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Boys and Girls Club program closes the gap on diversity within tech industry

April Franklin
Tamiyah Simon explains the science behind creating slime to New York Assemblymember Demond Meeks at the Boys and Girls Club showcase event on Monday, Aug. 30.

During a showcase at the Boys and Girls Club Digital Experience on Monday, 17-year old Tamiyah Simon explained the "slime" to Rochester Assemblymember Demond Meeks.

"I thought it was just something you can make up at home, but there is actually a science behind it," Simon said.

Just across the gym, 16-year-old Joshua Banda operated a robot that he programmed himself. 

He said he is interested in pursuing coding in the future.

"Almost every technology that you use uses programming," Banda said. "Even refrigerators now use coding, so by having coding in your arsenal, I feel you will have a good and stable career."

Nurturing good careers in tech is part of the goal of the AT&T and BGC digital experience. The program is designed to close the diversity gap in technology for students in underserved communities. It's also a partnership between AT&T and the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester.

For two months, 40 local students participated in the free program, gained digital literacy skills, and explored various careers in technology. Chemistry and programming are just two of many skills that Banda, Simon and dozens of other students learned over the summer.

Dwayne Mahoney, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester, said the program has helped expand the club's interest in exposing children to careers in technology. They're hoping it will address the lack of employment opportunities for people of color in those fields.

"Our kids are not tracked into those areas at an early age," Mahoney said. "So we started STEM in third grade in hopes that when our kids go through our school systems, we also have a desire to be in science, math, and STEM. So that they can fulfill some of those jobs."

Mahoney said AT&T invested nearly $40,000 to upgrade the club's science and tech equipment and pay for field trips. He said the trips allowed the students to learn about local tech companies.

"A lot of kids don't get out of the neighborhoods for a lot of different things," Mahoney said. "Especially to go and visit some of the innovative things that are going on around Rochester."

Kevin Hanna, director of external affairs for AT&T, said it is critically important to have diversity in tech and hopes the program will create a pipeline for telecommunications jobs at AT&T. 

"By 2025, it's estimated that there will be 3.5 million unfilled positions, and the opportunities are great for young people," Hanna said.

Meeks and presumptive Mayor-elect Malik Evans stopped by to see the showcase.  Evans said he sees Rochester as a tech city, and private and public partnerships will be necessary to his upcoming administration.

"AT&T is one of the many partners that can come to Rochester to take tech to the next level," Evans said.