At the heart of TECH CORPS is the belief that all children should have access to high-quality technology learning experiences.
National Executive Director Lisa Chambers says it’s easy to see the lack of diversity in the technology sector, and fourth grade is often the point at which students start to lose confidence.
“Research tells us if we can interact with them, if they can have good hands-on learning experiences in tech and have those experiences in safe and supportive environments that encourage them, that they’re more likely to stay with it,” she says.
Making sure all kids have access not only helps meet the technology labor demand that exists in the U.S., it helps fill it with a more diverse group of people, Chambers says.
Helping students thrive
TECH CORPS develops technology programs for students in fourth through 12th grade. They span from building awareness, like a four-hour coding workshop, to deep immersion where students walk out with college credit or an industry-recognized credential.
The organization also recruits, trains and deploys technology talent to implement these programs, usually industry technology professionals, computer science or engineering undergraduates, or classroom teachers.
“While we don’t think that every kid who attends a TECH CORPS program will grow up and become a software engineer or software analyst, we do know that your chances of that are increased by them having this early exposure and these early experiences,” Chambers says.
In 2018, TECH CORPS delivered 132 programs, which served 2,246 students. Of those, 42 percent were female and 31 percent were white. The nonprofit also served 56 teachers and used 331 volunteers from 52 companies.
The nonprofit’s footprint is strongest in Columbus and Northeast Ohio, but thanks to its corporate partnerships, it also has a presence in Georgia, New Jersey, Colorado, California and New York.
TECH CORPS’ latest focus is figuring out how to reach more children in rural areas where resources are scare. Chambers hopes to attack the challenge like the organization did when it emphasized reaching more Hispanic students.
Between 2007 to 2018, the organization went from 7 percent Hispanic students to 15 percent.
“We’re having those same conversations right now about our students in our rural areas,” she says. “What are the things that we can do? We have some ideas, but we’re going to need folks and we’re going to need companies that understand that even though those kids might not be in their backyard, they’re still important to invest in.”
Then and now
TECH CORPS was founded in 1995,by Gary Beach, publisher of CIO Magazine. His vision was to form a high-tech Peace Corps.
In 2011, Beach decided to transfer the national charter from Massachusetts to Columbus, which had been doing strong work with new programs.
“We couldn’t offer those programs outside of the state of Ohio,” Chamber says. “Once we took over the national charter, that allowed us to begin to expand the programs we’ve been developing here.”