They proposed modernized lockers equipped with touchscreens that can serve to keep students on schedule and prepared for class. They pitched an educational app that can connect students and guardians to their teachers and school administrators, along with educational resources and opportunities.
One group of innovators aimed for an outreach program connecting the homeless with skills training through city beautification projects. Another suggested the possibility of a blue-collar training program for underserved residents.
No, they were not the CEOs of technology startups or the directors of local non-profit organizations – at least not yet.
They were the latest cohort of West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) high school students who recently participated in the innovative Junior Achievement Social Innovation Camp at Richmond Memorial Auditorium.
The event, sponsored annually by Chevron Richmond, brings together information technology and engineering academy students from Richmond High, Kennedy High, De Anza High and Pinole Valley High for an exercise on coming up with viable solutions to problems in their community. They also needed to show how their solution could become a sustainable company or organization.
“They get to pick an issue that bothers them the most, and they present their solutions in front of a panel of professional judges,” said Stacey Martin, regional director of JA Northern California.
Over the last several years, Chevron has partnered with Junior Achievement on the program that promotes STEM curricula (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and prepares local youth to become the leaders of the future.
Student presentations are met with tough questions from professional judges, which this year included Anita Gardyne, CEO of Onēva; Bret Alexander Sweet, director of the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center; and Don Daves-Rougeaux, vice president, Higher Education and Workforce Engagement for Linked Learning Alliance.
Constructively, they asked tough questions about the technologies students proposed, from functionality to marketability.
“They needed to figure out, how are they going to fund it, who is their target audience, and is it something that will be viable in Contra Costa?,” Martin said.
Students also learn team-building and presentation skills alongside their Chevron mentors, Martin said.
“It’s an opportunity to go out of the classroom, work with mentors from a large company in the city of Richmond, and spend several hours working with someone from an industry they might possibly work in one day,” Martin said.
Junior Achievement is a springboard for innovators of the future, said Lily Rahnema, community engagement manager for Chevron Richmond.
“We believe youth are the problem-solvers of our future, which is partly why Chevron invests heavily in STEM-related education at our local schools,” Rahnema said. “The Junior Achievement Social Innovation Camp is an example of a partnership that is planting the seed of innovation in our young people, and we never ceased to be impressed by the solutions presented by WCCUSD students.”
The U.S. Department of Education is also strong supporter of Junior Achievement, which will undoubtedly return again to WCCUSD next year.
“All young people should be prepared to think deeply and to think well so that they have the chance to become the innovators, educators, researchers, and leaders who can solve the most pressing challenges facing our nation and our world, both today and tomorrow,” according to officials with the DOE.