FREC-STEAM-event-2014-630x420Ford STEAM Lab, a Ford Motor Company Fund educational program, and the California-based #YesWeCode and Level Playing Field Institute will host a special educational event for 100 Detroit-area middle school students March 27-28.

The highly anticipated Ford Steam Lab Hackathon encourages student participants from five Detroit-area middle schools to learn software coding skills and develop solutions to education. The program will be broadcast live on MSNBC from the Ford Resource and Engagement Center in Detroit. Two Detroit organizations, Sisters Code and Grand Circus, a tech training company, are also partnering in the program to promote minority involvement in technology and STEM related ventures.

“Contrary to what you may have heard, hacking can be a good thing. It’s basically solving for a solution,” said Ford Motor Fund manager for multicultural community engagement, Shawn Wilson. “Hacking allows (technology students) to get their voices heard.”

Ford Motor Fund’s Silicon Valley-like initiative was established in October 2014 to spark students’ passion for tech entrepreneurship and STEM disciplines, while challenging participants to come up with new ideas for technology.

“I have worked with students for over two decades in this field, and when you see them engaged and brainstorming, you know then that our first African American, Mark Zuckerberg, could be among them,“ says Wilson. “The barrier has been that they have not been seeing themselves reflected in the (technology) field and there has been a lack of exposure.”

Innovation and practicality are cornerstones in the design and development of new technological applications. Program enthusiasts report examples of new app designs, including that of one participant in a #YesWE Code program in Philadelphia for donated clothing.

“(She) created an application for anyone looking for donated clothing. They can see the clothes online … a lot of what they come up with are ways to remove barriers,” explained Wilson.

Students from five Detroit area middle schools will compete for $30,000 in scholarships. The event features a high profile panel of judges, including Stephen Henderson/Detroit Free Press, Van Jones/#YesWeCode and Skype appearance by Detroit native and rapper Big Sean.

Participating schools were selected based on a combination of criteria including the high potential of students vs. the level of opportunity and resources available to them.

“Ford’s goal is to not only empower students to take control of their educational future, but also discover a potential career pathway in Michigan’s growing technology sector,” said Van Jones, founder of #YesWeCode.

“In the new century, technology is central to middle class jobs and income. We are proud to work with partners like Ford and the Level Playing Field Institute to support 21st century opportunities to students in Detroit.”

Ford STEAM Lab program’s objective is to spark high potential, low opportunity students’ passion for technology entrepreneurship and careers in traditional STEM fields, as well as automotive design and vehicle technology. STEAM Lab adds an arts component to help students learn how to use creativity and innovation in problem solving and collaboration.

“By the year 2022, approximately one million high tech jobs will become available with no one to fill them,” concludes Wilson.

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