In the Summer of 2017, a group of female youth at the Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF)--a youth makerspace in Baltimore--came together to create a video celebrating the International Day of the Girl Child. Their video had a simple message: the world needs girls of every age, background, and race in STEM fields. It is a testament to the unlimited potential of the world’s women and girls, especially in fields that society often (intentionally or otherwise) tells them to believe they do not belong.
Each of these incredible youth developed her interest and skills in STEM, and particularly in technology, through making at DHF. Here, they had access to new technologies, cutting-edge curriculum, and dedicated staff mentors. Most importantly, they joined a welcoming community dedicated to empowering ALL youth by deliberately rejecting stereotypes of what someone in the tech sector should look like.
This same commitment to providing access to technology education and career pathways to all youth fueled DHF’s new Tech Coach program, which has been made possible through the generous support from Infosys Foundation USA via awarding us an InfyMaker Award in 2018.
The Tech Coach program helps educators and school counselors in Baltimore City connect youth to direct, personalized mentoring with DHF’s staff to continue cultivating their tech skills and interests. In particular, Tech Coach mentors help youth build their tech skills and access STEM fields by connecting them to out-of-school time, employment, scholarship, higher education, and internship opportunities.
This free, individualized mentorship is particularly crucial for students--including girls, minorities, and youth from low-income backgrounds--who are more likely to not pursue tech careers. Not only do these youth have to overcome stereotypes about who belongs in tech fields, they often do not know about the tech programs, careers, and pathways that other youth take for granted.
Furthermore, even those interested in helping these underserved youth achieve their career ambitions, such as school counselors, struggle to provide sufficient support to these students. The student-to-counselor ratio in Baltimore city is over 900:1, nearly 4 times the recommended 250:1. The staggering workload placed on school counselors makes meaningful engagement with students interested in learning more about tech careers nearly impossible. These difficult conditions are further complicated by the rapidly changing tech career landscape and prevalence of non-traditional pathways to tech and other STEM fields. As a result, counselors, and even teachers, frequently lack the most up-to-date information on tech careers and pathways.
DHF’s Tech Coach program supports Baltimore City teachers, counselors, and students, to ensure access to tech careers is evenly distributed among all Baltimore’s youth, regardless of their gender, race, or socioeconomic background. Everything the Digital Harbor Foundation does, from empowering female youth to declare that they belong in STEM to mentoring Baltimore City students though our Tech Coach program, is rooted in the belief that STEM careers should be available to everyone. We believe no matter who you are, where you come from, or what society believes you are “good” at, you are born to make a difference. DHF’s Maker-based programs help youth stretch their muscles and develop the habits of mind that lead to transforming lives, opening opportunities, and eventually even reshaping society’s misconceptions of who belongs in the fastest growing sectors of the American economy.