Portrait of a Graduate: Tech-savvy senior became acclaimed coder while in high school

Learning how to code and perfecting his programming skills outside the classroom led Sam Hooper to serve his community as a leader, a role model, a tutor and a developer of educational software, all while in high school.

The 18-year-old School for the Talented and Gifted (TAG) senior teaches programming to his classmates, developed an app that helps third- through eighth-grade students review math concepts, and has become an acclaimed coder, earning first place in the UIL State championship for two consecutive years.

“I got to learn a bunch of stuff that I wanted to learn and also got to teach a large portion of the class,” Sam said. “I think that if I wasn’t in this program, I would have never known computer science and would have never known that this is something I really want to do.”

Portrait of a Graduate: Tech-savvy senior became acclaimed coder while in high school

Last year, the TAG Computer Science (CS) Club, which Sam leads as president, earned the highest score in the programming session (the team portion of the competition) – and Sam earned the highest score in the written test (the individual portion) – during the 2021 UIL CS State Meet. The team qualified for the state competition, once again this year and sent four representatives to compete at The University of Texas at Austin on May 7th. Once again, the TAG CS club took the gold by winning 1st place in the programming session and Sam won 1st place in the written test. This year, TAG students Dat Tran and Vedant Tapiavala tied for the thrith place on the written test portion.

“The tests of the individual contest are written and vetted by professionals, and Sam found an error on this year’s test,” said Travis Burton, TAG CS teacher and the club’s coach. “During verification, Sam found a question where he was convinced he was right. He went up to make his case, pulled up a multipage document of Java specifications and found two sentences on the entire thing that proved he was right. The contest directors made the correction and said that they were impressed, not so much because he was able to point out the mistake, but because he handled the situation politely and respectfully.”

A passion for sharing knowledge

Since March, Sam has been working at the tutoring agency Gideon Math and Reading in Garland, where he helps high school students in algebra, geometry and precalculus. When he’s not working or studying, he’s preparing CS lessons to share with his fellow TAG CS Club members. Approximately 12 students meet every Tuesday at Burton’s classroom, where Sam regularly leads a class to teach his peers new concepts and practice programming skills that may serve them during the UIL competitions.

“Usually I would instruct the team, but I sometimes get pulled out for different things. And when that happens, I ask students to go over certain subjects and have them teach one other,” Burton said. “What Sam wanted to do was to teach the whole thing. And because he was the state champion, I gave him a shot. He came up with really good lesson plans and presentations, came up with some really great hacker-rank problems for the students to do, he was keeping them engaged and teaching them useful stuff.”

Portrait of a Graduate: Tech-savvy senior became acclaimed coder while in high school

Among the CS classes that TAG offers are Pre-AP and AP CS, data structures, independent study, game programming and data electronics. The Pre-AP CS class, required for every ninth-grade TAG student, sparked in Sam a passion that led him beyond learning how to write complex code.

Soon after taking the introductory course, Sam began learning programming on his own time. As a junior, he coded his first two personal programs: his own version of a Minesweeper app and a customizable chess program. As a senior, he and classmate Ayuj Verma developed a math skill trainer app, which earned first place for Texas Congressional District 30 at the 2021 Congressional App Challenge.

Ayuj and Sam’s app, called Relearn, generates random math problems from 30 different topics at the third- through eighth-grade difficulty level, such as basic addition, adding fractions, unit conversions, mixed numbers, decimals, order of operations, and others. The app – designed to help students practice math easily – offers customization for the topics that a student wants to work on and provides statistics on the student’s performance.

“I would love to be a software developer in the future and would love to do programming for a big tech company,” Sam said. “By working on Relearn, I realized that the possibilities are endless and that one day I could make software that can help people learn new things or help people study and get practice.”

In the Fall of 2022, Sam will attend the University of Texas at Austin, where he was accepted in the Turing Scholars Program for outstanding CS undergraduates.

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