The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a longtime proponent and funder of many urban programs and initiatives, recently awarded Temple University a $635,000 grant that will help the university train and equip more than 300 high school students to develop computer and mobile applications.
The grant will allow those students — the majority hailing from economically distressed or at-risk backgrounds — to attend Temple’s six-week program run by the school’s Urban Apps and Map Studios. The students will learn the basic parameters of application design and the business of marketing their created app. A handful of these students will become community liaisons that report to the university the challenges facing many urban communities in the city.
The grant will fund the initiative for three years.
“Urban Apps and Maps represent a unique approach to one of our generation’s grand challenges, urbanization,” said Temple University Director of the Center for Design and Innovation/ Management Information Systems Professor Youngjin Yoo, who will also serve as lead investigator of the grant for the Knight Foundation. “By integrating design, technology and entrepreneurship together with world-class research at Temple in the area of humanity, social science, engineering, computer science and business, we are trying to build next-generation urban leaders who can build their own solutions for the challenges that their communities are facing.”
Temple’s Urban Apps and Maps Studios was established last year through a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and according to Temple, participants will develop and commercialize apps and maps to solve the challenges faced by an urban society by focusing on issues confronting North Philadelphia.
“Students and young adults are quite savvy in the use of technology,” said Temple University Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research Michele Masucci, adding that Temple will work with the Philadelphia Youth Network in identifying which students to select for the program. “By showing them how this technology works from the development and innovation side, we can help convert that passion into job skills and engage them in helping the community. Faculty from Temple’s Fox School of Business, College of Science and Technology, College of Liberal Arts, College of Engineering and Tyler School of Art, including designers, chip creators, software developers, database builders and entrepreneurs are involved in this unprecedented university-wide collaboration.”
Masucci also serves as professor and chair of Temple’s Geography and Urban Studies department.
The importance of attracting minority students to the field of digital engineering and application development is crucial. At one end of the spectrum, data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency shows entrepreneurship among African-Americans to be significantly lower than all the other racial groups. At the other end of the spectrum, it has been difficult to get minority students interested in STEM-related coursework, either at the grade school level or once they enter college. The Knight Foundation is hoping to clip that trend.
“Philadelphia is becoming a center for technology and innovation, and Knight Foundation wants to make sure that African-Americans and Latinos, who make up more than half of this community, are engaged in this growing field,” said Knight Foundation Philadelphia Program Director Donna Frisby-Greenwood in a statement released by the foundation. “Putting these students at the center of the design process can also help ensure that apps reflect the needs of the communities they seek to serve.”