A few weeks ago, we wrapped up Northwestern Mutual’s 2020 hi, Tech Minicamp. This annual program serves as a talent accelerator by immersing a diverse cohort of Milwaukee-area students from partner high schools—with over 70% of participants identifying with an underrepresented demographic in tech—in a rigorous four-week tech boot camp where they learn and apply technical and professional skills. Post-Minicamp, graduates can apply for tech internships throughout the company.
This year's program will go down in history for two reasons. First, in light of COVID-19, we were able to run the program virtually, versus outright cancelling like many other organizations have had to do. Second, two of last year's Minicamp graduates, Naisha Bepar and Hayley Jamiola—both of whom were later hired on as Northwestern Mutual tech interns—returned to the camp as peer mentors to help this year's participants get the most out of their Minicamp experience.
Today, as we observe International Youth Day, we share the thoughts of these young technologists and emerging leaders on the importance of experiences like the Minicamp, and why they both jumped at the chance to help inspire others.
Naisha: My work experience over the last year at Northwestern Mutual has been amazing. The amount of connections I've made and the networking I've been able to do just blows my mind. I wanted to be able to help others have those same experiences and be part of their journey.
Hayley: Like Naisha, I wanted to help these students have a great experience like I was given, and hopefully help them come closer to the realization that they might want to go into a technology career.
Naisha: I started preparing curriculum a few months prior to the Minicamp, creating presentations about the technologies we were going to use and developing content. During the Minicamp, Hayley and I were co-leads who worked to make sure the students were engaged, often acting as a bridge between them and the more senior instructors. Finally, toward the end of the camp, we mentored small teams.
Hayley: Through the experience of getting to mentor a smaller development team, I began to understand my leadership style and how to help others through challenges. If the students weren't exactly sure what to do or how to do something, Naisha and I were there to be a guide when needed. However, I did step back when I thought it would be best to let them work through the obstacles on their own.
Naisha: We were in their position just a year ago, so we knew what was going through their minds. For the participants, it can be overwhelming. But because we made it through, it showed the students it was possible to come out on the other side successfully – not just from the Minicamp but continuing into internships. They also may have felt more comfortable coming to us with questions than asking other instructors – they trusted us.
Hayley: I believe it was an eye-opener for them to see just how passionate we are about technology. They asked us both about the kinds of classes they should take next year in order to strengthen their knowledge, as well as any plans we have for our own futures.
Hayley: The instructors wanted to make sure that, although the participants weren't together in person, they would be able to make connections with each other – which was one of my favorite parts of the Minicamp last year. We ended up using RingCentral for our virtual meetings, which offers the option to have breakout rooms. Naisha and I often assigned small groups to different breakout rooms to solve a coding challenge or, sometimes, just to bond. There were also some fun activities thrown in to keep them engaged. At one point, we gave each student a little Lego kit and asked them to create a duck in 60 seconds – we all got a laugh out of that! We also implemented the learning platform Kahoot! to quiz the students’ knowledge about the content we covered in an engaging, enjoyable way.
Naisha: I hope experiences like this show students there's more to computer science than they may have been exposed to in school.
Hayley: In school, technology is very black-and-white – you need to do it exactly as the teacher expects, or you don't get a good grade. In the Minicamp, we encouraged students to branch out and think of different solutions.
Naisha: Moreover, they see the importance of collaboration. Before I participated in last year's Minicamp, I had no idea how much collaboration was involved in a tech career. You're always working as a team and continuously bouncing ideas off each other. More importantly, there are always people around to help you if you get stuck. The teamwork aspect of computer science has increased my passion for technology immensely.
Hayley: I do think the students were inspired. At the end of Minicamp, they completed a survey and nearly all of them responded that they'd want to go into a technology career, with 100% saying they are confident in using their tech skills and are interested in working at Northwestern Mutual post-college as a result of the Minicamp experience. That was really rewarding to see.
Hayley: Students who can participate in efforts like the Minicamp should make the most out of their experience. We purposefully set aside time for activities like building professional relationships, Diversity & Inclusion training and developing an application. These activities are opportunities a traditional high school student may not normally partake in until college. The importance of the early exposure that work-based learning efforts—like the Minicamp—provide can set them up for success in the future.
Naisha: Technology touches almost every aspect of our lives, and the more knowledge you have in this field, the better prepared you will be for the real world. The mere exposure of coding and other technological disciplines through activities like the Minicamp will go such a long way in helping you understand how the world around you works and whether or not you would like to be a part of this ever-expanding industry.