Technology’s Emerging, Enthusiastic Leaders

Carl Sagan once said, “Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.” Nowadays it can be hard enough for some teenagers to graduate from high school, let alone keep an enthusiasm for science. Without teens staying inspired and graduating, the future does not look so bright; we’d miss out on the great ideas and collaborations they would bring to the world.

This is where the iUrban Teen program comes in. We aim to bring back the wonder and enthusiasm that Carl Sagan spoke of, what we call the “technology spark.” We do this by introducing teens to Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Art (STEM + Arts) related careers.

We work to get teens inspired to pursue the knowledge required to bring their ideas to life. While our programs focus on black and brown teenagers, especially those that might be at risk of dropping out of school, we welcome all teens.

Creating the Spark

At our “Tech Summits,” we invite industry professionals in fields such as digital animation, video game development, mobile app development, social media, computer security, energy, environmental science, and health to put on workshops for our teens. We hold summits at college campuses to give the teens the vision of seeing themselves at college. During the summit, the teens attend several different workshops exposing them to a variety of STEM careers.

We also have a “Parent Roundtable” at the tech summit, where we give the parents resources to support their teens. We cover topics ranging from how to navigate the public school system to the process of applying to scholarships and colleges. We also give the parents a quick overview of each workshop as well as information on upcoming iUrban Teen programs.

During the last tech summit, a reporter from OPB asked one of the teens about the mobile app workshop he just attended; he said “I’m definitely doing this when I get home.” Not a bad way for a 7th grader to spend a Saturday afternoon.

From Spark to Flame

We help keep that spark fueled with our “iUrban Code” class, which takes a deeper look at creating games, mobile apps and websites. Not only does this class teach current skills, it helps develop creativity and problem solving. We also take our teens on “Tech Tours,” so they can see how local businesses use STEM. They have a chance to talk to people that do what they may want to do and get guidance for pursuing that path.

Since leadership and public speaking are such important skills for presenting ideas, we’ve partnered with Toastmasters to create the “Youth Speaks” class. The teens get to learn and practice techniques for “wowing” their audiences and they get to build their confidence in the process.

We also have a “Digital Storytelling” class, which focuses on the art of telling stories in video games and other digital media. We want our teens to develop vision, creativity, strategic thinking, and even the ability to weave a story for a product since these attributes contribute to what it takes to be a tech leader.

During one of our recent game development workshops, the presenter engaged the teens with the statement: “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” Which opened the conversation of how tech companies fund themselves. In the same workshop, we’ve covered the idea of being a “consumer” versus being a “producer” and the mindset associated with each. We believe giving teens the big picture helps them decide where they want to participate and what skills they’d like to develop.

We have our workshop presenters share resources to encourage the teens to continue their learning. Developing the skill and responsibility to continuously learn on their own is critical so they can keep pace with emerging and rapidly changing technology. It’s possible that the jobs and careers that some of the teens will have after college don’t even exist yet.

The iUrban Teen program exists to provide ongoing opportunities to those who might not otherwise have them. Our goal is to inspire our youth to stick to and finish high school, attend college, and start a career or business. We’re looking forward to seeing that spark grow into a flame for a brighter future for all.

Sam Rodriguez
Technology Director
iUrban Teen
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.