Amazingly enough, it has been just over a year since my last post. I’ve been busier than ever, but in a much better place. One of the projects that I have been working on has been the 21st Century Youth Project, an innovative after school initiative to do a small part to change education. The idea first came to me when I read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. To give a quick synopsis, one of my major takeaways from the book is that to become very successful, it’s a combination of several elements: perfect place, perfect timing, with the proper training. For many, this seems obvious, but for me, I wanted to think about what institutions could be created to capitalize on the next wave of innovation. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell highlights the massive forces that combined to produce Bill Gates and Bill Joy. They had access to computers and equipment that enabled them to code far before most of the people their age.
Seeing how education in America is in shambles from many levels, I wanted to do my part to create an institution on the next paradigm in business and technology: mobile applications. I do believe that we’ve just started to scratch the surface of what is possible, and ten years from now, the most amazing innovations will come from those that are currently 8-12 years old. It made me question why this isn’t being taught at the high school level. But it has led to many discoveries in my quest to implement a program. We are doing two separate pilot programs, one with the Naperville School District and the second one with the Crete Monee School District, two completely different demographics and community dynamics.
Many have asked me what does the 21st Century Youth Project entail:
- Mobile App Development: We are using the Google Android platform where the students will each create their own unique app. The fun part about this is that they can create apps for their friends, family, schools, places of worship, or for the general community. We want to develop leaders, and I’m excited about the power of a student creating an app for their school, and receive recognition for the contribution in the same way as a school athlete.
- SAT Training: We want to develop students for the next level, being college. Enabling them to slowly receive instruction, we hope to improve their scores so they can attend the school of their dreams. I’m particularly excited about the opportunity to give ACT/SAT math training to communities where paying $1,000 for a class isn’t an option. In many ways, your scores on standardized tests are directly linked to income levels and training, and we’re aiming to bridge that gap.
- Business Planning: In addition to building an app, we want the students to understand the business implications and executions of their concepts. They will be formed into teams to discuss their business opportunities and create value for their customers.
- Mentorship: I’m excited to give back because I was very fortunate to be a byproduct of many free educational programs that exposed me to business. Growing up, I thought I was going to be a doctor, but my mother always enlisted me in several programs to learn. It has led to my intellectual curiosity and more importantly, I realized business was my calling. I had attended the LEAD Program in Business and in many ways, the 21st Century Youth Project is based on their implementation. The students will be taking tours to college campuses, primarily those with strong computer or engineering departments, attending technology events in Chicago, and attend lectures taught by Chicago software developers.
- Open-Source Educational Curriculum: We are slowly enabling, on an invite-only basis, an opportunity to create a dynamic curriculum to be used in the classroom. This curriculum can be edited like Wikipedia and by keeping it open and dynamic, we hope to develop the best curriculum that isn’t based on state mandated codes, but instead, on what is best for the children. We will have topics in business, technology, finance, film, music, fashion, etc. We only care about providing instruction that the students respond to and learn the most.
After nine months of meetings, conference calls, presentations, and pitches to parents, students, faculty, and administrators, we are finally launching the 21st Century Youth Project. Our first day was February 12, 2011, one of the most personally and professionally satisfying experiences. My business partner, Antonio Rowry has been instrumental in executing on this vision, and I’m beyond thankful for his contribution. Recently we added Nicole Yeary, who I believe will take this opportunity to the next level. We’re documenting the progress of the pilot in hopes that we can gear up for a highly successful Summer program. I’ll keep you updated on the progress.