Students in middle school can’t always be expected to know where their career path will lead. But for jobs in computer-oriented fields, if teens don’t receive basic preparation in science and mathematics, they may find it tough to catch up.

With a $125,000 grant from Boeing, Maryville University will work with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis to get middle school students interested in coding through a new program called Coding Creators.

The program will also provide 144 computers and 48 robotics sets for permanent use by the clubs.

With eight-week courses in robotics and app development plus a web-coding program in the summer, at least 240 students and club staff members will participate in the Coding Creators project, designed to point the way toward in-demand future jobs.

“Coding is the language of the future. By engaging kids with real-world projects such as making apps they can use on their own phones. We are not only teaching vital skills, but creating a life-long love of coding,” says Steve Coxon, PhD, associate professor of education and executive director of Maryville’s Center for Access and Achievement. Coxon will direct the Coding Creators project.

Studies show that STEM-related jobs will grow 13 percent by 2027, compared with growth of 9 percent for all other jobs. Currently, STEM jobs in the United States pay a median wage of $38.85 an hour, compared with an average $19.30 an hour for all other jobs.

But only 16 percent of high school seniors show proficiency in math and are interested in making it part of their career. The U.S. has fallen to 22nd place in science and 29th place in math skills compared with other industrial countries.

By reaching students in middle school, Maryville hopes the project will counteract a cycle in which negative reactions to computer science early in their school career means students don’t take upper-level courses in high school, resulting in limited options in STEM fields after graduation.

Coding Creators is designed to counter that domino effect by helping students learn to develop apps, code robotics and gain skills they can use in a wide variety of coding applications.