Project TechXploration: Reaching Kids with Tech
By Dianne Anderson
Some of the world’s top coders today started as whiz kids working major miracles out of their garages with little more than dial-up internet on clunky first generation computers.
Since then, powerful algorithms, artificial intelligence, and cool gadgets have evolved into great paying STEM fields, but where a lot of Black and Brown students lag behind.
They, and their parents, still struggle to understand high tech concepts that make up their daily lives.
For that reason, the Inland Empire’s very own Mista Pat is on track with a new PBS show to get kids interested in career choices of the future.
Set to air next fall, Patrick Person, aka “Mista Pat,” will be in the television studio with the kids, covering a culmination of career day presentations that he’s brought over the years to local schools through the Kids that Code program.
“They’ll see the latest in technology. Guests will come in with all sorts of cool electronics. We’ll feature the people behind the companies and services,” said Person, executive director and a co-founder of Project TechXploration. The nonprofit has also received strong support from ExCITE Riverside business acceleration program.
Person’s own foray into the world of coding began as a hobby. He said he’s always been naturally drawn to technology, and sees that same enthusiasm when he presents it to the kids.
They can’t help but love robots, like the kind that open doors for each other, moonwalks to the beat, and everyone’s favorite three-foot robo-dog from Boston Dynamics.
It’s one of many TechXplorations lined up to be featured in the show.
At a business mixer a year ago, Persons said he caught up with a local PBS station manager interested in covering his long-running local outreach through the for-profit Kids that Code. They sat down, talked a while, and the manager loved the idea of reaching underserved kids.
The show was good to go. The manager was talking national.
“I said awesome. What do you mean? What show?” he laughs.
It was unexpected, and exhilarating. Now, there is a production company lined up.
Inspired by his quest to reach underserved kids, Person is in the process of creating, “TechXploration with Mista Pat,” to introduce the kids to complex concepts.
But, he feels that the more pressing fundamental obstacle than learning code language is that kids do not see engineers that look like them. They don’t know the first thing about how to become an engineer.
“It’s trying to sell them the vision, the dream of becoming a computer programmer, or someone who works in robotics, or game development,” he said.
It’s not so much that kids are not curious about STEM fields, rather they are not being exposed to the vast scope of technology that exists. They don’t see people of color in high tech jobs, or the magnitude of wonders that those jobs hold.
When they do see it, he said their eyes light up.
“I’m an adult, and I see it, but when I show it to them, they just lose their minds,” he said.
He and his partners started Kids that Code as a student project while studying at Cal State University, San Bernardino, where he earned an MBA in marketing. He also did a stint as a nightclub deejay, and he plans to incorporate a variety of edutainment to grab their attention.
“Mista Pat is doing a hip-hop music video on algorithms, that’s sort of zany stuff, doing it in song. Kids remember that,” he said.
Low-income students grappling to get up to par with their math or core skills may be mostly due to lack of early exposure to STEM concepts that could make them curious about their world.
With the Kids That Code program, he sees the excitement that kids feel when creating games, and they build robots.
They start to get the connections between what they’re learning in school to what they want to be when they grow up.
“They realize if I want to build this program, or video game, there’s a lot of math involved,” he said.
Probably the worst disconnect for the kids is that they are overexposed to sports over science.
He said they can’t see the end game.
“LeBron James, all the riches that he has, and they want to be basketball players,” he said. “They don’t realize the richest person in the world is a computer programmer.”