Engaging high school students to spur urban civic start-ups and community involvement
Two Philadelphia high school students temporarily put their summer plans on hold for a unique afternoon activity: The students, from Temple University’s Urban Apps & Maps Studios, delivered a technology prototype presentation to a leading executive from Samsung.
Sharing conference-room space with Young-jun Kim, Senior Vice President of Design of Samsung Electronics and President of Samsung’s Art and Design Institute, the students unveiled Samsung Self, a platform they developed to incentivize youth to have an active lifestyle and reduce the health risks associated with obesity. A user’s every movement is tracked, including staircase climbing, walking, watching movies in front of a TV, and listening to music. Self connects various aspects of a busy youth’s life that can affect their health through digital rewards that could be applied to music downloads, for example.
“We see our area’s high school students as cultural researchers who are experts in tomorrow’s high-tech culture,” said Dr. Youngjin Yoo, Harry A. Cochran Professor of Management Information Systems at the Fox School of Business, and founder of Temple’s Apps & Maps Studios.
The Samsung presentation serves as just one example of the impact forged by Urban Apps & Maps Studios, a Temple university-wide, interdisciplinary program. Each year, Apps & Maps connects Philadelphia high school students with Temple faculty and graduate student mentors to encourage, develop, and found start-ups to transform urban challenges into products and services. To date, thousands of students, hundreds of mentors and dozens of faculty have contributed to the Apps & Maps Building Information Technology Skills (BITS) six-week summer program, according to Dr. Michele Masucci, BITS Director and Temple University Vice President for Research Administration.
“Before Apps & Maps was founded, I had come to the conclusion that we’d need to create an urban entrepreneurship movement, so young men and women can use the technology around them to create solutions, make a difference, and aspire to become lifestyle entrepreneurs,” Yoo said. “Apps & Maps supports that movement.”
Apps & Maps received initial funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, in the form of a $500,000, five-year grant in 2011. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation also funds the Apps & Maps Studios program to bridge students and faculty members across Temple University. Over the last three years alone, Apps & Maps has trained more than 450 local high school students and over 150 Temple students who worked with faculty members from Temple’s College of Engineering, Katz School of Medicine, and the Fox School, in conjunction with the departments of English, Computer and Information Science, Biology, and Geography and Urban Studies.
In this year’s BITS program, the high school students’ projects included: analyzing the impacts of and suggesting improvements for a proposed, elevated rail park in Philadelphia’s post-industrial neighborhoods; mobile apps, to connect food-truck vendors with consumers for more-efficient transactions, and to address urban littering; and mapping the customer experience of Pennsylvania Ballet attendees.
Over the summer, Cameron Javon Scott and his 11 teammates visited Comcast and met with Android Studio developers. Armed with knowledge and confidence, the team, under the supervision of Dr. Karl Morris, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Temple’s College of Science and Technology, developed the prototype for a mobile application called Foodocracy, which would bridge the gap between food-truck owners and consumers.
“Before I did this, I had no coding experience,” said Scott, a 15-year-old sophomore from Harriton High School in Bryn Mawr, Pa. “I joined this program and I knew what I might want to do for a career, but didn’t know how to get there. This program gave me knowledge and direction. I’m here because they saw my potential.”
Jamik Ligon lined up five summer programs in which to participate, including a video-game design program at his school, Philadelphia’s Simon Gratz High School, and a biomedical engineering program in Drexel University’s nanoscience department.
“I was willing to drop all of that for Apps & Maps,” said Ligon, an 18-year-old senior. “That’s what this (program) means to me.”