The lack of access to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)-related activities as an out-of-school-time experience continues to plague many low-income Philadelphia communities. Children and teens may not feel comfortable using computers, participating in science activities, understanding the math behind building simple structures, or using imagination and critical thinking skills to solve tasks.
JEVS Human Services, this year, is taking a small step to reach STEM “deserts” toward improving this problem. TechServ Scholars, an AmeriCorps-funded program, is a team of young men and women who are bridging the STEM gap by exposing local elementary and middle school students to hands-on learning and experiences.
Have the Scholars been successful? Yes, so far this year they’ve worked with more than 2,900 school children by engaging them in interactive activities, such as Lego robotics and coding small electronics. These activities open the eyes of students to new possibilities, interests and perhaps even future career opportunities in STEM-related fields. According to the Smithsonian Science Education Center, some 6 million jobs remain unfilled, many of which require individuals with STEM skills that employers say they just cannot find enough of in the talent pool.
Recently our TechServ Scholars conducted a technology workshop at a local middle school. Jessica Ramos, assistant superintendent fellow, School District of Philadelphia, stated that she had visited the school many times, but has never seen the students engaged at this level. A post-test survey co-facilitated by TechServ Scholar Carlos G. showed an increase in knowledge, ability, and awareness of STEM among middle school-aged females after 12 hours of STEM exposure.
On the flip side, the TechServ Scholars are building technology and STEM credentials for themselves. These “Learn and Serve” experiences allow them to gain career exposure and advanced knowledge for the workforce, as well as develop crucial workforce “soft skills,” such as leadership, project management, problem-solving and customer service. Many were uncertain about their next steps after high school graduation or attainment of GEDs. Many weren’t as technology savvy. However, all of the Scholars have been taken under the wing of professional mentors, offering guidance and hope for next steps into training programs, colleges, or apprenticeships.
A recent edition of Social Innovations Journal, “Social Innovations to Advance Social Mobility Models in Urban Cities” features an article contributed by JEVS highlighting the TechServ Scholars program and its role in bridging the STEM divide in high-poverty communities and in building an on-ramp to good jobs in STEM. >> Read the article here.
In Their Own Words
Both students and Scholars are impacted by this JEVS program. Scholars are contributing to change in their communities by increasing access to STEM activities and technology.
“Before coming into this program, I didn’t really like the computer. I wasn’t using them at all,” said TechServ Scholar Dorothy Y. “With the help of my mentors, now I can take apart laptops, towers, tablets. The best part is I can teach others these skills and also how to use Excel, Word and PowerPoint. This program has opened doors for me. I’d like to go to college for business and technology and perhaps study abroad in Japan.”
As we are approaching the end of our pilot year, there are two upcoming opportunities to bring STEM experiences to even more individuals:
- JEVS is recruiting now for the next cohort of TechServ Scholars, whose term runs August 2018-August 2019. The program is open to youth ages 17 to 24. >> Get program details here. >> Apply online here.
- JEVS TechServ Scholars are bringing hands-on STEM education to Philadelphia rec centers’ summer camps. The “12 Hours of STEM” curriculum, developed by the Scholars, will run Mondays/Wednesdays or Tuesdays/Thursdays from 9 – 11am. Activities include: robotics, coding, engineering and building, Arduinos and more. If you are interested in having TechServ at your camp, email email@example.com and provide camp name and address, contact person and phone number, days choice, and which of these sessions you’d like them to teach:
Session 1: July 2nd – Jul 19th
Session 2: July 23rd – Aug 9th