Enabling the Next Generation of Civic Leaders

At a recent fundraiser in Philadelphia for a non-profit focused on promoting the use of technology in schools, Managing Director Rich Negrin issued a call to action for those in attendance.

Video game demo for Managing Director Rich Negrin

“We all have a stake in this, and we can’t do it alone. We need everyone’s help to ensure that our children have every opportunity possible to plug in to the digital economy and the ever expanding world of technology.”

The Managing Director was the featured speaker at the FATE Tech Bootstrap Expo – a fundraiser that also showcased the work of amazing young students taking advantage of an innovative new approach to teaching programming skills. These students applied their new skills to build video games, which they were eager to show off to the Managing Director and others in attendance.

This event was a fitting prologue to another event that took place this past weekend – the first ever hackathon in Philadelphia targeting high school students. New Foundations Charter School was the setting for an event called WebSLAM, which paired high school students with mentors to work on building new and redesigned websites for local non-profits.

Student technologists at WebSLAM

Initiated in Baltimore by the Digital Harbor Foundation, WebSLAM gives students real world experience applying technology skills and the opportunity to work with actual clients. Each team works closely with non-profits to gather requirements for a new website, survey available technology options and build a new website over a several week period, culminating in a weekend-long coding session with mentors and other volunteers. I had the pleasure to serve as a judge for the event this past weekend, and the City’s Director of Civic Technology – Tim Wisniewski – served as a technology mentor for teams.

At the conclusion of the event on Saturday evening, four teams had completed high quality websites for a group of excited and appreciative non-profits. Each of the young participants gained valuable experience and skills applying their knowledge to a real project, for an actual client. This is the kind of team work and collaboration the Managing Director was referring to in his recent remarks – when we can engineer opportunities for young people to acquire and apply new technology skills we are enabling the next generation of civic leaders. We all have a stake in that, and it’s important that we capitalize on every opportunity to provide these opportunities to young people.

This Summer, another exciting opportunity to get young people involved in technology and programming will be offered by Temple University’s Urban Apps & Maps Studio. With the the support of the Knight Foundation, hundreds of young people from Philadelphia’s undeserved communities will get a chance to plug into the world of technology and software development.

Over the next three summers, 300 high school and college-age students will take part in a six-week program at Temple’s Urban Apps and Maps Studios, learning the basics of digital design and business skills. About a dozen will then become year-round community fellows working with the university and developers to create apps that solve the challenges of urban communities.

Sign up for the Urban Apps & Maps Summer program here.

Efforts to introduce young people to technology and programming are picking up momentum in Philadelphia, and there are more and more exciting opportunities becoming available every day. But to echo the Managing Director’s call to action, we need everyone’s help. If you know of an innovative program to teach young people technology skills, drop the details into the comments on this post, or tweet at the Managing Director’s office with the specifics.

We want to help spread the word about all of the great opportunities available to young people in Philadelphia and help enable the next generation of great civic leaders.

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