COVID SLAM is inviting Baltimore youth to hack a solution, and get paid doing it - Baltimore


Dec. 3, 2020 1:18 pm

COVID SLAM is inviting Baltimore youth to hack a solution, and get paid doing it

The two-month challenge is convening youth for design thinking to solve pandemic-related problems. SmartLogic, Digital Harbor Foundation and Dent Education are serving as mentors and organizers.
Young people at Digital Harbor Foundation.

Young people at Digital Harbor Foundation.

(Courtesy photo)

A trio of Baltimore tech and innovation orgs are offering youth in the city a chance to build solutions that address the challenges presented by the pandemic, and earn money while doing so.

Starting Thursday, a dozen young people will be partaking in COVID SLAM, described as an entrepreneurial design thinking challenge. Canton web and mobile app development agency SmartLogic, which is contributing $24,000 in funding and staff mentoring time, joined with Federal Hill tech education nonprofit Digital Harbor Foundation and youth entrepreneurship org Dent Education to launch the initiative.

“We are paying youth to learn a skill through a project-based experience,” said Nyah Vanterpool, special project manager at Digital Harbor Foundation, which is applying experience from other online SLAM events it has run. “This is a two-month employment opportunity where youth will learn about the design thinking process while actually solving a problem.”

When it kicks off Thursday, the participants will be presented with a question: What is one of the most important and urgent challenges that Baltimore youth face when it comes to remote learning, and what can solve that problem?

Then, they’ll be guided in design thinking steps, such as defining a problem and solving it with empathy, as well as prototyping and testing. The solutions could range from digital experiences to physical products.

Throughout, they’ll be mentored by leaders such as DHF Youth Program Manager Madonna Gamble, as well as team members from Dent Education and SmartLogic. They’ll serve as evaluators to provide feedback along the way, and coaches to guide them. Programming will also include a career panel. To help bring the learning experience itself to a digital format, DHF Content Developer Ashley Brewer put together a workbook using Notion where content for the program in a variety of formats sits.


It’ll culminate in a pitch competition on Jan. 28, where teams will have a chance to win cash prizes. Over the full course of the program, participants will also earn $967.50.

For SmartLogic, it’s an extension of community giving that also includes prior grant programs centered on Black-led organizations and women in tech. This will help youth in Baltimore develop career skills, and centers their voices in developing solutions, said SmartLogic Chief of Staff Michael Castagnola. The funding to provide wages for the time and work put in also speaks to the need to value labor at all levels and age groups.

“We like that we get to support youth in a meaningful way, not just on the workforce development front, but they will earn a wage while doing this work,” he said.

Youth have been among the most-impacted groups as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a recent Urban Alliance report showing the demographic’s unemployment rate at 28%. And as shown with the city’s summer employment program, efforts to build skills and offer work opportunities have a role in supporting families in the city.


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