Which words would you use to describe volunteering? In this series, we’re asking Oracle Volunteers to summarize what their contributions mean to them.
When software engineer Keyang Ru signed up to serve as a volunteer coach for one of Oracle Education Foundation’s classes with Design Tech High School (d.tech) students, he didn’t expect to embark on an empathy journey of his own.
Yet that’s exactly what happened over the course of the virtual, two-week experiential game design class.
Keyang was just a few months into his career at Oracle when a Foundation email calling for coaches arrived in his inbox. Having mentored interns in past roles, the opportunity piqued Keyang’s interest and he quickly signed up to volunteer.
Classes are taught by the Foundation’s staff of experienced educators, who organize students into small teams and bring in coaches like Keyang to share their technical expertise and work experience. In this class, teams were tasked with designing a game to help younger kids, fourth-graders, learn how European explorers found California. Foundation educators hoped that, in the process, d.tech students would also develop empathy for teachers challenged to adapt lessons to virtual formats, like games. (Empathy is at the heart of the design thinking process used in all Foundation classes.)
The experience was filled with many “firsts” for Keyang—his first time as a Foundation volunteer, his first-time teaching over Zoom, and his first-time working with high school students on programming and coding.
So, when the first day of class arrived, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
“The first day was pretty hard for me. My two students didn’t have their video on and were muted at first, so I couldn't see their reactions. I felt a bit worried and thought it might be too difficult to teach through Zoom with high school students,” recalled Keyang.
With the help of Foundation staff, who held retrospective sessions with all coaches to provide feedback and review lessons, Keyang found ways to build rapport even while virtual.
“Students need time to explore, discover, and learn,” said Keyang. "To connect with my team, I prepared computer science warm-ups on topics like Hexadecimal, because both of my students were interested in that. After that, we started to have great interactions,” said Keyang.
From there, game creation set sail. All students learned basic programming from Foundation instructors. Keyang shared a game demo he had coded to demonstrate the Phaser game framework used in class. Through research and prototyping, Keyang’s team created an exploration game called Voyage in which players journey across the ocean to discover a new continent, learning along the way.
“I was really surprised,” said Keyang. “At first, I expected them to build some basic functions of a game, but in the end, they created a game you can actually play. I feel very proud of what we accomplished in just two weeks.”
Keyang was also surprised by what he learned about himself through this process.
“This experience helped me think like a leader and put myself in my own project manager’s shoes, because I needed to determine who was good at which skill, assign suitable tasks to students within the team, and help them to be successful,” noted Keyang.
In the end, the learning was truly two-fold.
“Another word for volunteering is learningvoyage,” says Keyang. “Going into the class, I was very confident in my coding abilities, but not very confident in my teaching or coaching skills. Through this class, my students and I really learned from each other.”
After his first voyage with the Oracle Education Foundation, Keyang encourages all employees to get involved.
“Don't hesitate to join—it will be an unforgettable memory for both you and the students.”