One chilly evening a year ago, Jacob Martinez spotted an 18-year-old freshman doing homework on a bench outside the Watsonville Center of Cabrillo College south of San Jose, California. The student’s laptop was connected to the school’s Wi-Fi, she said, because she lacked Internet access at home; this was her best recourse.
Martinez formerly worked for ETR Associates, a provider of technical and entrepreneurial skills to young people like the Cabrillo freshman. His after-school, once-a-week tech classes in Watsonville public schools were supported by the National Science Foundation, but he sought a fresh approach. Field trips to Google and Apple headquarters inspired students to seek work for tech firms, he says, which led him to conclude that computer labs might best be modeled on such offices: unstructured spaces for students to sit together and work, free food, guest speakers, and online and face-to-face classes. “What’s possible if you give them a space to be creative?” he asked.
The answer, called Digital NEST, opened in mid-November. Funding from donors and grant sources has underwritten the first 60 students, aged 12 to 24, and volunteer experts were recruited to teach classes in graphic design, Web development, and video production.
“We hope Digital NEST is a workforce solution for rural communities around the country,” Martinez says. “This first one will help us work out our bugs, figure out our programming, and get a nice funding stream. Then we’ll scale up from there.”
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