Digital Youth Network's summer of opportunities

Rachel Marciano
September 23, 2015

For nearly 10 years, the Digital Youth Network has provided Chicago's under-resourced youth access to the ever-evolving array of tools and technology needed to be successful in today's educational and professional world. Founded by DePaul's Nichole Pinkard, associate professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media, the organization has gained traction over the last few years through successful outcomes, growing programs and funding from the MacArthur Foundation. Read on to learn just some of the ways the organization is making a difference.

Digital Divas

Since 2009, Digital Divas summer camp has offered middle school girls the opportunity to learn how to code. Participants spent two weeks on DePaul's Loop campus creating fashion designs with LED lights and making digital avatars do the popular line dance, the "Cha Cha Slide." Pinkard even incorporated a narrative into this year's Digital Divas coding challenges with five main characters working to overcome obstacles, intended to help the campers in their own lives.

"Digital Divas creates a space for girls in which technology and traditional girl-friendly activities, such as fashion, merge," Pinkard says. "Because the tech field is predominately male, we want girls to know their interest in tech can be explored and celebrated, and this passion doesn't mean sacrificing doing activities traditionally viewed as girl themed."

In addition to learning code, Digital Diva campers took part in regular field trips that incorporated other STEM-based activities, giving the campers exposure to a variety of pursuits, including a Science is Fun boat cruise, studio visits to learn the foundations of fashion design and paint theory, and even indoor skydiving.

Plug-in stations

DePaul was not the only location of Digital Youth Network's summer offerings. In collaboration with the Chicago Mayor's Office, the organization set up digital hubs in neighborhoods considered "internet deserts" through its Chicago City of Learning initiative. Students could drop in to designated areas Monday through Thursday to participate in classes focused on building skills with the latest technology.

In addition to stationary digital hubs, Digital Youth Network teamed with Best Buy to bring technology to the streets through Destination Chicago. Equipped with a Best Buy truck full of laptops and Wi-Fi capabilities, the Destination Chicago pop-up shop traveled around the city to provide youth more opportunities to beat what experts call "summer learning loss" through learning-based computer and video games.

"We were excited to bring making and coding activities to youth through the Destination Chicago mobile van initiative," says Amy Eshleman, partnerships lead at Digital Youth Network. "It was a terrific opportunity for young people, with the support of trained mentors, to access these activities and technology, while having fun and continuing to learn throughout the summer in neighborhoods that have few of these kinds of experiences."

100,000 Opportunities Initiative

In August, Digital Youth Network took part in the launch of the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, a nation-wide plan to help 100,000 young adults become employed by 2018. Through internships, interview coaching, college prep, skill building and other workshops, the coalition opened a pathway to successful employment for thousands of Chicago's youth. More than a dozen organizations, including companies such as Starbucks, Southwest Airlines and Microsoft, are participating in the initiative.

During the start of the program, Chicago played host to the initiative's first Opportunity Fair and Forum, where 600 youth received job offers on-the-spot and more than 4,000 others received training. Grammy and Academy Award winning performer and Chicago native, Common, anchored the fair and led youth in an open discussion about economic opportunity in America.

For more information about programs and initiatives, visit the Digital Youth Network website.