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Pittsburgh joins Baltimore to address digital divide

 

November 11, 2020



The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $1,515,430 to the Digital Harbor Foundation and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) on a collaborative Advancing Informal STEM Learning research proposal titled: Rec-to-Tech: Understanding the Role of Rec Center Educators in Creating Maker-based Technology and Computer Science Learning Hubs for Urban Youth.

This three-year research grant will support innovative youth technology programs developed by the Digital Harbor Foundation to expand across recreation centers in Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

This investment from the NSF seeks to further understanding of how to bridge the digital divide by researching the processes and challenges involved in establishing four sites in Baltimore (2) and Pittsburgh (2), delivering effective educator professional development training, and studying the impact of participating in technology-rich youth programs on the self-efficacy, creativity, and attitudes of youth and educators over a three-year period.

In addition to the delivery of training for educators and localized program offerings for youth, the grant will support the development of an online Localization Toolkit that will support rec centers across the nation to use a similar approach to create local opportunities for even more youth. The Pittsburgh sites have not yet been determined as the Department of Parks and Recreation will work with the Digital Harbor Foundation to select sites based on the curriculum criteria, target age group and timeline.

"We know that the future of the economy will be rooted in advanced technology," said Mayor William Peduto. "With a booming tech industry in our own backyard, it is critically important that we are creating pathways to economic success for all city residents and paying close attention to making sure that our city's young people have access to the tools necessary to prepare them for life sustaining careers. The partnership with Digital Harbor Foundation and the City of Baltimore will help to catalyze the tech transformation of our recreation centers and ensure that we are addressing the digital divide head on, in a equitable and sustainable way."

"It continues to make me proud to see how Baltimore City Recreation and Parks (BCRP), under Director Reginald Moore's leadership, has evolved and continues to raise the standard of recreation in our city," said Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young. "The National Scientific Foundation study will improve how we, collectively, provide critical STEM programming to children in our cities. STEM education is our 'now' and such opportunities will open up our children's future learning experiences, career skills, and livelihoods – thus becoming an effort for workforce and economic development for the youth and the City of Baltimore. I am thankful to partner with the Digital Harbor Foundation and the City of Pittsburgh who understand the importance of providing equitable STEM experiences and opportunities for our young people." 

Digital Harbor Foundation's Rec-to-Tech model has been pioneered through the support of key partners and funders, including a prior NSF Award EAGER: MAKER: Developing a Model for Expanding Informal Tech Education for Underrepresented Communities through Makerspaces, as well as support from the Abell Foundation, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, and others. 

"While some of the original timeline of the proposed research grant may be impacted by the social distancing measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic," noted Andrew Coy, executive director at the Digital Harbor Foundation and Principal Investigator on the research grant, "this multi-year multi-site community project represents an investment in our youth by reimagining space and the pivotal role rec centers can play in bridging the digital divide. We believe that the research from this project will have the potential to ripple across the country."

Dr. Foad Hamidi, assistant professor at UMBC and co-principal investigator on the grant, added that "from a research perspective, we are using an equity-based and participatory approach to learning that systematically supports the inclusion of community educators and youth in the design of their own learning spaces and experiences."

Advisory board members include individuals from the Association of Science and Technology Centers, National Recreation and Parks Association, STEM Next Opportunity Fund, Union Baptist Church, Remake Learning Network, and other organizations. External evaluation will be conducted by MN Associates, Inc. whose team will assess the Rec-to-Tech model's fidelity as well as its broader impact and sustainability after the grant is over.

 

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