hi, Tech: We're Changing Tech Education for the Better
For brothers (and Northwestern Mutual employees) Danny and Omar Andrade, STEM outreach is a family affair. Danny is a digital project manager who works in a consultant-like capacity with one of our partner schools, Forest Home Avenue Elementary, where he supports efforts like SHARP Literacy’s Create Art with Code and hosts an annual, large-scale Hour of Code event. Omar is an engineer on our Digital Innovation team who leads day camps (job shadow and bring-your-child-to-work day), teaches in the Tech Minicamp, and is now involved in Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS), a Microsoft initiative to help high schools develop and grow computer science programs.
What draws each of you to volunteering?
Omar: Growing up, we knew how valuable school was, but didn't see it applied in any first-degree circles in our environment. We didn't know anybody who was an engineer. What did that even look like? So, what we're doing for students today is creating a place to learn about STEM in a real-world, hands-on way, hopefully creating energy around technology. In the process, we're opening doors that these kids can walk through if they choose; if they're excited enough to go in that direction. Especially for a lot of students who have never seen this stuff before, have never had an example around them like this before, that's pretty powerful. I think it’s a really cool thing to be able to do for somebody.
Danny: One of the things that really motivates me is to see the look on students' faces when they realize it's possible for them to do something they maybe hadn't considered before. It's great to be part of the experience; seeing what they can do, how they gain confidence and how they get excited. And it's fun to show them that all they need to start with is an interest in something, a curiosity – and then teachers and others (like us) will be there to support them.
How do you believe programs like hi, Tech are changing the game for tech education?
Danny: I know these initiatives help some students advance at a faster pace. I worked for an entire year on coding and design thinking with a group of third graders at Forest Home Elementary, and when they got to the fourth grade, the SHARP Literacy coordinator said she was in awe of the kids and how far they'd come.
But whether they ever go into a STEM-related career or not, these students are learning skills they can apply no matter where life takes them: How to work as a team, approach a project and problem solve. For example, we always tell the students if they're struggling with a concept or a problem, don't start by coming directly to us; talk to classmates who've already figured it out. Interact. Learn from each other. They do. And when they finally connect the dots by working through it on their own or with their peers, their eyes light up. "I did it!"
Omar: I also think some students may be more motivated to pursue STEM careers because we’re painting a picture of a world where they can see themselves in it. As Hispanics, my brother and I are enabling other Hispanics to see this as a possible future for them. Everyone should feel like they can be anything they want to be. I came into engineering in a non-traditional way (mine was a 10-year journey through different career paths), but I was ultimately guided by the right people and found my passion. We're living proof that they can do it, no matter their circumstance. We're creating a path. And we're showing them they have the support of their community.
As you reflect on your experiences as a mentor, has anything surprised you?
Danny: I’m convinced we can start working with younger students (even as young as first grade). Initially, I wasn’t sure how much to expect from the third-grade students I worked with. I was pleasantly surprised with how much knowledge most of the students were able to retain on a weekly basis.
What advice would you give to your peers who may be considering becoming involved in hi, Tech?
Omar: Share your story, share yourself. Let the students get to know you. The more of yourself you bring to your activities and mentorships, the more real you make it for those you want to help – and for yourself. Break down the barriers and become more than a stranger; make lasting connections with people and moments.
Ready to become a game changer for tech education in Milwaukee? Sign up today for Milwaukee’s Hour of Code. NEWaukee and the MKE Tech Hub Coalition are inviting area companies and tech professionals to participate in a regional challenge of teaching an hour of code to local students during Computer Science Week (December 9-15), with the goal of teaching at least 5,000 hours across the Milwaukee region. Learn more and sign up here. Northwestern Mutual employees: Please register via the Northwestern Mutual Volunteer Portal (NMVP).