Mar 6, 2015
1 comment

The future was bright inside a Marina Bay conference room on Thursday, where dozens of local high school students were given the daunting task of solving significant problems in their community in just a few hours.

From reducing the homeless population to discovering new ways to learn as classroom sizes expand, no problem was simple. But the creative young minds who took part in the Chevron Richmond Junior Achievement Social Innovation Camp on Thursday found themselves only a few clicks away from real-life solutions.

The single-day Social Innovation camp has 44 students working in groups to brainstorm entrepreneurial ideas on how to solve various challenges in the community. The kids not only needed an idea but also real-world ways to fund and market it. At the end of the day, the teams gave boardroom-style presentations and were then ranked by judges. Students on the winning team each went home with $300 Best Buy gift cards.

Students described the event as grueling but also fun and enlightening. Their ideas showcased the promise of a technologically-advanced generation.


One team, for example, was challenged with helping to tackle illegal dumping in Richmond and surrounding cities. While the city has been dealing with the problem for years, the team of young minds came up with a clever idea that could actually work. The zero-cost solution involves promoting the hashtag, #IamSoSpotless. The hashtag would drive a community-wide social media campaign against illegal dumping, according to the teens. In order to make it soar in popularity, the students said they would need to convince IamSu, the Richmond rapper whose celebrity status is sharply rising, to help promote it.

Another clever idea came from the team challenged with reducing homelessness. The students on that team pitched the idea of an online, educational video game in which the main character is homeless and trying to wade through life’s challenges. Like in other online games, users would have the option of purchasing virtual goods to enhance their experience. The profits from those micro-transactions would go toward homeless programs in the community, the students said.

What impressed most was how young people could so swiftly identify technological solutions for major problems, said Eric Nelson, the Policy, Government and Public Affairs Global Manager of Downstream & Chemicals at Chevron Corp.


Team Gold won first place for their idea to create an app that would help unify their school community

“You all very quickly could come up with a digital or social media tool to solve a societal problem,” Nelson told the students following their presentations.

The valuable lesson, and also the most challenging, did not involve technology. Several students agreed the hardest part of camp was aligning everyone’s diverse ideas into one sound solution.

“You were thrown into this together,” Nelson said. “That’s exactly the way things happen in the real world.”

Chevron holds the camp in order to stoke young people’s innovative minds, provide training on working as teams and problem solving, and offer a learning experience they would not otherwise have at their age.

The event is also a good way to prepare local residents for highly skilled jobs at the Chevron Richmond Refinery, Nelson added.

“We need talented people who understand STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math),” he said.

Below are the top three teams as ranked by judges Jack Collins and Ben Fox, who are longtime Chevron employees, and Vanesse Johnson, the career reinvention coach at the Richmond Main Street Initiative.

First place: TEAM GOLD

Problem: Lack of of a sense of community and communication in the school community.

Solution: “School Improvement & Connection App” helps connect and unify student body.

Prize: $300 Best Buy gift card per student


Team Gold presented a number of slides to pitch their App:


like how to pay for it…


Second place: TEAM PURPLE

Problem: Dealing with large classroom sizes, disruptions and missed work for sick and injured students

Solution: “Class Share App” in order to link students to study groups, recorded lectures, notes and other information pertaining to classroom instruction.

Prize: $150 Best Buy gift card per student


Team Purple presented a number of slides to promote their App


including the funding plan…


Third place: TEAM YELLOW

Problem: Solutions to homelessness

Solution: Develop an educational gaming app about homelessness where users can purchase virtual goods. Money from those micro-transactions can be used to bolster homeless programs.

Prize: $75 Best Buy gift card per student


Team Yellow presented a slide with stats:


How their gaming app would help:



  1. This is a wonderful program and outreach . With the UC global campus coming next to Marina Bay , the shoreline can become an education hub for our Richmond kids. The Richmond promise program and the educational structural of public charter schools such as Amethod is the back bone for a Richmond renaissance .

    It’s time for other corporations to follow Chevrons lead and make Richmond’s kids our highest priority .

    Richard Poe | Mar 7th, 2015

About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.