This high school senior is way ahead of his class

Mentors program pairs young computer whiz with Denver Water IT developer

March 4, 2016 | By: Ann Baker
Denver Water’s Diana Benedict, left, mentored 11th grader David Ramos-Rivera on programming and computer science.
Denver Water’s Diana Benedict, left, mentored 11th grader David Ramos-Rivera on programming
and computer science.

By the time David Ramos-Rivera reached 11th grade, he had taught himself how to build a computer from videos he found on YouTube.

He built one for himself, one for his sister, another for a friend — eight of them in a year and a half. It became clear that his fascination with computers was more advanced than the classes he could take at John F. Kennedy High School.

So he turned to the Academic Mentors Program and was matched with Denver Water’s Diana Benedict, an IT applications developer, to mentor him on programming and computer science.

“I was fascinated by the hardware, but now I got the chance to see the software side of things,” Ramos-Rivera said.

Community Resources Inc., in cooperation with Denver Public Schools, has offered the mentorship program since 1984, matching more than 2,000 top students with accomplished professionals in everything from art to zoology. This year, 83 students in the district were accepted into the program, and it was the first time an employee at Denver Water participated.

“It helps students who have a passion in a topic build a bridge from where they are to where they dream of being,” said Laura Kent, who manages the mentorship program for Denver Public Schools.

Mentoring was an easy fit for Denver Water’s Benedict, who had worked as an adjunct professor in graduate school and as a software instructor in her previous job.

“I thought it was a great experience to be able to teach,” Benedict said. “If you can teach someone how to do something, than you understand the topic better. I’m gaining experience as well.”

Students in the program typically meet with their mentors for six one-hour meetings on a project they’ll later present to their class. Ramos-Rivera’s project centered on databases, which is the process of storing, managing and manipulating large amounts of data. The one-on-one attention he had with Benedict, and the information he learned about database design, would never have been available to him in a high school classroom, he said.

“I learned a lot more than I expected,” said Ramos-Rivera, who plans to study electrical engineering or computer science once he graduates.

And Kent said she hopes it’s the start of several more mentorships at Denver Water.

“There are so many career opportunities at Denver Water,” she said. “This program allows kids to explore a career and learn more about what’s out there. That’s huge.”

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