At Verizon Innovative Learning, it’s never too early to start a STEM career
This summer, students in North Carolina began to make their professional dreams come true.
Author: Bonsu Thompson
Bonsu Thompson is a writer, producer and 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Labs fellow.
Every morning, Verizon Innovative Learning director and Greensboro native Marquita McCulley asks students to recite her “Declaration of Greatness.” The powerful minute-long chant goes something like this: “I have everything within me that I need to succeed, therefore I have nothing to fear... The aviation industry, the technology industry, the engineering industry awaits me. I am a dreamer.” The teen boys, all with varying degrees of tech experience, beam with pride as they recite these words.
This pledge sets the tone for the day’s activities. And practicing for the chant competition gets the boys pumped for the energetic closing presentation at Verizon Innovative Learning at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University. More importantly, it gives the boys a healthy sense of self and a clear vision for the future.
For the past five summers, NC A&T State University has been a haven for boys of color to learn STEM. Previously, they learned coding and robotics, but in 2019, the focus is augmented and virtual reality and 3D printing. For their final project, students are challenged to utilize 3D printing to consider how design rescue vehicles could address climate change.
Way ahead of their classmates
While the 3D printing class is used to create those rescue vehicles, this course is a unanimous hit because many of the boys are interested in designing video games—a career with the potential to make a six-figure salary. This 3D class gives aspiring game artists and developers a solid foundation to enter the field.
Verizon Innovative Learning provides under-resourced students with this kind of curriculum so they can compete in STEM, and have opportunities in aviation, engineering and even gaming industries. Since 2012, Verizon has been actively working to close the digital divide with free tech-focused curriculum that provides access to augmented and virtual reality, robotics, coding and 3D printing.
Malachi Glass, an instructor and electronics and technology major at NC A&T State University, understands the significance of early exposure. There weren’t any courses in his community that taught him how to create on a computer, and he was forced to learn on his own. “[At Verizon Innovative Learning] they get the nuances of 3D modeling, so when they go to college, they won’t be seeing advanced software for the first time,” says Malachi, weaving throughout the classroom to check students’ progress. “They will be leaps and bounds ahead of their classmates.”
“[At Verizon Innovative Learning] they get the nuances of 3D modeling, so when they go to college, they won’t be seeing advanced software for the first time.”
— Malachi Glass
On the path to their dream career
The 3D classes prepare young men like seventh grader and anime lover Enais Skeen to “draw the background for all my games and characters” while helping classmate Keyon Carr strengthen his artistic skills. “I want to be a game artist when I grow up, but I’m not so good at drawing,” says Keyon, an eighth grader and Super Smash Brothers fanatic whose parents love vintage game systems like Nintendo. “[Verizon Innovative Learning] helped me improve more than ever.”
While some students simply enjoy the creativity within 3D study, the rest, like advanced coder Michael Simpson, realize they’re on a path to manifest their dreams. Going to [Verizon Innovative Learning] gives me a step ahead of the competition,” says the eighth grader, while checking the 3D printer. “I know I’m not the only person competing to create a game that’s better than Fortnite.”
(Photos: Ross Oscar Knight)
Growing genius with Tinkercad
Students light up like a Christmas tree as they discuss Tinkercad, an online software for 3D design, electronics and coding. While the boys worked with Tinkercad briefly last summer, this summer, they work with it daily to master the processes. “That’s my favorite program,” says Ricky Richardson, a heady, yet friendly eighth grader. His intro to Tinkercad came with the instruction to draw something dear to him. Ricky chose his pet tarantula.
“We import the drawing and give directions to the 3D printer so we can print it out,” he says eager to explain the process. “We have to make sure the designs directly hit the platform, or it will print weird.”
“I want to have the technology to fix everything. Doing just one thing is limiting. It’s good to be well-rounded.”
— Jahvon Benjamin
Eighth grader Jahvon Benjamin, who has attended Verizon Innovative Learning for three summers, says he doesn’t have these kinds of classes in Jamestown, North Carolina. Verizon Innovative Learning has helped him see the benefit of collaborating with a team. When I was younger, I used to hate working with people. I wanted to do everything by myself,” says Jahvon with a smile as bright as his mind. “But when I came to [Verizon Innovative Learning], I was like, ‘Oh, when you have more people to help you it becomes a lot easier.’”
Because of Verizon Innovative Learning, Jahvon aspires to be a mechanical engineer when he grows up. “I want to have the technology to fix everything. Doing just one thing is limiting. It’s good to be well-rounded,” Jahvon says.
Verizon Innovative Learning mentor and NC A&T State University alum, Brandon Harris, echoes Jahvon’s sentiment about teamwork. On the last Monday of the three-week long session, Brandon watches 100 boys head home and reflects on what sets Verizon Innovative Learning apart from other STEM experiences. He’s been with Verizon Innovative Learning for three years. “I had never seen this kind of technology before,” he says with a contemplative look in his eyes. “It was mind-blowing because the skills the kids were learning, I was learning too.”
Technology aside, one of Brandon’s favorite things about Verizon Innovative Learning is mentoring the boys. “We spend so much time with them,” he says, “We have so many strong leaders that they have no choice but to take something good home with them.”
Learn how Verizon Innovative Learning is helping kids have a brighter future by providing under-resourced students with free technology, free access and hands-on learning experiences at verizoninnovativelearning.com.