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Prince George’s County, Md., Interns Use Tech to Solve Community Challenges

The county is looking to direct the deficiencies in the number of minorities reflected in IT careers.

by / October 20, 2016
Vennard Wright, CIO, Prince George’s County, Md. David Kidd

When officials in Prince George’s County, Md., set out to raise the reputation for talent and opportunities in the region, it developed a number of cross-governmental programs to solve issues in neighborhoods that have significant needs.

Two such programs are its Transforming Neighborhood Initiative (TNI), which focuses on uplifting six county neighborhoods that face significant economic, health, public safety and educational challenges; and its Summer Youth Enrichment Program (SYEP), which connects youth to summer jobs and training programs offered throughout the county.

As a part of the SYEP, a handful of applicants are identified for the Office of Information Technology’s STEAM Dream Team program. These individuals demonstrate an interest in IT, maintain a 3.0 GPA, uphold a leadership role, partake in extracurricular activities and complete community service hours.

“Prince George’s County is looking to direct the deficiencies in the number of minorities reflected in IT careers,” said CIO Vennard Wright. “Large companies like Google and Microsoft released numbers that minorities, excluding Asians, make up less than 5 percent of their workforce. We’re a county that has 85 percent African-Americans and Hispanics. There’s an opportunity to highlight our workforce for those types of jobs.”

Students, who are paid during the program, are assigned to teams and work together to develop real-world solutions to community issues in the TNI areas. Last summer, the teams utilized different types of technologies in their solutions: a 3-D printer, a Raspberry Pi and a mobile app. The teams present their projects to a panel of judges, who serve as mock investors, to evaluate proposed development projects. Once the winning project is identified, the county works to implement that project.

During the 2016 summer program, which cost the county $5,000, there were 36 students in competition, who ranged in age from 15 to 19 years old. The teams were assigned one of the six areas identified in the TNI: East Riverdale or Bladensburg; Glassmanor or Oxon Hill; Hillcrest Heights or Marlow Heights; Kentland or Palmer Park; Lagley Park; Suitland or Coral Hills. Teams identified a key issue in their assigned areas, and then developed a practical solution.

The objective of the program, which just completed its fourth year, is to improve key indicators in the targeted areas. These indicators include violent crime, property crime, 3rd- and 5th-grade reading and math scores, school absentee rates, foreclosure rates, concentrations of Section 8 housing, income levels, pedestrian deaths/injuries, and residents on public assistance.

Last summer’s winning team called themselves “Park Progressives” and developed a plan for a “Libro Lounge,” a mobile library set up on a bus in the Langley Park area. The team’s project included a mobile app that helped citizens find the bus' location, come on board, read a book, use a computer and check out books.

Another team in the competition presented a plan for a mobile health van in the Bladensburg area. Benjamin Sinclair, a student on the Bladensburg team and a senior at Bowie State University, was hired for an internship with the county’s IT office following the summer program.

“This has expanded my leadership and technical skills,” Sinclair said. “It’s exposed me to presenting in a room where confidence is key. I was never exposed to a 3-D printer or mobile applications or Raspberry Pi or the up-and-coming Splunk software. This will have an everlasting effect on my life and my future in the IT career industry.”

During the program, the interns attend presentations that contribute to their professional and career skills while they work toward their TNI community solutions.

“It’s a five-week program, but we cram so much information into that time,” said Sandra Hasty, the program’s project manager. “They are prepared to be better professionals.”

Over the course of the program, the interns are walked through the process of conducting background researching, formulating a hypothesis, developing a procedure, considering different variables, collecting data, presenting results and writing a conclusion. Students receive all the resources and technologies needed for their projects.

“We want to showcase our talent as much as possible and make sure our students are qualified to step into IT jobs,” Wright said. “This is a place to come, a place to live, a place to invest and a place to bring your business.”

Jessica Renee Napier Contributing Writer

Jessica Renee Napier is a California-based writer who began her journalism career in public broadcasting. She teaches yoga, enjoys traveling and likes to stay up on all things tech.

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