UNO first-year Computer Science major Zander Gibney’s favorite local nonprofit is—and we cannot stress this enough—the AIM Institute.
Zander plans to pursue a career in video game development and spends a lot of his time buckling down to study. In that respect, he’s not unusual. Many university students study hard too, especially in the 24-to-48 hour panic window before midterms.
But Zander stays intensely busy year-round, not just with his demanding coursework, but also with his YouTube channel Lettuce Rock, which features short films he has written, directed and starred in. He’s also a member of the most prestigious scholarship program extended by the University of Nebraska system: the Scott scholarship.
Named for local billionaire Walter Scott, Jr. (no relation to 19th century Scottish author of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy, as far as we know) the Scott Scholars program is open to the most talented and promising students in the UNL College of Engineering, UNO College of Information Science and Technology, and other STEM-related programs. The scholarship completely funds an undergrad’s university education, including tuition, room and board, and supplementary learning experiences.
A public service leadership component is required of the scholars. Teams of ten students collaborate with a local nonprofit to assess organizational issues. Each team then creates a strategic plan for their respective nonprofit. For the next four years of their university experience, the teams help guide and implement the approved plan.
Every year, multiple nonprofits benefit from the work of Scott Scholars. How are the nonprofits chosen? By the students themselves.
“Individually, we all ranked which nonprofits we wanted to work with,” Zander said. “My number one was AIM.”
We’re glad to hear that. And we’re glad to welcome them into our mission to grow, connect and inspire the tech community.
Using the principle of design thinking, Zander and his team spent weeks interviewing AIM leadership, employees and program participants, as well as community members at large. They diagnosed pain points and identified issues they saw in the organization overall. This approach allows the team to suspend egos and design an AIM-centric strategy.
In other words, as Zander put it, “You go in with the core issue people are having and not what you think the issue is.”
Students then reconvene to start imagining solutions, taking a cue from improv acting.
“You don’t want to shoot down ideas, because what if they’re amazing?” he said. “What they taught us to do is to use the improv technique of ‘Yes, and’ thinking.”
That’s good, because to engage in “No, but” thinking constitutes the technical faux pas of scene-blocking—the bane of any talented improviser’s existence (or any innovator’s, for that matter).
What did the Scott Scholars come up with?
Zander summed it up: “We saw an image problem. People didn’t really understand what AIM was about, whether they were donors or participants in the programs. It felt like a huge disconnect with everything that was going on.”
While we can’t tell you exactly the big idea the group devised, rest assured you will soon see evidence of the Scott Scholars’ design thinking in action, perhaps at your computer, perhaps in a quiet moment of distraction at work or school, perhaps anytime wherever you are.
Today, with the help of the AIM Institute, nearly 1,000 students at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Council Bluffs learned the fundamentals of computer programming as part of the international Hour of Code initiative.
Principal Mike Naughton expressed his excitement over every student getting a firsthand experience with coding during their science classes.
“Anytime you can get kids interested in technology, it’s a great accomplishment,” Naughton said.
In 8th grade science teacher Preston Vorthmann’s room, students huddled over screens and completed a series of games involving blocks of code. This easy-to-learn coding language, called Scratch, introduces the operational concepts of programming in a kid-friendly format. Rather than typing out daunting strings of variables and if-then statements, students create algorithms by assembling code blocks logically, as if fitting puzzle pieces together.
Those algorithms control the behavior of onscreen characters. As students build functional code, they progress through game levels. Students that made it all the way through received an official AIM Institute Hour of Code Certificate on fancy parchment paper, signed in cursive by Mr. Vorthmann.
This was the fourth year that the AIM Institute has partnered with Wilson JHS to host Hour of Code, a one-hour, entry-level introduction to computer science designed to demystify code and interest people in technology, no matter their level of education. Hour of Code has served over 835 million people in 180 countries, according to code.org. The majority of participants come from underrepresented communities, and nearly 50 percent of participants identify as female.
While not everyone who participates in Hour of Code will feel the urge to become a programmer, Vorthmann said some students have become particularly excited about technology after trying it out for themselves.
“There was a kid earlier in the class who went in and actually looked at the lines of code,” he said. Rather than dragging the code blocks together with a mouse, the student typed out the algorithms.
This is great news for the AIM Institute, a not-for-profit organization that grows, connects and inspires the tech talent community through education and career development. The organization’s mission is to close the tech talent gap facing businesses in the Silicon Prairie, to introduce people to technology who might not otherwise have the chance to experience, and to help people become programmers through AIM Code School, the area’s only federally accredited nonprofit code school.
“We’ve found that if you don’t get children interested in technology by middle school, they’ll probably never develop that interest,” said Jonathan Holland, Senior Director of Educational Programs for the AIM Institute.
As technology introduces new modes of communication, entertainment, and industry (and renders some obsolete) a lack of tech literacy limits a student’s ability to participate in the world. It also cuts them off from pursuing careers in tech, which tend to pay significantly higher wages than non-tech jobs.
That is why the AIM Institute works so hard to reach youth, implementing tech education in 16 schools across the metro area. The organization has helped thousands of students develop tech skills over the years, and is continuing to expand its reach. To help support the AIM Institute’s Youth-in-Tech Expansion initiative, the organization encourages you to make a donation before the end of the year.
Amanda Crone is fiercely talented. She can code. She can take apart computers and put them back together again. She can manage her time well. And she can stand in front of 500 people and deliver an acceptance speech.
That’s exactly what the Thomas Jefferson High School senior did at the 2019 AIM Tech Celebration awards ceremony Nov. 21. Amanda won the Tech Student of the Year award, one of several recognitions the AIM Institute gives out to spotlight the amazing contributions and innovations of the local tech community.
Amanda was nervous, having never given a speech of that magnitude before.
“Trying to figure out what to say and how much to say, but also to make it meaningful, was probably the hardest part,” she said.
She didn’t even know she’d been nominated until after she won the award. Sitting in class earlier this month, somebody texted her to check her email. When she did, she saw that she’d won the prestigious award—and that she and her family would get to attend Tech Celebration for her acceptance speech to the technology community.
“I think it’s really cool,” she said. “I was super excited.”
Amanda first got interested in technology when she joined the AIM Upward Bound program at Thomas Jefferson. Upward Bound is a federal TRIO program that helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in their precollege performance. AIM coordinates Upward Bound programs and provides free technology education at five area high schools.
She joined the robotics club, then took some computer science classes. She can code HTML, CSS, and Java—so far.
“I want to learn more. I’m taking a C++ class later this year,” she said.
This past summer, she not only attended AIM’s Cybersleuth Camp—a weeklong cybersecurity camp for girls that seeks to raise interest in cybersecurity careers—she helped design the curriculum. Clearly, Amanda has already got a head start on the career she aspires to: a cybersecurity engineer, possibly for the FBI.
In her spare time, Amanda loves to read, particularly fantasy and sci-fi novels. Her favorite authors are Rick Riordan and Marissa Mayer. She loves to learn new things, and she volunteers at Dreamland Park. On her own initiative, she also teaches younger students how to code at both Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln high schools.
Next year, she plans to enter the cybersecurity program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, for reasons that many readers might find familiar. “UNO is close, but not too close. It has a really good computer science program.”
When asked what she wants to be in the future, Amanda said she wants to be very successful. “I want to be the person that somebody goes to when they have a question about computer science. A thought leader.”
By all accounts, she’s on her way.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska and the AIM Institute will host the Halloween-themed tech event SpookTechular this Saturday at the AIM Brain Exchange. Kids and families will get to experience a variety of fun, tech-related activities like playing with the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift and piloting drones. The event runs from 9 am to 1 pm and is free and open to the public.
Kenzie Pavlik of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska said the event aligns with BCBS-NE’s core values.
“Blue Cross is always looking for opportunities to get involved with the community that we serve,” Pavlik said.
Dana Siek, Systems Analyst for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, added that STEM skills are vital to the company. Blue Cross is therefore committed to promoting access to technology experiences for youth. The company has partnered with AIM in the past to ensure such access.
Events like SpookTechular help spark an early curiosity toward tech and STEM. AIM has found that if kids fail to develop an interest in technology by middle school, they probably will never develop that interest.
Here is a list of activities youth will have the opportunity to enjoy at SpookTechular:
- Experience Virtual Reality with Oculus Rift
- Program Dash the Robot to go trick-or-treating
- Make your own LED pumpkin light
- Build a pumpkin spice marshmallow structure
- Create a flying Ghost Rocket (weather-permitting)
- Fly a Drone Spider
AIM hopes to see you at SpookTechular tomorrow. Make sure to register now!
Representatives from Omaha’s Metropolitan Utilities District visited the AIM Brain Exchange Thursday to donate 15 iPads in support of AIM’s youth-in-tech programs. The iPads will help AIM expand its free tech education outreach to a wider audience, particularly underserved students who might not get to experience technology otherwise. In this way, M.U.D. and AIM are helping build tomorrow’s tech workforce and closing the local IT talent gap.
These iPads allow students to gain early experience controlling technology. Early tech exposure helps demystify a field that might seem out-of-reach to underserved youth. Such youth often face structural barriers to developing the technical skills that would help them break out of the cycle of poverty.
“We want to get our kids excited about being content creators, not just content consumers,” said Jonathan Holland, Senior Director of Educational Programs for AIM.
To that end, the AIM Brain Exchange helps youth explore, learn and do technology. Students gain hands-on experiences with virtual reality, programmable robots, and Piper Computer kits. A mobile outreach unit also travels to area schools, providing free tech education to students aged 7 to 17.
Holland continued: “We’ve found that if you don’t get kids interested in technology before middle school, they might never be interested. That’s too bad. People who choose a technology career tend to make $1 million more over their lifetime than they would if they didn’t go into tech.”
How You Can Help Build a Stronger Tech Community
As an innovative not-for-profit that helps grow, connect and inspire the tech talent ecosystem through education and career development, AIM relies on the support of partner organizations and community donations to sustain the services we offer to the community. Please consider making a small donation to support our youth-in-tech programs.
Even a modest, tax-deductible donation of $5 will help us reach more youth.
Whether you choose to donate or not, we’d love to see you at the 2019 AIM Tech Celebration awards ceremony. Tech Celebration is an annual awards ceremony recognizing businesses, individuals, students and educators that help shape the future of technology. The event acts as a connective force in the IT ecosystem, providing valuable opportunities for networking and collaboration. This year’s ceremony takes place Nov. 14, 5:30 to 8:30pm at the Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology on the MCC Fort Omaha campus.
As always, Tech Celebration is free and open to the public. Come meet new people, reconnect with old colleagues, and celebrate technology in our community!
As a not-for-profit partially funded by the Department of Education, the AIM Institute provides free tech education to students who would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience it. To that end, AIM staff accompanied 37 Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson High School students on an educational field trip to Minnesota last week as part of AIM’s Upward Bound program, which helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in their precollege performance.
On Friday, students headed to Minneapolis to visit the University of Minnesota. They attended an admissions presentation and went on a scavenger hunt.
Tanya Jacha, director of Upward Bound programs at Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson high schools in Council Bluffs, said the experience was eye-opening for students, familiarizing them with a college environment and teaching them how to navigate a university campus. The scavenger hunt also gave students practice with the invaluable skill of asking questions.
Jacha said: “A lot of my students asked me, ‘Is it okay if we ask people for help?’ That’s the point. We want you to learn how to do that.”
The group then headed north to Duluth, where they stayed the night at Edgewater Resort, a combination hotel and waterpark.
The following morning, students visited Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior. They learned about historic shipwrecks and the importance of the lighthouse, as well as the evolution of the technology controlling the lighthouse, and the limitations posed by the curvature of the earth to visible light distance.
“It was pretty cool to learn the tech behind that,” Jacha said. “And Lake Superior was incredible. It was absolutely beautiful.”
The students then took a Science cruise around the shore of Lake Superior, learning about the lake’s hydrology. Because the AIM Institute is passionate about tech education, students even got a private tour with the ship’s captain to learn about radar and navigational instruments.
Following the cruise, the group visited the Great Lakes Aquarium, where they learned about local fish and rivers. They even got to touch freshwater sharks and see some electric eels (which they did not touch).
On Sunday morning, the final day of the trip, the group returned to Minneapolis and toured the Science Museum of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Jacha said that, unlike a lot of Science museums, which are geared more toward younger kids, the Science Museum of Minnesota targets high school students and adults, featuring attractions like virtual reality and other hands-on science and technology activities.
Ultimately, the trip gave students valuable cultural experiences and tech education they would not have had otherwise, thereby furthering AIM’s mission to grow, connect and inspire the tech talent ecosystem.
Moreover, students had the chance to travel far from home—itself a vital developmental experience they would not have experienced without AIM’s help.
“A lot of the students have never been anywhere outside of Council Bluffs, so it was nice to be excited about something other than silos,” Jacha said.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sept. 4, 2018
OMAHA – The AIM Institute is hosting an introductory level App Inventor workshop with special guest Rep. Don Bacon (NE-02) for middle school and high school students in preparation for the 2019 Congressional App Challenge (CAC). This free workshop will be held Saturday, September 7, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on the seventh floor of the AIM Exchange Building at 1905 Harney St., Omaha, It is open to any student attending middle school or high school in Nebraska’s Second Congressional District.
The App Inventor workshop will help students learn the basic building blocks of coding mobile and computer-based applications. The workshop is one of the AIM Institute’s many educational initiatives designed to grow tomorrow’s tech talent workforce.
“It’s important to spark an early interest in STEM because technology interacts with everything in our daily lives, and its influence will only increase in the future,” said Erin Lasiter, Executive Director of the AIM Brain Exchange, which offers free technology education to youth.
“Moreover, jobs in technology are some of the highest paying jobs out there, which is especially important to help break the cycle of poverty that affects many of the youth in our community,” Lasiter added.
A stronger tech talent workforce is also good for business in Nebraska, making tech education a key interest of Rep. Bacon, who has been promoting the 2019 Congressional App Challenge since taking office.
“Getting our middle and high school students interested in STEM through a fun competitive challenge is exactly what will spur them to pursue a career in these fields,” said Rep. Bacon. “I’m thankful the AIM Institute is hosting this workshop to help students who want to participate in this challenge.”
The Congressional App Challenge is an annual coding competition held to inspire students to pursue careers in STEM. Contestants develop a unique software app for a mobile, web or other computer-based platform. Winners will be invited to attend the annual House of Code award ceremony and STEM convention held in Washington, D.C. and possibly receive other prizes.
To be eligible for the Congressional App Challenge, students must register and submit their completed apps by November 1, 2019 along with a short video demonstration.
To RSVP for Saturday’s event, visit https://baconaim.eventbrite.com.
AIM Institute Media Contact: Erin Lasiter
Phone: 402-345-5025 ext. 126
Congressman Bacon Media Contact: Danielle Jensen
Last Friday, 18 high school girls graduated from the AIM Institute’s 2019 Cybersleuth Camp in an afternoon ceremony at the AIM Brain Exchange. About 40 people attended the graduation to show their support for the next generation of tech talent.
AIM’s Cybersleuth Camp is a weeklong cybersecurity camp for girls that seeks to raise interest in cybersecurity careers. Funded through the GenCyber program—a joint initiative of the NSA and the National Science Foundation that promotes digital citizenship, safe online behavior, and cybersecurity education—Cybersleuth Camp is a key part of AIM’s mission to grow, connect and inspire the tech talent ecosystem.
Throughout the camp, graduates engaged in a variety of tech activities. They built Raspberry Pi computers (which they were allowed to keep), learned Linux, flew drones, operated robots, built fortresses out of Legos, and took pictures and videos to document the experience. Representatives from the FBI and the NSA gave presentations on cybersecurity complete with sobering statistics and disturbing anecdotes about sexting and human trafficking.
AIM Brain Exchange Executive Director Erin Lasiter praised the girls for their diligence and willingness to learn.
“They dove in and they didn’t give up, even though it was very difficult sometimes,” she said.
AIM’s Instructor of Technology Experiences, Lana Yager, echoed Lasiter’s admiration of the young women.
“Using the Hokey Pokey, we learned algorithms. The girls took all the lines of the song—I think there are about 80 lines—and scrunched it down to five lines,” she said. “These girls are real troopers. We’re really proud of them.”
Zipporah, a student in the camp, said her favorite activity of the week was taking apart computers. She also recognized the increasing relevance of cybersecurity in an ever-evolving world mediated by technology.
“Computer safety is more important to learn nowadays,” she said.
Each graduate received a diploma and the Raspberry Pi computer they had built. The ceremony concluded with cake and lemonade in the Brain Exchange’s Cortex room.
As part of the AIM Institute’s mission to facilitate a more diverse and sustainable tech career pipeline, the AIM Brain Exchange provides free technology education to youth who would not otherwise have the chance to experience it.
Over 70 people attended the ceremony at the Highlander Accelerator Building, a community space in North Omaha featuring local businesses, nonprofits, and higher education satellite campuses. Attendees included family members and friends of the graduates, community supporters, and a representative of congressman Don Bacon, who invited graduates to participate in the 2019 Congressional App Challenge, an annual coding competition meant to inspire students to pursue careers in STEM.
Seventy Five North Project Coordinator Kashya Burrell addressed the audience, underscoring the momentous accomplishment Highlander students had achieved.
“Coding is not easy,” Burrell said. “Thank you for helping support the future tech talent community and some of the most creative individuals I have known.”
AIM Brain Exchange Executive Director Erin Lasiter also gave remarks. (The AIM Brain Exchange offers free technology education to youth who would not otherwise have the chance to experience it.)
Lasiter advised students to meet adversity head-on. She incorporated multiple quotes about achievement in her speech.
“You have worked hard these past seven weeks to achieve what you set out to do,” Lasiter said. “We are all so proud of you.”
After receiving their diploma, each student gave a presentation on the website they built, explaining why they made certain choices and what obstacles they had to overcome in developing their site.
Students’ websites were developed on topics ranging from volleyball to photography to Fortnite to the Buffalo Bills.
One student made a touching memorial about his seven-month old niece who lost her life to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. His website integrated photos of his niece with information about SIDS.
In his presentation, he said working on the site offered a reprieve from grief, and that his time in Highlander Code Camp revitalized his worldview.
“Because of various experiences and challenges, I didn’t really care about anything. Now, I’m learning that that’s not the way to go,” he said. “This is not about the past. The future’s ahead of me.”