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Comcast NBCU and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America Tackle the Digital Divide with My.Future Initiative

November 25, 2014 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy
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By 2018, there could be 3 million unfilled science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) related jobs. While jobs overall are expected to grow just under 10% by 2018, STEM jobs are predicted to grow by 17%. More than half of this growth will be made up of computer careers, and more than a quarter will be engineers and technicians. Yet the reality is that STEM skills are highly sought-after in all fields of employment. The Boys and Girls Club of America, in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal, recently embarked on a new technology initiative designed to teach Club members about the digital world to inspire and focus their passion for technology which in turn may help fill some of those unfilled jobs and fuel the future of these young people and the economy as well.

Our education system is often blamed for the “skills gap” seen in STEM areas, however education shouldn’t be limited to what goes on in the classroom. The Boys and Girls Club of America has long filled a need for afterschool and summer programs designed to help young people reach their full potential. Dr. Damon A. Williams, Senior Vice President, Program, Training and Youth Development Services for Boys & Girls Clubs of America points out that his organization must not only recognize and support employment opportunities for young people, but must also align its approach and educational tools with the learning style of today’s youth. As Williams points out, “they are going to be creative, build out in their ideas and so much of that happens in the digital world. We need to provide support but also be a transformer of opportunities.”

Its latest initiative to support young people’s interest and prospects is My.Future, which recently launched to introduce more young people to STEM-related activities in order to help address the skills gap, expand digital literacy and help bridge the digital divide. Williams says that the initiative is starting off strong in large part because of of its partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal, the Presenting Sponsor of My.Future.

The objectives of My.Future are certainly in sync those of Comcast MyFutureProjectsNBCU, a company that supports building a generation of workers who will not only be enthusiastic about using technology, but also well-versed in how to put it to work. However according to Charisse R. Lillie, Vice President of Community Investment, Comcast Corporation and President of the Comcast Foundation, My.Future aligns with the company’s philosophical goals as well. “Yes, Comcast is a big employer of people with these skills and we want kids to understand what kind of careers are possible for them in the future. However My.Future matches beautifully with our goals to support digital literacy, leadership development and bridging the digital divide.” The company also addresses this latter objective through other programs such as Internet Essentials, which makes broadband internet access and inexpensive computers available to low income homes.

“My.Future gives us the opportunity to teach digital literacy and tackle the digital divide,” says Lille, “but also to teach to the next level.” My.Future allows the nearly 4 million youth served by more than 4,100 Boys & Girls Clubs to select from more than 40 activities that reinforce digital literacy, including exploring the web, communicating with others digitally and creating digital media. Additional experiences allow members to explore advanced topics, such as robotics, coding and game design.

As the cornerstone of this initiative, Comcast NBCUniversal renovated four Boys & Girls Clubs, located in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, with state-of-the-art technology that reflects today’s mobile environment, including computers, tablets, SMART Boards, digital cameras, music studio tools and video-editing technology. However the program is designed to impact Club members everywhere. Williams describes My.Future as a “boundaryless environment” that provides members the on- and offline tools and mentorship that will help them develop strong digital literacy competency through project-based learning experiences, which range from research skills to data visualization, coding and robotics.

Recognizing both the social nature of young people and the Badgesincreasingly distributed and collaborative digital work environment, My.Future includes online communities of interest and opportunities to develop communication skills through digital journalism and digital arts. The system includes digital badging that Williams believes will be achievements that Club members can leverage on college and scholarship applications. He also hopes that the will expand both their view of what is possible in their futures, but also their world view, given the BGCA’s national and global presence.

Along the way, both BGCA and Comcast NBCU hope to support good digital citizenship, internet safety and 21st century leadership skills. While Williams is quick to applaud Comcast NBCU for its investment (valued at tens of millions of dollars in cash and in-kind support), he is hopeful that other organizations will step up to help it achieve its larger objectives, which he estimates will require a 100 million dollar investment. Lillie says that she too hopes that “other corporate citizens will be as excited about what the future holds and take up the gauntlet.”

For her part, Lillie is enthusiastic about the future of the young people participating in My.Future. At the rollout of the program in San Francisco, she sat with a group of “remarkable young girls,” one of whom was developing an impressive art portfolio. “She didn’t plan to be an artist, though. She wants to be a vet. But these skills will help her get there. These kids have aspirations and we are proud to help support them.”

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