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The Be. Org is celebrating 10 years of preparing youth to build the future

Leaders of the nonprofit, which offers kids experience in STEM, discussed its new partnership with Johns Hopkins and upcoming programs.

“Science is the key to our future, and if you don't believe in science, then you're holding everybody back." - Bill Nye (Courtesy The Be. org)

This story is a part of Technical.ly’s Pathways to Tech Careers Month. See the full 2024 editorial calendar.

Tonee Lawson founded her organization in 2014 to facilitate the social and emotional growth of Baltimore’s young people through STEM, college- and career-readiness programming beyond schools.

That nonprofit, The Be. Org, commemorates a decade of that work this year. Its flagship events like Tech Con (formerly Youth Tech Con), the Beyond a Dream Youth Conference and an annual Sneaker Ball fundraiser are all prongs in its approach to support Baltimore youth.

With its 10-year milestone afoot, Lawson said that The Be. Org aims “to continue doing what we do on a more amplified level.”

You can look forward to seeing more student-centered, student-led events,” the executive director told Technical.ly via email. “We will be leaning into the lived experiences of our partners, students, and our graduates as they serve as near-peer mentors to the next generation of STEM leaders.”

The ED said that we can expect to hear from The Be. Org’s students more directly, as she’ll be encouraging them to share their STEM education journeys and how that might prepare them for the future. The organization’s team also plans to move into a role of mentorship for organizations with similar models in 2024.

“It’s our goal to really highlight our program impact and our work as subject matter experts in the areas of STEM education and social emotional learning, sharing some best practices and models for success,” said Lawson.

The founder highlighted another step in this forward momentum: A new collaboration with Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering’s Inclusive Innovation Initiative (i3), an academic-community partnership based in the school’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design. Through this, The Be. Org will expand its virtual reality programming, as well as initiate research on more inclusive VR education and cohort-based learning methods at the intersections of social-emotional learning and STEM education.

Lawson is featured as an affiliated researcher on Hopkins’ i3 site. She described this as a “full-circle moment” for her, having both pioneered VR programming for Be. Org’s STEM initiative four years ago and served 75 students through those efforts since then.

Tech Con 2023

The Be. Org hosted its annual Tech Con event at the Rita Rossi Colwell Center, under its tent-like roof, in Downtown Baltimore on Nov. 9.

Tech Con was previously featured as part of Baltimore Innovation Week and, in 2019, was co-designed with Full Blast STEAM to provide youth knowledge of drone technology. At the 2022 convening, pupils explored STEM through robotics.

The Be. Org Director of Programs Shawnice Jackson said that in 2023, the focus of the convening shifted from robots to skills that might be essential for a STEM career.

“[Tech Con 2023] was really heavy on having exposure to careers through interfacing with the professionals who actually are in those careers. So we had career discussions and STEM workshops that incorporated a key element of a part of [an invited speaker’s] career,” said Jackson on a call with Technical.ly. “So for example, we had representatives from the Department of Justice, and their workshop was all about how science is used to help solve a crime. So their entire workshop was literally a crime scene. Students were able to go around and learn how they would approach it from a science perspective. But then, at the same time, they were also actively working to solve a crime using forensic science.”

Tech Con 2023 attendees also heard from presenters such as Dexter Carr Jr., the founder of the esports-focused 2023 RealLIST Startup Game4Good, who shared insights into his journey with gaming.

Jackson said she wants the program to engage with as many young Baltimoreans as it can.

“The social-emotional learning piece is so core for success in relationships, success in the workforce, success in the post-high school space,” she said. “Be it, you know, college and universities — like, you need to have these core skills in order to grow, develop, evolve, just do well, no matter what your career [or] your future goals are.”

What’s next for The Be. Org?

The Be. Org is hiring for multiple roles which can be found on its website. Those interested in its trajectory can also follow its Instagram for updates on partnerships and programming.

In tandem with philanthropic pursuits, The Be. org uses its aforementioned Sneaker Ball to keep its STEM programs running (pun intended). The celebration returns this April. Folks in the Baltimore ecosystem who might want to support youth development programming are encouraged to buy a ticket.

Tickets for Sneaker Ball 2024 Presented by The Be. Org

Companies: Johns Hopkins University
Series: Pathways to Tech Careers Month 2024
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