At NS2, we’re celebrating the one-year anniversary of NS2 Gives, our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program. NS2 Gives represents a new chapter in our societal impact story and builds on the success of our nonprofit NS2 Serves, which has existed to serve the veteran community since in 2013.
Now, we’re widening the aperture when it comes to our societal impact. In addition to training and employing veterans through NS2 Serves, we’re also focused on building the digital skills of young people in marginalized communities.
Last month, we successfully carried out our first major STEM outreach program, NS2 Inspires. This two-week virtual summer camp was made possible by our partnership with Summer Search, a non-profit helping students navigate barriers to success so they can achieve economic equity and a life of purpose. Summer Search helped us find a group of hardworking, ambitious students, and NS2 provided support through employee engagement, expertise, and resources.
Creating Opportunity for All
According to research funded by the National Institutes of Health, the pandemic and the related shutdown of many systems, including community-based educational resources and support services, is further exacerbating the experience of marginalization for many communities.
The NS2 Inspires program was designed with equity and inclusion at the forefront. We knew that we had to find a way to reach students living in poverty concentrated circumstances. Some might not have access to computers or smartphones. Others might not have access to reliable internet. Some might have greater financial responsibilities than the average high schooler. If we were going to enable them to participate, accessibility and flexibility were key.
Working with mentoring experts at Summer Search, we adjusted our planning strategy to ensure this opportunity was appealing and within reach for their Summer Search students. Every NS2 Inspires student received the following:
1. A new laptop, which they could keep even after completing the course.
2. A mi-fi device with reliable, pre-paid access to an internet connection.
3. A financial stipend, since many students would need to take time off work to participate.
4. Accessories including a laptop bag, mouse, and a t-shirt.
The approach we took seems to have worked. Our goal was to engage eight high school aged students, and we ended up being able to welcome 11 students in the pilot program. These rising juniors and seniors put in a combined total of 190 learning hours. In addition to live instruction, the students studied independently and consulted with our volunteer coaches and their Summer Search mentors. On the last day of camp, the students each delivered a presentation about their experience, and their positive feedback will motivate me to continue this work for years to come.
Here are a few quotes from NS2 Inspires and Summer Search students:
· “I enjoyed playing with Autumn and learning about Unity and everything you can do with it. Binary and logic gates – these are things I never thought I’d learn about.”
· “I feel inspired to sit down and look at all my options carefully. There are plenty of careers in technology, and I want to choose what is best for me.”
· I was excited to learn about coding because I thought it was cool, but I didn’t know much about it. I was surprised to be so interested in Microprocessors!”
· “I like the fact that I can use this information in real life to help me with my future.”
Our Future Workforce
Summer Search builds long-term relationships with the young people in their network, lasting seven years or more in many cases. A key part of their experiential learning program is focused on building bridges with companies like NS2 so their students can connect directly with working professionals and be introduced to career paths and industries they might not have otherwise considered.
In just two weeks, I saw progress. The cautious and reserved group of students on day one looked completely different than the group of confident, curious learners who delivered presentations on the last day of our virtual camp.
By sharing our time and knowledge, we believe that we helped to open new doors and spark a flame within these students. And we want to be there to help nurture their interest down the road—through shadow programs, in-person summer camps, and potentially employment at NS2 when the time is right.
I want to thank all the NS2 volunteers who made this pilot program a success. Special thanks to our NS2 Gives Program Lead Merisa DiRocco and Summer Search’s Philadelphia Executive Director Sylvia McKinney for being the driving forces behind the program.
We’re looking to scale the program in a variety of ways and are working with Summer Search to plan for an in-person experience in the summer of 2022. Stay tuned for more details.
For an up-close and personal recap of the pilot program, watch this video.