The Verizon Foundation recently hosted the Verizon Innovative Learning Minority Male Makers Summit in San Francisco for 100 of the top performing students in the Verizon Innovative Learning program, which boasts over 2,000 students during a two-year program, teaching them everything from wearable technology, virtual reality, 3-D printing and the internet of things.
Black Enterprise caught up with the students at the Verizon Innovation Center and here is what they had to say:
“A couple of years ago, my friend’s mom told my mom about the program. We’re building things, we had actual math classes that we’re taking in college, we even made these small little robots. We learned to program and they taught us some Python,” said James Stevenson from Tunbridge Public Charter School in Baltimore. “I was pretty excited to go to it. This is my last year so I’m trying to make it count.”
“I’ve been in this program for a year now. It’s pretty fun. We get to do a lot that deals with computer science, coding, and engineering,” said Ryan Hyman from Crittenden Middle School in Newport News, Virginia. “We made a robot arm in the Hampton University program and we also made our website and today, I got to see VR twice. I like seeing things that I couldn’t see on a normal, regular basis.”
Although some kids reeked of enthusiasm, not everyone was excited to attend the program at first. Lawrence Tyrell wanted to stay home and hang out with his friends in his neighborhood, but after attending he says he’s happy that he made that choice. “In this program, I found people that are passionate about the same things that I am, like video editing, producing, and manufacturing.” The major plus he says is, “I still get to hang out with my friends.”
(Verizon Learning Lab. Image: Ross Knight Photography)
In addition to getting the students feedback, we chatted with Justina Nixon-Saintil, director of education for the Verizon Foundation, to find out why she started this initiative.
“We have a lot of kids who, if you ask them what they want to be, especially in middle school, they want to be LeBron, they want to be a basketball star, they want to be an actor and we say, ‘you know that’s great but, the opportunity for you to get there is very difficult, yet look at all the STEM jobs out there and they are very lucrative. If you graduate out of college you can get a STEM job that can pay all of your bills. You can take care of yourself’ and a lot of the men that we focus on, especially these young men, that’s something that they need to do.”
The students were given mentors from Verizon’s top corporate execs, in addition to a few superstar mentors like 19-year-old Jaylen Bledsoe, whose company, the Jaylen Bledsoe Global Group, is currently valued at over $3.5 million and 15-year-old Moziah Bridges, the CEO of Mo’s Bows formerly seen on ABC’s, Shark Tank.
(L to R: Phil Puthumana, Program Manager, CSR; La-Tonia Middleton-Jackson, Program Manager, CSR; Che Phillip, VP, Mobile Network Services; Bryce Walker, Director, Engineering & Operations; David Hubbard, VP & Deputy General Counsel, Marketing, Intellectual Property & New Media; Eric Cevis, SVP & Group President, Verizon Partner Solutions; Anthony Lewis, VP, State Government Affairs; Justina Nixon-Saintil, Director, CSR Education Programs. Image: File)
“I really want to hear their stories and understand where they’re coming from,” said Bledsoe. “My story, my parents had me at 16, single parent household, so my story resonates with so many young men around the country and so seeing where they are coming from, how can I relate and how can I create that relationship. Now my story has more impact and it can inspire them a little bit more to take that step.”
“We give them ties but we are also speaking to them and motivating them to do better than what they did yesterday,” said Bridges. “We make them dream big and let them know that they can do anything at any age.”
(L to R: Moziah Bridges, Brandon Nicholson, Jaylen Bledsoe. Image: Ross Knight Photography)
In addition to this incredible guidance, the students were given access to Verizon Innovation Labs to explore all of Verizon’s latest technologies. The Summit culminated with a pitch competition helping the students execute on the additional skill sets that they had acquired during the program.
(Verizon Innovation Learning Pitch Competition. Image: Ross Knight Photography)
Verizon is definitely helping solve the issue of increasing the pipeline which some Silicon Valley companies claim is nowhere in sight. Looking at these images, that’s hard to believe.