You would have been both amazed and encouraged if you had accompanied me across the Potomac River to northern Virginia recently. I had the pleasure of spending a stimulating afternoon at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, the real-life high school made famous by the inspirational hit movie, “Remember the Titans”. But the buzz surrounding this day was not about the football team; it was all about technology and innovation, and how tech executives, entrepreneurs, developers and policy makers came together to engage and inspire students to pursue careers and entrepreneurial opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“Innovation Afternoons” is part of a program in which an earnest and committed group of business leaders, entrepreneurs and educators are nurturing a pipeline of diverse future STEM leaders. Under the banner of the Equal Footing Foundation, community leaders also fund, launch and sustain “computer clubhouses” in partnership with local governments, businesses and nonprofits.
The result is an innovative, after school learning center where students 8-18 can work with adult mentors to learn, develop and explore their interests as future STEM leaders. Many of these students do not independently have access to technology, so the computer clubhouse is their gateway to the web and all that it holds for young technologists. Today, this program supports 1,500 students every week, and hosts 30,000 individual visitors every year. It has been recognized and awarded for outstanding academics, citizenship and peer-to-peer mentoring.
As we sat in the activity room with dozens of students who trace their roots from all over the world, I was challenged by their questions, impressed by their intellect and depth of knowledge of science and technology. I came away convinced more than ever that, as our world moves decisively toward a comprehensive IP framework, we can ill-afford to leave anyone behind. Programs such as those sponsored by the Equal Footing Foundation provide notable engagement and interconnections for industry, educators and students and foreshadow a bright future for aspiring STEM leaders in communities around the nation. It is a good example of what an inspired and dedicated group of business, community, and educational leaders can accomplish on their own and that there are hundreds of talented and curious young people who are willing and able, right across the river.