Going the distance for technology education

It’s something most modern-day professionals have thought at one time or another — if the power goes out or the network crashes at the office, how can I get any work done? We’ve grown so accustomed to our technology — and our offices have largely eschewed paper — that we’re often lost without it.

Because technology has integrated itself so effectively into virtually every facet of our day-to-day lives, it can be difficult for many of us to recognize that there are still people in the Greater Madison community who don’t have adequate access to technology and training to keep up with the rest of the world and remain competitive for the jobs of tomorrow.

Locally, there’s a nonprofit that’s been striving to close the gap since 2004, and though its name may not be instantly recognizable, its founder is.

The Technology Education Foundation (TEF) was founded in 2004 by Jim Berbee, the founder of Berbee Information Networks Corporation (now CDW) and the creator of the eponymous Berbee Derby.

The Foundation annually funds and supports community organizations and groups that provide important technology resources and technology education to residents — especially those who help close the “technology gap.” TEF funds benefit children, teens, and adults of all ages who do not have access to or have only limited access to technology. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the annual Thanksgiving Day Berbee Derby go to fund TEF and its grants.

This year, greater than $88,000 was awarded to 14 grant recipients. Since its inception, the Foundation has provided more than $570,000 in technology education grants to area programs.

According to Suzy Shain, communications manager for TEF, the Berbee Derby and TEF have been connected from the start. A native Madisonian, Berbee is also an avid runner. Some years back, Shain explains, he came across an article in the Wall Street Journal about Thanksgiving Day runs and learned that 5K and 10K races on this big holiday were common all over the country, and were very successful in both attracting participants and in raising funds.

“To Jim, it seemed like a no brainer that a strong running community like Madison would support such a race, and that it could potentially raise a good bit of money for a worthy cause,” notes Shain. “So Jim and his staff set out to create a race and run it near the company’s headquarters in Fitchburg, and the Berbee Derby was born in 2004.”

At the same time, Berbee needed a worthy cause to support. Eager to find something that would be in line with the company’s activities and philosophy, Berbee and company CEO Paul Shain hit upon the idea of a cause to help promote the use of technology in classrooms and nonprofit organizations — something for both youth and adults, explains Shain.

“Technology changes so quickly, and it’s important that people of all ages are exposed to it,” says Berbee. “The problem is that it’s also expensive, and there really wasn’t a good source of private funding dedicated to it in Madison.”

Now in its 13th year, TEF has awarded grants to approximately 150 organizations. Among the programs that have benefited are the YWCA and DANEnet.

TEF funds have helped support the YWCA’s YWeb Career Academy, which targets young women and young people of color who are underrepresented in technology careers. The goal of YWebCA is to prepare students for — and increase the opportunities to obtain — family-sustaining jobs, while meeting a gap in the labor market for these positions, notes Shain. YWebCA provides instruction in website development skills and also covers job readiness, team building, and hands-on learning in computer programming through an intensive training institute.

Shain points to career academy graduate Elizabeth Bell as an example of how TEF funds provide a tangible benefit.

“Bell’s life had been filled with many hardships, and she had to take on two jobs to provide for her family,” Shain says. “In the eight-month course in which she took part, the students learned web development tools, software development, and soft skills for their future careers. They learned front-end web development skills including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Git, UX design, and project management.”

Another program that’s benefited from TEF grants is DANEnet, which partnered with three community centers during the 2015–16 school year to offer Maker Clubs.

Maker Clubs combine art, technology, engineering, and do-it-yourself culture, Notes Shain. Participating youth work alone or in small groups with adults to create, innovate, design, and build cool stuff. “Over the course of the program, youth soldered, coded, designed, failed, and succeeded at making, and along the way built technology skills, engineering design skills, creativity, and a little resilience.”

Monique Bryson, youth program director at Elver Park, notes, “Overall, Maker Club has challenged our students to think critically and work in a group to complete a goal. This is a daunting task to do with middle schoolers, especially after a busy day in school. Makers provided a break in our week to do programming that is structured and interactive, which is needed for some of children.”



Providing in-demand skills

According to Shain, many people in Madison are participating in the benefits of an information society; however, there still is a large gap between those in the community who have access to technology training and those who do not have the needed technology background to be competitive.

“By funding organizations who work closely with underserved technology populations, both public and private, TEF is helping more adults to obtain crucial technology skills. As well, TEF is an important part of the equation that helps local employers find and have access to skilled workers. We hope that this will encourage more companies to locate in the area, and those companies already here to grow.”

In order to provide its grants, a TEF selection committee reviews funding applications annually. Awards based on relevance to technology education, scope of impact, creativity, and geographic location, explains Shain. “As an example, we have been pleased with the work of the YWCA. They are working hard to provide technology education to underrepresented women. They have a developing track record of providing these skills for underemployed women to join the work force.”

Recipients of the 2016 TEF grants are:

School District of Monroe: $9,000 for three Makerbot Replicator desktop 3D printers for each elementary school.

Huegel Elementary School: $4,928 for Dreambox for their second, third, and fourth grade students. Dreambox is an online math program that provides extensive data on student progress.

Chavez Elementary School: $5,300 for Chromebooks, internet service, a laser printer, and related hardware to be used in the Trail to Success after-school programming and parent empowerment training.

Vera Court Neighborhood Center: $5,000 to help launch Vera Vision 2020. This campaign will double the size the of the current center and intensify its academic programming to ensure every child has the support they need to read at grade level and graduate high school.

DANEnet: $10,000 for Everyone On Madison, a new initiative to close the digital divide in Madison. Everyone On Madison will help connect families to home internet services, and provide refurbished desktop computers and digital literacy education to 500 households.

Madison Metropolitan School District: $5,000 to support a project to implement Mobile Makers in MMSD’s elementary schools. Mobile Maker will engage the district’s elementary school students in learning experiences that will help them build complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaborative skills.

Boys & Girls Club: $5,000 to put toward Engineering in Action: Community Building, a new STEM program that BGCDC will be implementing in fall 2016. This 16-week program enables participants to learn engineering principles and practices.

Maydm: $2,500 for iPads to be used by students in hardware and Arduino programming, coding exercises, and web development.

Madison Children’s Museum: $5,000 to support the 2016–17 MCM STEAM Programming series, which will have the theme of virtual reality.

Aldo Leopold Nature Center: $3,000 to fund electronic hardware to ensure functionality of their high-tech meets high-touch educational exhibits and field studies programs.

YWCA: $10,000 for Macbook Air laptops to support YWeb Career Academy. The YWeb Career Academy program provides instruction in website development skills through an intensive training institute.

Wisconsin Youth Company: $9,584 for laptops with sixth generation i7 processors accessible to approximately 200 students; this will upgrade the current computer lab.

St. James Catholic School: $5,500 to implement an information technology plan to supplement its current curriculum. The funds will go to purchase tablets for junior high grades.

Sector67: $8,300 to provide 10 portable workstations that will enable after-school clubs to expand and grow. Sector67 serves many facets of the Madison community, including educational outreach and programs oriented toward middle school students.

Berbee Derby

As always, the 2016 Berbee Derby will be held this year on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, and all proceeds from the event will fund TEF grants that help support area technology projects. Berbee Derby information and online registration is available at www.berbeederby.com.

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