Who Will Be the New Leaders of the American Tech Industry?

This after-school technology program helps children acquire tech skills, confidence—and a clear path forward.  

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Founded in 2016 in Lowell, Mass., Kids in Tech prepares students with interactive, free after school programs in computers and technology. According to program data, by 2024, 80% of the top 10 most in-demand STEM jobs in the Greater Lowell area will be in technology – and, these are some of the top-most desired skills for many growing industries across the country.

In the past three years, the program has offered their solutions at four different sites serving local children from low-income families. Over 90 percent of participants report increased knowledge, skills, and interest in STEM fields. They’re rapidly expanding and look forward to offering help in more communities across the region and around the country.

‘…too many children are not mastering STEM skills at an early age. We want to help all kids thrive in school and beyond.’

“Our programs focus on helping kids develop the necessary tech skills and aptitudes to participate in and be future leaders of the 21st-century innovation economy,” says Olu Ibrahim, Founder and CEO (pictured, above). “[Our] long-term vision is to unlock the untapped potential of young people in cities across the United States, and equip them with the skills and drive to not only staff, but one day lead, the American tech industry.”

The nonprofit partners with administrators to deliver after-school “Tech Clubs”, which expose students both in classroom and remotely to fun, insightful STEM-related projects that showcase the various facets of the field with the goal to intrigue career opportunities down the road in robotics, app development, cybersecurity and more.

They were recently named a partner of the third-annual Massachusetts STEM Week, where they hosted a cybersecurity challenge for students statewide. 

With so much talk around STEM, why are programs like this important for children?

Olu: According to the Center for Childhood Creativity, “Data shows that young people are not graduating with the skills needed to succeed in a rapidly-evolving, technologically-driven workforce.”

The socio-economic component of the digital divide is a byproduct of not only income inequality, but structural inequality like discriminatory housing and lending practices. This divide persists because of costs related to gaining access to intranet or a device such as laptop or computer.

According to the Department of Education, “research shows that early exposure to STEM has positive impacts across the entire spectrum of learning. For example, early math knowledge not only predicts later math success, it also predicts later reading achievement (National Research Council, 2012).”

That’s good news, but this also highlights that too many children are not mastering STEM skills at an early age. We want to help all kids thrive in school and beyond.

The engagement of U.S. children in STEM education is imperative to fill an estimated 9 million jobs in the industry by 2022. Time can only tell how many STEM careers will be created in the years that follow. However, it’s up to everyone to ensure that American students are prepared to compete for those spots and are armed with the education to pursue their dreams.

How is your program organized and what does it entail?

Kids in Tech, or KIT, develops its activities based on five (5) primary programmatic objectives: (1) provide early and ongoing STEM education opportunities for children in low-income communities; (2) equip children in our community to seize opportunities in higher education and in emerging industries and career fields; (3) provide local schools and organizations with strategies to supplement educational opportunities with access to STEM education for all children; (4) build the educational infrastructure in partner school districts to embrace computer and technology sectors in their curriculums; and (5) build a model for other cities to develop better STEM education and employment pipelines.

KIT achieves its goals and objectives by implementing activities that further the STEM skills of children from low income families, and include: (i) creating educational materials for a unique and engaging curriculum; (ii) providing Afterschool Tech Club (ASTC) programs in which students learn computer skills and other STEM-related skills; (iii) acting as mentors to show students pathways to successful careers; and (iv) arranging field trips to show students examples of how technology is used in a variety of industries.

Our after-school program partners with schools and youth development organizations to provide technology education to children primarily ages 8-14. We recruit qualified volunteers, often retired teachers, and corporate professionals and train them in our project-based computer technology curriculum. These volunteers are paired with our instructors.

This pair is then matched with staff liaisons with local schools or community organizations where they conduct semester-long courses. These courses are held once or twice a week and culminate in a final project presentation in which students showcase the skills they have learned.

During the course, students also go on field trips to local businesses and colleges to meet people pursuing or working in computer and technology jobs. Each tech club cohort consists of 15-20 students.

More broadly now, in your view, what factors might contribute to increased innovation and success in STEM areas?

Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

I agree, and believe that the best solutions arise from having diverse perspectives brought to the table. The more diverse your team, the better the solutions can be. Yet, the statistics show a lack of diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), especially excluding women and people of color.

If we want products and services that help us live, work, and play better, then we should invite people from all walks of life to contribute to innovation-driven conversations. Collectively breaking down the expectations of what technologists, mathematicians, scientists and engineers [look like] will in turn create hope and inclusivity for young learners to pursue their passions from an early age.

What do you envision for the future of STEM?

Equity in STEM begins with opportunity. I envision a world where more people of color and women enter the field and stay in the field because we have created environments for them to thrive. Everyone who chooses to pursue STEM is granted the opportunity to fulfill our God-given potential.

‘…we have created environments for them to thrive. Everyone who chooses to pursue STEM is granted the opportunity to fulfill our God-given potential.’

I envision a world where all children have the access, skills and confidence they need to thrive in the modern innovation economy; that breaks down the expectations of what technologists, mathematicians, scientists and engineers should look like, and fosters the pursuit of happiness for every person capable of dreaming; a place where no one takes their creative ideas to the grave.

A great place to begin is supporting and investing in organizations that are already on the front lines, pushing for more diversity in these fields right now. Policy will play an important role in helping to eliminate structural barriers that are associated with lack of access as well.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com


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