We have seen numerous hackathon events organized by various organizations both in and outside the United States, with the intentions of sparking an interest in STEM particularly among the female gender and the minority groups. These initiatives though meant to bring diversity into STEM education and careers, fail to achieve their greatest impact possible.
STEM education and careers are to a great extent dominated by white males, and the female gender and people from minority groups remain widely underrepresented. It is in the spirit of getting the black community onto the STEM bandwagon that Aaron Saunders, the CEO of Clearly Innovative, decided to organize a youth hackathon in Anacostia. An undertaking, Clearly Innovative partnered with DiversiTech to make it possible.
By all measures, the hackathon was undoubtedly a success. However, just like most of once-in-a-while hackathon event, it elicited a lot of excitement before and during the event that soon died with the conclusion of the hackathon event. As usually, there was little to no positive impact registered in the periods after the hackathon event.
Saunders as cited by Technical.ly said, “The kids were excited, they built all these prototype applications. And then, the event ended.”
He had realized that these occasional hackathons events did not as far-reaching effect as they had hoped for on the disadvantaged youths living in the D.C. area.
“One-day weekend workshops and hackathons don’t really address the issue. You can’t have a hackathon if you don’t really know what you’re hacking.” Saunders concluded.
To address this hackathons’ shortcomings, Saunders established a tech education program at the Howard University Middle School. He started giving tech education there for two days per week.
Soon he was joined by other members of his web development firm located on H Street, and the tech education program was expanded to include colleges, summer schools, and middle schools. Their tech education program curriculum had more in the offering that just tech skills training, they also gave the kids inspirations.
Saunders said kids need “to have their instructors look like them, to be frank. To a lot of black kids growing up, Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t mean anything.”
At the start of the event, it was being paid for out of pocket, but it later grew into a business, and Saunders intends to take it even further.
“You can’t provide these services, this opportunity to the community on a volunteer basis,” said Saunders, “There’s too much of a need.”
Saunders and team’s tech education program now goes by the name Luma Lab and was in the running for a $100,000 grant from JP Morgan Chase in the bank’s STEM Education program challenge.
Luma Lab emerged the winner, and Clearly Innovative was the only victor coming from the D.C. area. Beating 30,000 other competitors from across the United States.
Clearly Innovative is now one of the winners of the Main Street Grant, Now, Saunders says they will invest part of that money into expanding the program’s reach to Ward 7, Ward 8 and Prince George’s County.
Dominic Swain, a digital strategist at Clearly Innovative, was also cited by Technical.ly saying, “We’ve developed a comprehensive curriculum ranging from ideation and design to programming and formal pitch competition. More support for our program means more access to a career in tech for all students.”
The money will also go a long way towards equipping Luma Lab with all the materials needed for their courses. Take, for instance, the Boys & Girls Club located on Benning Road does not have any Apple computer.
Swain says, “We teach them mobile development, you can only program on an iPhone if you have a Mac.”