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Rida Bayraktar teaches a lesson in a container in the Hatay province of Turkey
August 25, 2023

Photo caption above: Rida Bayraktar leads a lesson in temporary accomodations in the Hatay province of Turkey (children’s faces have been blurred)

Rida Bayraktar’s (Class of 2023) post-graduation plans were shared in an earlier article, but the department wanted to provide an update for anyone following her work in Turkey.

A temporary accommodation center in the Hatay province of Turkey
A temporary accommodation center in the Hatay province of Turkey

After graduating in 2023, computer science alumna Rida Bayraktar traveled to Turkey to teach and mentor children and teens in refugee camps and to improve educational infrastructure with her non-profit organization Pink STREAM.

Pink STREAM is an organization to educate and empower girls and women in the fields of science, technology, robotics, engineering, arts, and math. It was founded by Bayraktar in 2018. When two earthquakes upended millions of lives in southeast Turkey in February 2023, Bayraktar saw an opportunity for Pink STREAM to help ensure that education continued for those who were displaced from their homes. Pink STREAM began developing educational programming for teens who were largely underserved by educational resources in the temporary shelters.

This summer, Bayraktar volunteered at a refugee camp in the Hatay province in southern Turkey. The camp is a container city home to more than 600 children and teens. Bayraktar taught a robotics and algorithmic thinking course for those aged 9 to 13, where students could learn programming concepts without robotics hardware by writing algorithms for their classmates to follow, practicing concepts like variables, if/else statements, loops, and data structures. For students aged 14 to 18, she led technical seminars on artificial intelligence, cryptography, and dimensions beyond 3D. Her days were long, as even when classes ended, extracurricular programming extended into the night, sometimes ending with astronomy under the stars.

classwork examples from a lesson on algorithmic thinking in the Hatay province of Turkey
classwork examples from a lesson on algorithmic thinking in the Hatay province of Turkey

Bayraktar was excited to see how enthusiastic her students were and how quickly they absorbed the lessons. “They asked for extra homework, kept talking about robotics and algorithms outside the classroom, and kept asking for more,” she said. “It was very fulfilling to see them develop an interest in STEM and be hungry to learn more. I am excited to go again to keep growing their passion.”

“My biggest realization through this experience and many other interactions since graduation was how much UNC has prepared me for this journey,” Bayraktar said. “Every moment of learning and growth at UNC became actualized in real life, whether it is a class, workshop, or a discussion with a professor.”

Bayraktar said she drew directly from her experience of being a computer science learning assistant and from what she learned from UNC courses in computer science, astronomy, and religious studies, as well as from self-development workshops and entrepreneurship trainings.

“I truly cannot imagine any other education system or institution that would build me into this person, and my admiration for UNC grows every day.”