Visit UDC on Saturdays and in the summer and you might notice a younger set of students studying virtual and augmented reality, coding and developing apps through the Verizon Innovative Learning Program for middle school minority males through a unique technology immersion program.
Since 2016, African American and Latino boys in 6th through 8th grade from the Washington Metropolitan area have participated in a free, year-round STEM program as part of UDC and Verizon’s commitment to early introductions to career paths, academic support, and mentoring and preparing for the digital world. It provides next-gen technology and entrepreneurship courses and serves to cultivate an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and careers.
The Verizon Foundation has partnered with HBCUs and Minority Serving Institutions to invest in young males to introduce them to STEM careers because of projected workforce demands where 77 percent of U.S. jobs will require a technology skill-set. Minorities have been severely underrepresented in STEM studies.
The year-long program supports 100 students annually and includes three hours on Saturdays during the academic year and a three-week summer component. During the school year, between 70 to 100 middle school students rotate between workshops on topics ranging from 3-D modeling and coding to virtual reality and entrepreneurship. Students receive lunch and are matched with mentors who support them all year. During the summer, about 100 boys attend the summer camp, which is taught by university professors, graduate students and community experts with specific targeted skills. At the end of the summer, students participate in a science fair on campus and present their work to the campus and community.
“It has meant a lot to me personally to see students engage in STEM and more importantly to see them develop their self-esteem and leadership skills,” said Dr. James Maiden, director of the program.
“Some of the students had never been on a college campus. They recognize that it’s not a stretch for them to see themselves going to college as the next step after graduating from high school.”
Verizon’s support includes computers for the program, 3-D printing software, Virtual Reality equipment, meals, and each student is given their own tablet computer. In previous years, students have attended a Verizon Summit in San Francisco, where a small group of students from each of Verizon’s participating campuses traveled to see a showcase of the latest technology, conduct site visits, and networked with one another.
“I’ve seen students do a complete 360. We’ve had students who have really been impacted,” Maiden said. “Parents have told me how much the program has changed their child.”