Since 2014 we have informally worked with over 2000 students with our product. Here are some examples of individual students’ success with our approach.
- TOYZSTEAM enhanced diverse students’ applications at Facebook and Microsoft.
- Students used projects to get into highly selective education programs
- Students learned coding and game design
- Students learned 3D modeling
- Students learned how to develop on Virtual Reality
- Students learned music creation, songwriting, and entrepreneurship.
- Students visited the Education Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon with their parents.
As an example of one student’s story, Timothy is an African-American student who has been in our program since he was 10 years old. He came with a group of parents and students to CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center. Because of the Toyz Electronics program, he has a passion for STEM and he will take Calculus in High School before he graduates. He enrolled at Carnegie Mellon this Fall.
With this anecdotal evidence, we sought to explore further evidence if such results can be proven on a large scale.
In Fall 2020 we conducted CMU NSF I-Corps Research and our hypothesis was; America Is Having A Huge Crisis Training And Developing Local Talent To Pathway To Computer-related Jobs And Careers. Our assumption was Increasing Diversity Can Be A Solution. We interviewed 31 participants in 8 segments; Recruiters & IT Staffers, Admissions & Higher Learning, Corporations And Social Responsibility, Education Nonprofits, Educators, DEI Experts, Industry Associations, and Government Officials.
From HR Recruiters, Key findings include;
- Self-motivated candidates that can show their own initiative and projects are the best.
- They want Diversity on 3 levels: Background, culture, demographics.
From college recruiters, our key findings were:
- The ability to grow and learn is more important than IQ.
- They seek Values beyond self and Students that care for others.
- There is a lack of awareness of the possibility of enrollment in their colleges.
From Corporations and Social responsibility, our key findings were:
- Diversity has to be entirely inclusive for every demographic while still meeting diversity objectives.
- Some of the jobs they will hire for don’t exist yet.
- Representations Matters: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
From education nonprofits, our key findings were:
- Representation matters “students can’t be what they can’t see”
- Funding resources are limited and sustainable solutions for dollars are needed.
- More input and parental engagement are critical.
- It’s difficult to help parents help their students to learn, especially with homework.
From educators our key findings were;
- Need the training to facilitate.
- Teachers have to do the delivery.
- Partner with nonprofits for supplemental curriculum.
- Economic challenges for students are huge.
From government officials, our key findings were:
- Funding available for rural areas and Pittsburgh classifies as a rural area.
- Diversity across demographics and geography with a focus on workforce development.
- Attracting business and boosting the tax base.
From DEI experts our key findings were;
- DEI training is boring.
- Changing hearts and minds is hard.
From Industry Associations our key findings were;
- Not enough diverse higher ED like HBCUs that offer pathway or industry courses.
- Need evangelists. They are focused on awareness and education.
We developed a solution TOYZSTEAM from these findings. Our creator’s platform is built around a mobile video game that integrates a learning management system, virtual creativity tools, and an e-commerce marketplace. Our findings showed a need for a racially relevant curriculum that is accessible to diverse and disadvantaged students via a virtual digital solution that can be effective by enabling STEM learning that leverages Art, culture, and entrepreneurship in its delivery. We incorporated the need for representation for students to continue to engage in STEM learning to create a way to inspire students. We considered values beyond themselves and the desire for diversity and changing hearts and minds, and introduction to jobs that don’t exist yet such as careers in the autonomous vehicle industry in developing the videogame component of the platform. We considered the need for self-motivated candidates and the ability to showcase projects, and providing diverse higher ED like HBCUs the ability to offer STEAM pathways in developing a project-based learning management system. We considered the economic challenges, the need for a platform to showcase projects for employment, and higher learning prospects in STEM. We additionally considered parental input and engagement and providing the awareness of possibilities of college enrollment in STEM in developing the marketplace.
This culminated in TOYZSTEAM featuring four components; INSPIRE, LEARN, CREATE, SELL. They are Inspired to Learn and are given tools to virtually Create and share their stories in a culturally responsive way while earning money Selling on a marketplace. While many individual tools allow students to create virtual designs and stories that exist separately, there are no systems that integrate them into a single coherent platform that guides students in learning how to leverage these tools to be creative in an equitable way. Additionally, many of these tools exist only as desktop applications. This is a challenge for our specific set of students who may not have access to great computers, however, Nielsen The African American Diverse Intelligence Series 2020 has reported 98% of African Americans own smartphones. We are evaluating if building a mobile application to develop the talent of diverse and disadvantaged students, especially African Americans, towards employment and entrepreneurship in STEM-related industries can be effective in combating systemic racism and structural challenges