Saturday, May 18, 2013

URBAN TxT’s Secret Sauce Turns Teens Into Tech Entrepreneurs

“I guess we’re used to a teacher coming in and telling us what to do. When it was just us, nobody really knew what to do.” This answer resonated with everyone of the 31 teens accepted into URBAN Teens eXploring Technology (URBAN TxT) summer program, also known as the Summer Hackaneer Academy. The new participant was explaining why some teens stepped up to the plate and others did not during a teambuilding activity that happened earlier in the day.

URBAN TxT students during first program activity.
Creating an environment that allows young adults to explore their talents, insecurities, attitude towards leadership, reflect on daily achievements and failures, and openly discuss these amongst the entire team takes a lot of work. Interestingly enough, South Los Angeles’ URBAN TxT has that environment. More importantly, the organization is using computer programming to develop the best and brightest minds in the inner city into technology entrepreneurs.

Founder, Oscar Menjivar, and Bagel, URBAN TxT mascot.
This unique environment comes out of a curriculum based on peer-to-peer and projectbased learning. Oscar Menjivar, co-founder of URBAN TxT, has been perfecting the curriculum for more than a decade. The program’s secret sauce needs many ingredients. The ability to teach technology concept without technology is key. For the first few weeks it’s all about team and leadership building. On the first day of the 2013 Hackaneer Academy the teens were given a problem. It was up to them to find the solution. The only rule was no verbal communication. Along the way students learned about communication, trial and error, troubleshooting, the frustration that small errors bring about and the satisfaction a coder gets after finishing a perfectly crafted project.

As students and staff get to know each other, basics of computer programming are incorporated into the activities that make URBAN TxT the only South LA technology organization that does leadership development. URBAN TxT’s secret sauce also needs personal investment from every member of the leadership team. None of the directors, coaches or volunteers are in it for a paycheck. They put in their time, creativity and commitment because they believe in the organization and, more importantly, the teens that are in it. This “students first” mentality helps the leadership team overcome obstacles, grow their own leadership and technological skills and push the boundaries of creativity.

Now, don’t think you know all there is to URBAN TxT, though. After all, the secret sauce remains secret for a reason. If you get to know the organization enough you might learn a little about the other ingredients, like a talking duck, furry hat, foam ninja or the pup named Bagel.

Blog written by Juan Vasquez, Communications Coach for URBAN Teens eXploring Technology. URBAN TxT is a nonprofit organization that encourages inner city teen males to become catalysts of change in urban communities. The organization develops teens from South LA and Watts into a new generation of leaders through technology. To learn more about URBAN TxT visit Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanSVas and URBAN TxT at @URBANTxT.