If you’re not familiar with the statistics, there are literally hundreds of thousands of unfilled jobs in the U.S. in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers. Tech giants like Facebook are lobbying Congress as we speak to make changes to immigration laws that will allow foreign workers to obtain visas. Much has been made of the need for people of color to engage in technology from a creator standpoint, as opposed to solely consuming new tech, and a whole host of programs have cropped up to try to bridge this new digital divide. While you can learn to code on the web for free—and coding seems to be a central part of STEM skill development these days—what about everything else?

That’s where the National Urban Technology Center comes in. Part of the mission of the non-profit educational corporation is to “transform lives through the power of technology by giving youth the capacity for positive behavior and academic success.” Urban Tech is achieving this mission by teaching students essential life skills along with training parents and educators to support the learning process as well. The cornerstone of the Urban Tech platform is their Youth Leadership Academy. YLA is an education curriculum delivered on an e-learning platform to schools throughout New York City. Computer literacy and training is presented alongside social development topics like student leadership, bullying and violence prevention, and even financial literacy. Other YLA learning modules focus on substance abuse prevention, health and wellness, and educational planning. Technology training ranges from a basic introduction of computers/Internet to gaming and web page development.

I love the idea of taking a well-rounded, holistic approach to STEM education. The image of the ‘geek’ with no social skills doesn’t apply when you consider the already challenging barriers to entry for people of color (and women) in technology careers. Our young people need to be prepared for a lot more than only being technically proficient. The ability to interview effectively and make an immediate contribution to a team environment is just as critical to their success, and the National Urban Technology Center is making sure that students are prepared on both fronts.

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