Before Concordia’s halls will fill with students ready for another school year, the university was recently host to a different kind of academia. Teens from six different school districts, including Leander ISD, collaborated together for from July 9 - 27 to apply their gaming skills toward social awareness and well being in a summer pilot program called ActivaTeen, which seeks to combine integrated technology and leadership.
For their final week in the pilot, the teens used prototypes of Minecraft to simulate dangerous catastrophes and demonstrate disaster preparedness.
“We want to start exposing students, especially teenagers to see what’s coming around the corner,” explained Shaku Selvakumar, founder of ActivaTeen. “For example, in 2020, there’s going to be more jobs like ‘virtual experience designer’ or ‘genetic diversity scientist,’ and these jobs are not being advertised right now because companies themselves don’t know that they need them… we’re trying to have students work on preparing for this emergence of jobs in 2020 right now, when they are most open to these technologies.”
Concordia University allowed students to utilize its many resources during this STEM program including morning hikes and mindfulness exercises at the edge of the Balcones Canyonlands. They also were able to use the university’s own entrepreneurial space IncubatorCTX, providing access to state-of-the-art technology including gaming laptops and Oculus Rifts.
Participating students also learned directly from Concordia’s global public health program professor, Dr. Glendene Lemard-Marlow, who spoke to the teens about social and economic factors during disasters that would further expand the theme of disaster preparedness.
Cedar Park Middle School student Devin Schupbach, 14, said the pilot has taught her how to use various technologies and hone her creativity.
“I really like the different technologies we get to use,” Schupbach said. “They are easy to learn and fun to use. Especially the VR, if you really like it, you will get pretty immersed in it. When I’m doing art on VR, it’s very personal and I just get lost in it. I also really appreciate the staff we got to work with because of how helpful they were. It’s a great program to be a part of.”
Schupbach’s said her goal when she gets older is to find a position in digital design at Google or a similar company.
“I really love seeing the way teenagers are starting to relate to each other in our pilot,” Selvakumar said. “There was this moment of ‘this person is a human being. I don’t need to be cool or hold back.’ With every step, they broke the ice and I loved that. I love these students and I will miss them when they move on from the pilot.”
ActivaTeen is a collaboration between the business and academia that addresses the growing skills gap in artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality, augmented reality as well as building emotional and relationship skills. For this summer pilot, industry experts from IBM, CognitiveScale, Data.World and NeuroGenius joined local educators from Austin ISD and Pflugerville ISD to provide instruction.
Youth mentors from Southwestern University, University of California San Diego and The University of Texas have also helped the teens.
”The natural setting at Concordia University combined with the ease of access to IncubatorCTX and staff was exactly what we needed for our pilot program,” said Selvakumar. "The convergence of technologies and the external socio, economic and political terrain is disrupting business models. We recognize that today’s teenagers are hyper-connected in today’s digital world, yet they are increasingly isolated. Our summer pilot focuses on emerging technologies and integrates critical social and emotional development through mindfulness practices, environmental awareness and relationship development."
ActivaTeen is a new educational venture that is affiliated with BraveCenter LLC. It is a blended program for teenagers that combines technology with emotional wellbeing.
Through gaming, teens learned how to use practical artificial intelligence applications and data, understand digital and design tools and utilize social media effectively as well as building on soft skills including mindfulness, anxiety-prevention and methods for better relational and socio-emotional wellness. For more information, visit http://activateen.com and follow ActivaTeen on social media @activateen for regular updates.