Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

With YouthWorks partnership, The Be. org is using virtual reality to teach STEM

Technologists can help create the next generation of VR talents by supporting the five-week program as industry mentors.

A youth participant in the Be. Virtual program testing a VR game.

(Courtesy photo)

A local youth leadership enrichment organization has teamed up with the city’s own summer jobs program to teach virtual reality (VR) development skills to Baltimore’s young people.

The Be. org partnered with YouthWorks to put 15 students through the former entity’s Be. Virtual program. Be. Virtual teaches game development and programming with a focus on VR technologies. The students are thus learning to code for virtual reality using Unity, with the end goal of them making VR games based on The Be. org’s own educational content.

The organization specializes in social and emotional learning for youth, as well as the  teaching of soft and life  skills not traditionally included in classroom curricula. The Be. org executive director Tonee Lawson said that Be. Virtual also builds experiential learning into its premise, which can keep them engaged with the products they create. “Experiential learning has a higher content retention rate,” Lawson told Technical.ly about why they chose VR education. “Our students get to be the end users of the content. They learn it, they create it, they get to test it out and [also] use it.”

The collaboration with YouthWorks, the aforementioned summer jobs initiative through the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, means the students will be paid to learn STEM skills through the five-week program. The students will also showcase what they’ve made at a demo day on August 5, as well as receive an industry credential to give them a leg up in the workforce.

The program takes place in person at ConneXions, an arts-focused charter high school near Hanlon Park.

Despite the YouthWorks support, Lawson said the program could still use the support of tech industry professionals who can serve as mentors. These individuals would come to the program during its five weeks to speak with participants and show them what tech careers are possible.

“[The students] don’t even really know that the industry exists to the level that it does in this area,” Lawson said.

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. -30-
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