Connecting state and local government leaders
The city is closing its digital divide with a model STEM program.
Raleigh, North Carolina’s Digital Connectors program teaches the city’s youth sought-after tech skills while instilling a desire to return the favor in the community.
Digital Connectors selects 15 students, ages 14 to 21, a year to take rigorous classes twice a week at the Saint Monica Teen Center and perform service projects around town. The only other requirement is that applicants live in Raleigh. Graduates receive $500 and a laptop.
Aside from the competitive tech education, participants learn important communications and networking skills city officials hope will help them become successful, homegrown innovators.
“From my perspective, soft skills are just as important as having technical skills, and with those soft skills comes teaching students emotional intelligence and critical thinking and perspective thinking,” Brittney Cofield-Poole, a community outreach specialist, says in a video . “And so when we have conversations about the digital divide—when we’re talking about inequity—it’s more so about having them understand that there are people living their lives without really having equitable access, and it’s impacting them in a negative way.”
The city’s Information Technology Department formed public-private partnerships with telecom company AT&T and software IBM to finance the program—a model of science, technology, engineering and mathematics pedagogy.
Such partnerships also allow students to get a sense for prospective career paths using the tech skills they’re acquiring.
“It gives me a chance to give back, so the way I saw it was, as soon as I got accepted to Digital Connectors, that was the community investing in me,” says student Jaspal Singh. “And I feel like it’s my turn to invest back in the community with the things I’ve learned at digital connectors, so I feel like it’s our responsibility—as the youth, as the next generation—to inspire and to help the community prosper.”
Program events like Oak City Techathon has students plan out their volunteer work and teach basic tech skills to seniors.
Training of future community leaders is guided by the Raleigh Connected Advisory Board , which also oversees the city’s free outdoor Wi-Fi.
“This program sets a precedent for how after-school programs around STEM should be moving forward in this country,” Cofield-Poole says.
Dave Nyczepir is News Editor for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.