will offer many such opportunities, and she can’t wait to get started.