Temple’s Apps & Maps BITS Summer Program is striving to improve the Philadelphia community for the third year in a row. This program is run through the inter-disciplinary Apps & Maps Studio program, which aims to teach digital literacy skills to primarily low-income and minority high school students in the Philadelphia area.
“Technology has created good things in society, but at the same time it has also created challenges,” said Youngjin Yoo, the director of Center for Design and Innovation at Temple who proposed funding for Apps & Maps Studio. “Today it is harder for someone to obtain a middle income job if he or she is not used to dealing with technology.”
Yoo said that a lack of digital literacy is a problem in urban communities like North Philadelphia.
“Since we are in an urban environment, it is really important to break down barriers between Temple and the local community,” Yoo said. “When you bring in students from around the city with the right goals and motivation, it shows that the program is really authentic to who we are as an urban university.”
The 150 students that participated in the BITS program this year learned aspects of spatial thinking, computational thinking and design thinking in relation to technology. They worked with more than 30 Temple students and 10 faculty members to conduct a variety of hands-on projects.
Dr. Michele Masucci, the interim vice provost for research at Temple and principal investigator of the BITS program, said that the goal is to have students develop apps and websites that can be used in the local community.
“We had a lot of innovative ideas for apps and websites come out of this program that addressed urban community problems and interests,” Masucci said. “Some of the students, for example, were very interested in street art and even developed their own website about it. We also encouraged and helped students to use social media as a way for them to address community problems.”
Jean Akingeneye, a graduate student in Management Information Systems and the Program Coordinator of BITS, said that students were able to model a prototype geographical app off of Twitter, create a multimedia project on Philadelphia mural artwork and innovate online menus for city food trucks in order to make them more optimal for customers.
One team of 11 students also created a mobile crime-watch app called “Gotcha” that will allow users to anonymously post the details of misdemeanor neighborhood crimes, such as shoplifting, without notifying authorities.
“I definitely enjoyed seeing the process of how the students created apps that could eventually change their environment,” Akingeneye said. “I’ve always wanted to do something that was involved with changing the community so it’s great to see how this program can really make a difference in their lives.”
Students participated in other activities like a design challenge, where they had to construct various buildings out of spaghetti, sessions with guest speakers and field trips.
Neeharika Damera, a Global MBA candidate and a program manager of BITS, had the opportunity to attend one of the trips to Artisan Mobile, a company that specializes in different app designs.
“It was really great because some of the students want to be entrepreneurs,” Damera said. “Many of them asked a lot of questions and even built contacts with the owners. It was also good that Artisan didn’t romanticize their start-up because it helped to give the students a better perspective on a company related to design thinking and innovative solutions.”
Damera said that the field trips were a big part of helping the students come up with innovative solutions.
“There should be a plan in the program for the students to be able to contact city officials in the future,” Damera said. “They were able to innovate ideas related to topics of what to do with vacant lots around the city and how to make Philadelphia’s health system more streamlined through these field trips.”
The Apps & Maps BIT program has had much success, Yoo said. He hopes that more local community members will get involved in the future to heighten its impact on the students.
“We already have a student from the program who started a business and is making money,” Yoo said. “Our kids come out of our program and take things with them. If we can successfully turn one to two of them into an entrepreneur, then that would be very rewarding.”
Sienna Vance can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org