#RunForSyria

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Run For Syria – You Caring Video

Four years into the conflict in Syria, there are 2 million Syrian refugee children. 400,000 of them are at the school age in Lebanon. 310,000 of them are out of school. You don’t need to have math anxiety to be scared by the numbers coming from Syria. They’re heart breaking and beyond overwhelming. Most of us would shake our heads and feel too small in comparison with this monster conflict, but what Syria really needs is action from all the good people out there who want to see real change and help in shaping a better future for Syria and the world.

This is an invitation to everyone reading this blog post to join us at the #RunForSyria initiative. Our goal is to raise $15,000: 100% of which will go to the Refugee Education Program run by the Jusoor NGO in Lebanon. We’ll be running at the hamptons marathon on September 26th and aiming to raise the full amount by that date. The refugee education program includes 3 schools in Lebanon: A Beirut center, a Bekaa center, and a tent school in west Bekaa. It’s 3 schools, 1200 children, 300 teachers and administrators, 200 volunteers and 10 scholarship recipients studying in 5 Lebanese universities. Happier numbers!

Jusoor is following the Lebanese Arabic curriculum for math, science, physical education, art and Arabic, additionally we have peace education classes and a tailor made English program which follows the Total Physical Response technique of teaching language. All students sit for placement tests in math and Arabic and the Jusoor team decides accordingly on the level of each child. There are 4 main levels (beginners, Level 1, level 2 and level 3) and upon completing each level, students move on to the next. Once they finish level 3, then we proceed to enroll them in public or private schools whenever possible, all students are tracked academically and followed up after entering formal schools. Jusoor also has partnerships with different NGOs to provide psychosocial activities for the students as well as hygiene sessions and basic medical support when needed.

To help us increase the number of Syrian children who have access to education, you can join us as a runner by going here or donate by following this link (or both!). We have 3 possible distances: a 5K, a half marathon and a full marathon. Follow the facebook event by going here.

Thank you for reading and supporting the education of Syrian children! I genuinely appreciate every dollar donated to this cause. #RunForSyria!

Nour Daoud

TADHack 2015 Chicago Winner

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As a former TADHack attendee, I was looking forward to attending it again this year! Telecommunication app development is my favorite, and I find it very exciting!

I showed up last weekend with no clear idea on what I will be doing during TADHack 2015. However, I was confident enough that I would come up with a unique idea because of the tremendous amount of available resources for hackers, the API provider representatives both onsite and remotely, the support from fellow hackers and event sponsors, and most importantly, the inspirational environment of hackathons where I see everyone around me hacking and innovating!

Carol Davids, Professor & Director RTC Lab at Illinois Institute of Technology, explained to us how the 9-1-1 system works today versus the future Next-Generation 9-1-1 (NG-911). That was the trigger for my idea BNG-911 (Before-Next-Generation 9-1-1). It was hard for me to believe that even though the future technology for advanced 9-1-1 services including text to 911 exists, it’s not quite yet implemented to be used in a meaningful way, and it may indeed take many years to install everywhere! That can impact the life of people in scenarios where they cannot call 911, and instead, they can only text. With more investigation on possible solutions that must be compatible with the way that 9-1-1 systems currently operate, I came up with my app idea BNG-911.

Telestax was the ideal platform to implement my web app in less than 24 hours. The tools developed by Telestax make it super easy and intuitive to develop telecommunication tools such as text, SIP calls, voice transcribe service, text-to-speech, and etc. Amit Bhayani was available on site in Chicago TADHack location to support hackers working with Telestax api like myself.

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After several iterations on the app, I was able to have it fully functional by the presentation time. The hack was selected to win the Chicago local prize of $1,000, and the pitch was live streamed to all remote locations around the globe!

Abed Arnaout,

Telecommunication and Software Engineer 2015

I taught iOS Programming for teenagers, and it was the best experience ever!

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I have never thought of teaching as a profession my entire life, teaching just never appealed to me; school teachers and university professors were also not my favorite people to hang around with.

This summer; like many Computer Science students, and while I was looking for a job or an internship so I can acquire some professional experience. I got this email from my school about an opportunity to teach students iOS programming in a summer camp in New Haven, CT. I applied, and sent my résumé, and didn’t think too much about it.

Fast Forward, I found myself in the class with a bunch of teenagers talking about their favorite Apps, and why they like certain Apps. I tried my best to make my classes as teenager-friendly as possible, and show them how App

Development work in real world. I taught Objective-C and Xcode for 6 weeks, and I ended up learning about humanizing coding, by making it social, interactive, and communicate it to students; who are novice to this magical world.


Motivating people is a skill

Most of the students in my class were high school students, and a lot of them didn’t need to learn coding at all, they, or their parents decided for them to spend two weeks of their summer vacation to learn iOS Development. iOS Dev isn’t really the easiest topic in programming, and students weren’t all motivated to code or research.

All instructors in the camp were given raffle tickets which was the currency there (kids can collect tickets, and at the end they enter a raffle for prizes). At the beginning, I thought that giving tickets, and using an enthusiastic tune should be enough to motivate my class to work; it worked for a little while, but at some point, I had to find new means to motivate my students.

Teenagers have varied interests, and they are in the process of forming their personalities, and you have to take this into account while teaching, and the same way a teenager like to personalize their room, closest, they like personalize their projects.

In my classes I tried my best to make the projects as personal as possible, I didn’t make a one generic app, instead I showed a functionality likeUIWebView, and asked students to use this element to build various stuff according to their interests and hobbies. I had a student who liked Led Zeppelin so much, so I asked him to make an app about the band which is made of buttons that take you to various Wikipedia pages about the band albums, and history. He felt so happy building the App, as if he was hired by the band to build it.

Remember Gender

Most of us, I hope, are aware of the gender problem in the Software Industry in the US, and how important it is to motivate women into programming. Fortunately iOS programming was one of the most popular classes among the females in the programming camp.

By the end of the camp, students are expected to work on a final project that encapsulates all the knowledge they gained during this camp. I, as an instructor made students suggest multiple projects, and made a vote to pick a single project for the students to work on; all guys in my class wanted to make a SpriteKit game, on the other hand, the ladies in my class wanted to build a social networking App. Even though, supervising multiple projects isn’t an easy job for me as instructor, I cancelled the vote, and made each of the students work on the project they suggested at the first place. Because I totally understand that making the girls work on an uninteresting project, would be unjust, and might make them hate programming, and I don’t want to be standing on the wrong side of history of Computer Science like many people did (Recoding Gender is a recommended read).

Open Source

Not all of my students were beginners, I had some students who had experience with iOS Dev, and Objective-C, and wanted to learn more, I made those students work on more complex projects, but I made sure that these projects go in the same context of the projects that their friends are working on.

For example, most of the students were working on a project called My Profile, which showed few labels, a UITextView for their bios, and a UIImageView for their avatar; However, avatars lately in most iOS Apps are shown into circles, and UIImageView shows image in a rectangle, so I asked one of the advanced students to research the issue, and create a category of UIImageView with a function to crop the view into a circle, and after he successfully created it. I shared the category with the rest of the class, made the other students import it in their projects and use it, and said our friend created this so we can all use it, and this is what we call open sourcing. The advanced student felt happy that he contributed to the community (the community is the class in this case), and felt more motivated to create, and share code with others. I could have easily asked my students to copy the same code from my screen, but this would certainly defeat the purpose.

Teaching teenagers is different

Teenagers are usually more attracted to games, and colors, they aren’t always attracted to concrete concepts. It’s important to explain some really fundamental ideas in programming, but don’t try to limit teenagers from being creative, and expressing themselves through colors, and pictures. I can tell you that UIColor, UIImageView, and SKSpriteNode, were their favorite things to play with. One of the Xcode extensions that I found so handy, was ColorSense for Xcode the kids started playing with colors, and creating really creative applications. I also showed my students how to clone the extension from Github, and how that people in the open source community make our lives easier as developers.

Debugging Skills

It’s easy for us as developers to forget about the simple, but yet annoying errors we faced while learning a programming language. However, just because we are experienced developers now. It doesn’t mean that we know all these errors, and how to resolve them, surprisingly enough, you will just realize that you forgot how to make these mistakes, but when it comes to solving them, my students made sure to remind me of all of them!

The Students’ favorite to make was importing .m files instead of .h files in Objective-C Projects.

First time I encountered the problem in the class, I was horrified to see the clang error (Image below) . I totally forgot the existence of such a problem, and actually it took me few minutes to fix it.

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Because Xcode won’t tell you in a simple language that you imported the wrong file, instead that’s what will show up when you try building your project.

The students made a lot of bugs, and mistakes, like not deleting connections from outlets in Storyboards, using variables before initializing them, naming variables after Pokémons, and so forth. But honestly these bugs made me laugh most of the time, made me realize how certain good programming practices are important because

Zen mind is beginner’s mind

and it’s good to relearn those very fundamental ideas again, and practice them in your own code, and setting an example for my students, was an amazing way to get the habit of using these best practices.

The greatest thing you can teach is compassion

I know that my students will probably forget a great part of what they learnt, if they don’t come back home to their machines, and open Xcode, and try experimenting with some projects, or downloading some projects from GitHub, and tried to figure out how they work, but they will never forget the way it felt when they fixed a very annoying bug that took them hours of debugging, or the way it felt when they played their own game on their own devices, and how they showed it to their friends, and felt proud of it, they will also never forget how they helped their friends by sharing their code.

I always taught my students that you as a developer, you have a moral responsibility toward the user, you need to make sure that users are having great time while they are using your App, always make sure that the buttons in your App are big, the colors are good, the interface feels clean, and that your product works like magic, and that you need to be compassionate to users, and other developers in the community.

For me as instructor, I felt a great pleasure whenever my students built something amazing. Teaching gives you this amazing feeling that can only be expressed, like a part of your brain was transferred into theirs, and now they have the knowledge you acquired after years of practice.

And the coolest thing about teenagers is that unlike adults they don’t compliment, and if they like something very much they just say it.

My nickname there was Flowers after Tommy Flowers (All Instructors had nicknames of people who contributed to computers)

Jamal Kharrat

Something I Learnt from a Wise Man

By the end of this post, you’ll learn something new.

Since the very first post on this blog, we’ve been sharing our stories and talking about our success, achievements, and things we learnt. If anyone is interested in knowing how we all as a group grew and improved both individually and collectively, this blog is all they need. I want to take the chance and dedicate this blog post to the person who was the force that created this blog and kept it going, Jerry Doyle.

Along the way, each one of us had his own journey. We shared parts of it: dinners at Rania’s, meetings with Megan, more dinners with Hussam Shobokshi, Syrian Club events, etc. But for most of the time each one of us had their private and unique journey. Some more than others. During that journey, we’ve met a variety of people who had their impact on how we think and how we plan for the future. Impact on how we make our decisions.

From my own experience, I’ve noticed that some people walked the extra mile and paused their life routine for a minute to offer advice or guidance, without being asked to do so. They did it voluntarily. There were people who were also willing to help sincerely too, but you had to ask them first. Those were rare, and the former type was extremely rare that you would be lucky if you had one only. There were also people who were never willing to help.

Jerry’s type is the first type. Our scholarship is the biggest proof. Aside from the scholarship program, Jerry had a different touch on each of us. As for me, I learnt a great lesson from Jerry. I consider it to be one among the many great eye-opening lessons I learned so far. In one of our conversations in the past about Syrian Club and the future of the Syrian students after IIT, Jerry passed to me a very wise advice simplified in a great example. He told me to look at life as a very tall skyscraper. Inside of it there are a lot of elevators. However, these elevators do not take you to equal heights, meaning that some of them take you higher than others. He told me that in life, you’ll meet people that will guide you to one of these elevators, telling you that taking it is the right choice. They will not tell you though, that it will reach lower heights than the others. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll meet those who will tell you which elevator can take you higher, but otherwise you’ll have to figure that out by yourself. Hopefully before it’s too late.

I took Jerry’s advice very seriously. It helped me reshape and fine-tune my strategy building mechanism, and I always keep it in mind when making long-term decisions. Sometimes, people will offer you solutions, and you’ll perceive this as a great favor from them. A favor that will probably overwhelm you by the outcome you’re expecting to harvest at the end. Don’t let this blind you, and always be aware of the other options around the corner. One of them could just be the best option you can possibly have.

As simple as these words seem to be, as powerful and valuable they really are. They helped me at several crucial points in my life. As they were passed to me by a wise man, I pass them to you, hoping that they will help you as much as they helped and keep helping me.

And Jerry, thank you for showing me the entire hallway, and for making me aware of the other elevators. By that itself, you guided me to the highest elevator yourself :)

Raed Tawil

Sustaining Our Dreams: the Jusoor Alumni Association

May 16, 2015 will always be a memorable day for the Joint IIT-Jusoor Initiative. It was the day where 15 Syrian youth had their graduation ceremony after a very long, challenging and interesting journey here in the United States. The program that was launched three years ago when Illinois Institute of Technology invited university students from Syria the opportunity to complete their undergraduate degrees and the chance to prove themselves, and other that they were able to fulfill their dreams.  And so they did, these students earned their degrees with a very high rankings, and competed and secured job offers to work at the very best firms around the States in their different majors.

I was lucky enough to be part of this initiative, and gain new friends that know I can call my best friends – brothers, and sisters. Unfortunately  I was unable to make it to the ceremony in person but I was so proud of this achievement; it was a monumental occasion for us all – a win for each member of the group, and our families.

We were given the chance to fulfill our dream; we were supported with great resources and mentoring programs, and now it is time to give back, and pass the chance on to more Syrians who are still waiting for the right chance.

To further the cause of future cohorts of Syrian students, we have established the Jusoor Alumni Association. In this association we are trying to create the platform that will gather Syrians students and alumni in the United States, a platform where alumni will help students in their journey, pass their experience and share their connection.

As one of our first initiatives, we announced our first scholarship program for one student to complete her/his degree in the US. By passing this chance to more students we will assure that the program will last, and we will make sure that more university level students will be prepared when the time comes and go back and help in the rebuilding process in Syria after a long and hard conflict.

Safouh Takrouri

A Chance For Education

This image brought tears to my eyes. 15 Syrian men and women graduating from the Illinois Institute of Technology last weekend. They worked SO hard to get here. They transferred to IIT 3 years ago and have fought every day to succeed and make ends meet. And wow did they make us proud. Many are wearing honor chords in this photo and they have received job offers at the very best companies across the nation – Google, Intel, Apple to name a few. Together, we will work tirelessly to give all Syrians women and men a chance at an education and we will keep fighting to get Syria back.

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Rania Succar