I recently had the chance to visit the Digital Harbor Foundation Tech Center– a makerspace for youth in Baltimore’s inner city to see their WebSlam, a civic hackathon where high-school aged youth were given 24 hours to create the best websites they could for real world clients. Each team was assigned an adult tech coach. The culmination of the event was youth presentations showing their work to a panel judges that included entrepreneurs, community organizers, educators, and a state senator.
You can check out this recap of what the various teams produced. One of the most interesting presentations was from a youth team named Frozen Lava where two high school juniors made an e-commerce website for a 3D printing business they are starting up.
I loved hearing the youth make their presentations about the websites they designed. Their pride at their creative work was clearly evident. The most entrepreneurial of the youth even used the opportunity to pitch the assembled audience to hire them for other creative work.
These high school aged youth had put in plenty of hard work leading up to the hackathon, attending free after school and summer training at the Digital Harbor Foundation. They’re exposed to multiple software programs on all operating systems (Macintosh, Linux and Windows) on a variety of devices (laptops, tablets, servers, desktops, Arduinos, and Rasberry Pi’s alike). Along with design skills, they learn to operate and build 3D printers and are otherwise immersed in geek culture/activities.
The Digital Harbor Foundation is off to a very strong start. If these students continue honing their skills and take their enthusiasm for making back to their own schools, families and neighborhoods, then we’re heading in the right direction. Then the only question becomes, “How can we do a lot more of this in Baltimore and in other places around the country?”
[Phil Shapiro is a maker and media maker in the Washingon DC-area. He loves open source, digital storytelling and fixing up donated computers to deliver to people who need them. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @philshapiro.]