Inner City Youth Put A “Spark” In Our future

“Poverty, hunger, crime, housing…” just one of many responses from a student to the question posed to the class: What are the biggest challenges that face your community today? It was clear even after the first class what these youth knew better than anyone else: Their city, it’s challenges, and what needed to be done to turn the situation around for better. There is an ever growing need to increase digital literacy among youth from inner city communities, provide access to further their education, and provide employment and/or entrepreneurial opportunities.

Tamar Huggins Grant, the Founder and creator of Tech Spark recognized this need early on and decided to make a difference by providing an opportunity for youth to obtain the highest levels of programming and education quality. I had the distinct pleasure of working together with Tamar to create Tech Spark’s very first UX Design program, one of many initiatives focused on increasing digital literacy among youth from inner city communities.

In our class, students get to think critically about the issues surrounding them in their inner communities, and then come up with creative ways to solve those challenges by creating a product or service using platforms, technologies, and paradigms such as mobile phones, tablets, virtual reality, Quantified Self, Internet of Things, digital watches, and websites to name a few. They do this by learning the principles of UX (User Experience) daily, which focuses on having a deep understanding of users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and also their limitations. UX best practices promote improving the quality of the user’s interaction with and perceptions of our product and any related services. After every lesson, the students apply what they have learned to their project, making it progressively better by the end of the cohort.

When the tech industry looks to solve its diversity challenge, no one seems better equipped to tackle the challenges in their community, they are designing solutions for the people the grew up with in their cities, and ultimately themselves. These are very bright students, they have great ideas and a lot of drive and ambition. The barrier that has always kept them from taking these ideas to the next level is access to technology and a high quality of education. Now that they have it, some amazing things are happening, and its fantastic to see it come to fruition. Students are incredibly excited every class because everything they learn provides a new tool in their arsenal that brings them one step closer to solving a growing issue in their community.

When thinking of ways to improve the quality of neighbourhoods and creating sustainable community development were once dreams, they are now bringing them to reality through User Experience Design increasingly becoming an integral part of the equation.

Working with this class has been a wonderful and rewarding experience. The most valuable lessons that I can leave with them beyond UX is to become life long learners, and to know they are special and highly valued individuals. I feel they truly hold the key to our the bright future ahead of us. Now that they have the tools, there is nothing standing in their way to achieving there dreams.

Michael Dedrick

Tech Spark UX Design Educator