Nive Jayasekar, a 17 year old teen age girl, designed a Smart App at a local hackathon and walked away with a prize of $10,500. She was also offered a summer internship at Facebook. Yes, THE Facebook. Facebook Wants To Hire This 17-Year-Old.
How does this happen? How is it that some folks seem to just make something out of noting? Or so it seems. Where does the inspiration come from. Where is the spark that starts such a flame? Why is it that some folks seem to be on a rocket and others glued to the ground. Time and experience has opened my eyes and I have come to realize that nothing happens overnight. Nothing. There are always a set of circumstances, situations, seemingly random and unrelated, that add up lead you to a particular place.
Think about it. Surely, that wasn't her first day trying out apps as a lark. She had a variety (and abundance) of resources before her that made this opportunity available to her. There is always a foundation to success and it starts at home. This young woman's road to being offered a summer internship at Facebook started a while back. And if you read the story very closely you see hints to her arrival. Her parents obviously provide her a lifestyle that makes participating in this activity accessible. She has internet access. She has computer and IT sources available to her perhaps from school or her parents. And her parents are actively cultivating her intellectual capital by driving her from place to place to participate in these activities. This story speaks volumes about the importance of home resources in creating children who are not only self-aware of their genius, but who also process the agency and drive to fulfill it.
I'm proud of this young lady and I am inspired by her story. It inspires me to create opportunities for other young ladies, particularly those from disadvantaged communities to go the stars. That's why I support activities like this one
Black Girls Code is going on a multi-city tour to teach young girls and boys how to code. They have an Indiegogo Campaign to help raise funds to make it happen. Success like Nive Jayasekar's, has to start from somewhere. But for so many young people (and their families) they don't know where to start. Summer of Code is addressing the foundational barriers for many young people: Awareness and Participation.
Awareness. Both students and parents have to be aware of the existence of these opportunities. We can't begin to cultivate a garden if we have no idea what herbs, fruits, or veggies are possible to grow in our plot. That's what is happening to today's urban (and rural) youth. They have NO idea what's out there or where to start or how to proceed or who to turn to for their own answers.
I once read a book, Supplementary Education: The Hidden Curriculum of High Academic Achievement by Edmund Gordon.
The idea of supplementary education is based on the assumption that high academic achievement is closely associated with exposure to family and community-based activities and learning experiences that occur both in and out of school in support of academic learning. For low income and some ethnic minority student groups, opportunities to participate in such activities are generally under-resourced and underutilized in comparison to the access to and participation in such activities by many European- and Asian- Americans from mid to high socio-economic backgrounds.
Like the book, I make the argument that supplemental education is the key to turning the tide to the achievement gap in this nation and for attracting kids from under-represented groups to the sciences. How can expect more diverse participation in Hackathons, MakerFaires, Robotics Competitions, Science Fairs, Science Festivals, or Innovation Contests if people don't even know what these thing are or that communities for these activities exist.
Participation. The next step is participating in these events. Starting clubs, doing projects, working with mentors and sponsors. Attending events (en masse), signing up for competitions, and winning competitions. This means more than saying "I want to do something" or "I tried doing that once". I means doing it and sticking with it. It also means having family and community support to do it and stick with it. I'm speaking directly to adults on this one. We (parents, aunts/uncles, cousins, neighbors, pastors, teachers, club volunteers) have got to make it so that these kids/any kid can fully participate. Students need to be provided resources and tools to access these opportunities. They also need encouragement and support from adults. (Kudos to organizations like Black Data Processing Associates for their High School Computer Competition and the National Society of Black Engineers for their Pre-College Initiative Programs all over the nation. They do this kind of work everyday.)
Though there are disparities between minority kids and white kids, the problem really is universal. Very often, kids from lower socioeconomic status are on their own when it comes to preparing for life after high school. They often cultivate their own interests in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). They dabble and tinker and play, usually in isolation - without a community of supporters to tell them that their hobbies are okay, even worthwhile. And they have to be resilient, so resilient.
I can't tell you how many kids (from the hood and the country) I've seen die inside from some adult randomly tell them that their interests in games, electronics, cars, animals, or (_insert hobby_), was a waste of time and foolish or that they weren't 'smart' enough. I saw the light of excitement get snuffed from their eyes, the flicker of self-propelled learning fade away. Their whole lives were cut down simply because they were poor or because they were in the remedial classes or were Special School District kids or had a criminal record. It broke my heart to see someone on the verge of 'getting it' only to be deterred just before they rounded that corner.
The sad truth is, there is more out there working against these types of kids than for them. Even if they had found their way to STEM and loved it, the odds are still against them 'making it'. By that I mean staying out of trouble (e.g. crime, having babies) or getting distracted (e.g. family/neighborhood drama, trying to keep a roof over their heads and foods in their bellies). I've witnessed some kids get explicitly discouraged from doing anything big. "Dreams, hopes, college. That ain't for you!" It's no wonder some kids don't trust adults. By and large, I think we have let so many of them down.
So when I see a kid who have persevered through that madness: the poverty and the negative attitudes, my whole spirit reaches out to compel them to continue, to succeed. Even for those that avoided or straight dodged close bullets they can get very close, but still be so far away. Application, participation fees, and or transportation can be enough to stall the whole train. This one was always my snag in the carpet that tripped me up. In high school, I was accepted in a summer writing program at a college. It seemed to be a competitive process. I'd stay on campus and take workshops from college English and Literature Professors. The cost to attend was $500. I didn't have it. My parents didn't have it. No one in my family had it. That was the end of that. It's a typical example of how access to opportunity matters so very much.
I love that the Summer of Code will lay the foundation so that a new set of faces will dare compete in the next Big Brand Hackathon and take home the prize. Join me in supporting them so that nothing will keep another kid from accessing the on ramp to STEM.