December 10, 2014

Helping Youth Find Their Tech Genius: This year with iUrban Teen

According to Albert Einstein, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” To his point, there are many people who are brilliant but aren’t encouraged to see themselves as such. At the core of the iUrban Teen programs is the desire to create opportunities and environments where youth can find, appreciate, and grow their genius. We do this by exposing youth to careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Art (STEM and Arts) through experiential learning workshops.

Our intentional outreach is to male youth of color; however, we’re an inclusive program with a variety of youth participation that includes girls, youth with disabilities, and low-opportunity white youth.

We’ve recently started our youth-led iUrban Teen newsletter. The teens interview professionals in STEM-related careers about their career, what motivated them to go into that field, and what advice they have for the youth. The teens will also be writing about new technologies and devices in upcoming newsletters.Our flagship event is the Tech Summit, an all-day even where we invite industry professionals to lead workshops for the teens. Our other programs include STEM and Art Tours, where we tour local businesses and see how they implement STEM and the Arts; Youth Speaks, a public speaking collaboration with Toastmasters; iUrban Code, where teens learn the basics of HTML and CSS; and iUrban Digital, the art of telling stories with a variety of multimedia, including graphics, audio, video, and web publishing.

This fall, we launched our Tech Summit at both Mt. Hood Community College and the University of Washington Bothell; the Bothell Summit featured a gaming workshop lead by one of the developers of Halo. The students were so engaged that it was difficult to have them move on to their next workshop!

We’ve expanded our iUrban Code class from a one-weekend class to a four-weekend class and have partnered with Epicodus to deliver high-quality web development instruction. We’ll be starting “iMap” in January, which will be an experiential hands-on GIS/mapping course. In the coming year, we’ll be expanding to Los Angeles and will hold our first event there in January at California State University Dominguez Hills.

Also coming in 2015, we will be launching the Urban Spark Weekend, a twist on the “hackathon” or “codefest” where teens will come together do some immersive learning, code projects, win prizes, forge new friendships and, of course, enjoy some pizza and caffeine.

As the iUrban Teen program continues to grow from a grassroots organization that started in Vancouver, Washington to a soon-to-be-national program, we would like to thank our youth, volunteers, partners, sponsors, and the dynamic group of individuals on our advisory councils.

In particular, we’d like to recognize the parents. They are a major component of our success. We have made it a point to honor parents by inviting them in. We ask them to participate in sharing our programs with each other. We gladly accept the input on which programs they’d like for us to add. They volunteer at all of our events and share their school tips with each other at our parent roundtables. They even coordinate the youth-led newsletter. Thank you, parents, for all that you do!

We’ve had some great feedback that the program has created a difference in how parents are communicating with their teens. One parent who has two boys said: “Before, it was like pulling teeth to get the boys to talk about school and careers, but now we talk for hours about the possibilities.” That attitude of openness and possibility is exactly what we’re looking to continue to spread.

The iUrban Teen program has become more than just a STEM + Arts program — it’s grown into a new community, a movement. We’ll continue to add and expand programs to expose the teens to more fields. We’ll continue to surround the teens with great teachers, inspirational leaders, and creative thinkers. We’re completely committed to evolving the program to be better and better at helping teens imagine possibilities and get in touch with the genius that is already inside them.

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Sam Rodriguez
Sam Rodriguez is Technology Director of iUrban Teen, Sam lives in Vancouver, WA. He runs the technology consulting business Zen Focus Tech and teaches martial arts part time. Follow Sam on Twitter @zenfocustech. Follow iUrban Teen @iUrbanTeen.