On Monday afternoons, African American high school students can be seen walking to 1750 Broadway Avenue in downtown Oakland headed to a summer program. But instead of being taught remedial lessons on what was missed during the school year, the students spend their time learning technology skills and software development through a mentoring program called the Hidden Genius Project.
This June, the Hidden Genius Project launched its first summer program for young black men in Oakland who range in age from 15 to 19 years old. The program is aimed at giving the students the technical skills to be successful in today’s global economy. Students learn the skills necessary to pursue a career in software engineering, user experience design and technology entrepreneurship. The program is a start-up where classes are taught by local program developers.
“We wanted the program to help develop the students’ critical thinking, creativity, and long term planning skills while teaching them about communication,” said Jason Young, one of the founders of the Hidden Genius Project. “It seems like black men are largely being left out of the technology industry and I saw this program as an opportunity to help change that. Having a willingness to work and persistence are the two driving factors for success in this industry.” Young is also the founder of Mindblown Labs, a technology startup based in Oakland that makes mobile games for teens that teach financial literacy and other skills.
After a lengthy interview process, five applicants were chosen for this summer’s program and each given laptops to work on building their own mobile applications. Applicants were selected based on their desire to learn technical skills and their backgrounds in science. The program meets Monday through Thursday, four hours a day, in an office space that has been converted into a computer classroom. Here students receive one-on-one mentoring from technology professionals and leave the classes with coding homework for programming languages such as Python, HTML and PHP.
“It’s definitely something I’m proud to be a part of,” said program developer Kurt Collins. “The technology community is small but open. Demonstrating that you have these type of skills will only make many tech jobs more accessible.”
Together with the help of Collins and program developers Kilimanjaro Robbs and Ty Moore, Young says they came up with the curriculum for the project after a few months and decided to make a 1-2 year commitment to the selected applicants beginning with the eight week summer program. While no year round program exists yet, students will continue to get mentored on a weekly basis during the school year.
The Hidden Genius Project is more than just a summer computer camp, Young says. “This program is something we would like to continue through the school year with our current students, and eventually expand on the program,” said Young.