Los Alamos is not just “where discoveries are made”.
Los Alamos is where people keep learning (no matter how smart) and care about their community enough to want to share their knowledge.
The local makerspace, Los Alamos Makers, at 3540 Orange street, is not just a space to share tools and equipment, it’s a community of people willing to learn and share their skills.
James Wernicke first approached Los Alamos Makers back in January 2018 and expressed his interest in teaching a free informal coding class for elementary-aged students. When we asked him why he wanted to volunteer, Wernicke simply answered: “I'm lucky enough to have time to volunteer, and there aren't enough opportunities for kids to learn. I believe a better world hinges on education and freely sharing knowledge, and it starts in your local community.”
Proud father of two, Wernicke is a very well-rounded individual. He enjoys the outdoors, family time, riding his motorcycle and much more.
As a computer science nerd (that’s OK, we live in Los Alamos so he is in good company), Wernicke explains that he “got into programming in high school” and “started with making some video games in BASIC”. “Then, the movie Hackers came out and I got hooked into learning about networking and computer security. I started getting on the local bulletin board systems and chat rooms and learning from others. Then, I took a web programming class, and right away, I knew I wanted to become a website designer. So I did that for a few years after high school, but eventually decided to go back to school because I wanted broader knowledge of computer science. I first went to Central New Mexico community college to get an Associate's degree in Information Technology, but felt I wanted to learn more, so I went to New Mexico Tech to pursue Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Computer Science.”
“When did you decide you wanted to make a career out of it?”, we asked.
“I really didn't think about a career until I became a dad in my junior year of college. That's when I joined the Scholarship for Service program. It's a program that provides tuition and a stipend for up to 3 years to students pursuing a cybersecurity-related degree if they work for the government for the same number of years after they graduate. That got me to thinking about having to find a job when I graduated, and since I was going to be stuck in it for at least 3 years, I wanted to make sure it would be satisfying. I'm thankful to have a job that I enjoy. I'm glad I went into cybersecurity research because it's an emerging field where every day presents a new challenge, and I quickly get bored with repetition. I imagine it's kind of like how the first programmers who built the internet felt going into uncharted territory.”
Wernicke runs the free CoderDojo for kids 7 to 12 every Tuesdays from 3.30 to 4.30PM all year round at Los Alamos Makers. It is an informal non-competitive coding club for kids to get introduced to many aspects of computer programming like robotics, creating apps, video games, 3D game design and whatever else the kids would like to learn more about. All levels are welcome. It is a great opportunity for kids to explore skills they may not think they have and a great opportunity to socialize as much or as little as they want.
Wernicke encourages others to volunteer and help in their community in general. “There's never enough volunteers and anyone can volunteer. If you have a skill or knowledge you'd like to share […] just start sharing.” “An hour a week of your time volunteering could actually save someone from a lifetime of poverty and exploitation. Just think how much better things could be if everybody volunteered just ONE hour a week...”
James Wernicke is a wonderful asset to our community, especially at Los Alamos Makers. The most rewarding evidence is when reluctant students come for the first time, not sure about really wanting to do any coding, and end up not wanting to leave.
Parents and children alike love James. “James teaches and motivates without over-pressuring. He's wonderful!”, says a parent.
Before going on vacation this past May, some kids and their parents took the time to write him a Thank-You note which is a sign that we are making a difference.