"Verizon Innovative Learning showed me what it’s like to really be a leader"

By: Kenrya Rankin

Former FDR Middle School students champion STEM interests while mentoring others, too.

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Minu Patel, Nycire Vaughn and Ameera Smith went from working with Tiger Tech at FDR Middle School in Bristol, Pennsylvania, to majoring in STEM fields. (photo credit: Minu, Nycire and Ameera.)

Verizon Innovative Learning has provided thousands of students at Title I middle schools across the nation with advanced technology, next-generation curriculum and devices and data access that they can use to explore STEM at school and at home. It only makes sense that some of those students would continue their studies and choose careers that put STEM front and center.

Minu Patel, Nycire Vaughn and Ameera Smith are three of those students. They were on the inaugural Tech Team at Franklin D. Roosevelt Middle School in Bristol, Pennsylvania. The group supports the Verizon Innovative Learning program, troubleshooting tech issues and helping teachers and students with their devices.

“When I entered Tiger Tech, I was like, ‘This is new. This is exciting. This is what I want to do.’ If I wasn't exposed to that in middle school, I would probably not be majoring in computer science,” says Minu, who is now a sophomore at Temple University. She wants to work in cybersecurity and she dreams of joining forces with the FBI and creating an organization to help more girls break into STEM fields.

Minu as an eighth-grader and now, as a sophomore studying computer science at Temple University. (photo credit: Minu)

Nycire, who is currently studying electrical engineering at Howard University, agrees that the experience was transformational. “Before I was a Tiger Tech, what I really wanted to do was I wanted to be the president of the United States,” says Nycire, who wants to innovate the next world-changing technology. “I was so dead set on that until seventh and eighth grade when Tiger Tech came and it really changed me. Verizon Innovative Learning showed me what it’s like to really be a leader.”

Nycire at a fair at FDR Middle School; at his graduation before starting his academic career at Howard University. (photo credits: Bernadette Barone, Nycire)

Being in the program also taught them the importance of giving back. Each of the students has returned to work with their Verizon Innovative Learning coach, Bernadette Barone, helping to steer students toward STEM classes and careers and mentoring members of the Tiger Tech team.

“Mentoring the kids at FDR was very instrumental. It was something that I’m going to take with me for the rest of my life. Those kids showed me like how you can do something and it can affect others,” says Ameera, who is now a first-year biology student at Clark Atlanta University. Remote labs aren’t her favorite, but she’s currently interning at an internal medicine doctor’s office and plans to be a cardiothoracic surgeon one day.

Ameera at the eighth-grade formal; Ameera as a thriving freshman attending Clark Atlanta University. (photo credit: Ameera)

“The technology that Verizon has provided for us has sent all of our students in a different trajectory,” says Barone, who is still the coach and FDR. She couldn’t be prouder of Minu, Nycire and Ameera. “The Tiger Techs were role models—they got the importance of serving and contributing to their society. If you give them the opportunity and you give them the resources, they will do it. They will rise to it.”

Watch and learn how participating in Verizon Innovative Learning in middle school paved a new path for these students.

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