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Opening minds to different kinds of careers

Students from Tennessee and Virginia come to NYC for a hands-on STEM academy.

By: Taiia Smart Young 

Taiia Smart Young is a content producer and editor for Gyrate Media.

Photo credit: Michael J. LeBrecht II

Twenty kids experience technology, mentorship and career exploration in the city that never sleeps.

This summer, Verizon Innovative Learning invited 20 students, their parents and their directors to NYC for an immersion experience. The two-day event included mentoring from Verizon staff, sitting in a live studio audience at BUILD, making 3D stamps at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and riding the Staten Island Ferry. 

Verizon realizes that millions of under-resourced students lack the technology and skills required to successfully compete in today’s digital landscape. 

Pictured: Kevin Garrido and his mom on the Staten Island Ferry. (Photos: Michael J. LeBrecht II)


Since 2012, Verizon has been working to close the digital divide via Verizon Innovative Learning, a transformative free tech-focused curriculum that provides access to augmented and virtual reality, robotics and coding.

The trip to NYC is an extension of that curriculum, giving students a chance to leave their rural Virginia and Tennessee hometowns for an academy dedicated to career exploration, technology and sightseeing. Through Verizon’s partnership with the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE), students are also exposed to a day in the life of a BMCC student. 

We check in with the teens as they learn how to create stories with the Yahoo! News team.


Getting the exclusive

When it’s time to master the art of storytelling with the Yahoo! News team, Chloe Taylor, 13, is part of an all-girls squad. They sip juice and get comfy in the Verizon office, while some boys from Tennessee hunt for a quiet spot to create man-on-the-street interviews. After the girls hear about the different roles available for their show—producer, host, director, camera person, production assistant (PA) and talent—they quickly play to their strengths. The host spot is snapped up first, but that’s fine with Chloe. The ninth grader volunteers to be the producer, a.k.a. the behind-the-scenes boss who calls the shots. 

“I don’t really like being in front of the camera,” the future brain surgeon says, positioning the talent’s chair toward an imaginary studio audience. “But I do like being part of group projects…being in charge is more in my comfort zone.” Before the PA calls for quiet on the set, soft spoken Chloe transforms into a focused newsmaker who confidently feeds questions to the host.  

Because of Verizon Innovative Learning, Chloe knows that she’s expected to speak up and communicate with her group. That’s an important skill to have, especially for women in STEM.

Pictured: Chloe Taylor (far left on the couch) and her friends from Virginia brainstorm show ideas with Yahoo! News staff. (Photos: Michael J. LeBrecht II)

The sports scoop

Over at Yahoo! Sports, host Michelle Gingras and senior producer Matt Collette talk about their college majors, share insider tips on breaking into the media industry and discuss camera, audio, lighting, teleprompter and on-camera job opportunities. 

Pictured: On set at Yahoo! Sports, twins Nicoloas (left) and Nathaniel Harris ask questions about researching basketball stories.  (Photos: Michael J. LeBrecht II)

“It seems like fun to get paid [to talk about sports] all day,” says ninth grader Nicoloas Harris, who’s anxious to see Times Square. “That’s something most people don’t get to do.” For Nic, however, being on-air is a close second to developing video games that compete with the ever-popular Fortnite.

What’s STEAME?

Part of the students’ day-long immersion is dedicated to STEM. Ninth grader Morgan Parsons (on the right) and her sister, Brooke who’s in the tenth grade, have boosted their STEM IQ thanks to Verizon Innovative Learning. Brooke enjoyed Verizon Innovative Learning so much that she’s now a classroom assistant at Roane State Community College.

Pictured: Brooke (left) and her sister Morgan create 3D stamp designs as a BMCC mentor oversees the process.  (Photos: Michael J. LeBrecht II)

At BMCC’s digital makerspace, Dr. Shane Snipes, a.k.a. Dr. Shane, introduces a new concept. He’s all about the power of STEAME. He searches the students’ faces for a hint of recognition. Most are confused. They’re familiar with STEAM, and know that the A stands for art, but that’s about it. The extra E, Dr. Shane explains, is for entrepreneurship. The group releases a collective, “Oh!” as he launches into a conversation about ownership.

Morgan finishes her 3D stamp design and looks at her sister’s computer screen. She adds that leadership is key to STEM too. Before Morgan left for NYC, she was chosen to be team captain of her group at Verizon Innovative Learning.


Inspiring confidence and courage

For Meghan Bolin, 12, learning about different career options and storytelling is cool, but nothing compares to watching NASCAR driver Hailie Deegan talk about her passion at BUILD. BUILD is a live interview series where fans sit inches away from their favorite celebrities. As the students plop down on plush, maroon couches, the eighth grader is anxious. Her knee jumps. She twists her orange cap. When Hailie hits the stage for the interview, she’s humble and funny. Meghan is in NASCAR fan-girl mode. Her dad introduced her to the sport and they attend races back home in Crossville, Tennessee. “Hailie inspires me… She encourages girls to do things,” says Meghan fighting back tears. “But what I love the most is that she’s confident and she started at a young age.”

Pictured: Meghan (right) chats with NASCAR driver Hailie Deegan at BUILD.  (Photos: Michael J. LeBrecht II)

Two days isn’t enough time to truly experience all that New York has to offer. But the impact of Verizon Innovative Learning is felt on students who never considered producing a news broadcast or studying computer science in college. Now, they’re open to the different kinds of careers they can pursue and understand the importance of having someone in their corner—i.e. a mentor—in the workplace. Meghan says she can see herself working for Verizon in a few years. Nicoloas, a future game designer, is willing to trade a mountain view for one with skyscrapers. And Brooke is inspired to apply to John Jay College, which specializes in forensics. 

Students and parents agree that every minute was well spent taking in the sights, absorbing the culture and experimenting with technology. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a live studio audience member and get to see actors and stars in real life. I only see them on TV. [Visiting BUILD] was my favorite thing to do, but everything we did was lots of fun,” says eighth grader Carlile Burgess.