New Bedford-based youth organization says app designed to stir interest in STEAM careers; partnership with NOAA will add marine science perspective
STEAM the Streets got a huge write up in the SouthCoast Today newspaper, and highlighted just how important the #STEAMtheStreets movement is to both our community and the kids it seeks to empower. Check out the full article here!
NEW BEDFORD — “One of the biggest reactions I get when I go on stage and talk to young folks is when I tell them, yo, you know you could be a food scientist? People are just like, what do you mean?,” said Angel Diaz, co-founder of New Bedford-based youth organization STEAM the Streets, of his presentations to local students on the vast career possibilities within the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics fields which make up the STEAM acronym.
“Then I’m like yeah, and there’s like eight different types of food scientists. And they’re like what?! No way. Yes, my dude! And if that’s interesting to you, go do that thing!”
In forming their education-based youth organization in 2016, Diaz and fellow co-founder, professional videographer Ben Gilbarg — both of New Bedford — found a way to give back to their city, exposing local students to lesser-known, high-earning career pathways and trying to raise their awareness of the boundless possibilities for their future. Notwithstanding that, their vision, and the needs their group seeks to address, are bigger than the Whaling City. That’s why the two say STEAM the Streets is in the midst of a special moment with the recent launch of their mobile app, which nearly infinitely expands the reach of their message — one that they’ve been spreading mostly through local programming and partnerships with city schools with their brand of hip-hop-infused, youth-targeted outreach.
Gilbarg said the idea for the app, which debuted in October, began to take shape back in 2017 before the COVID pandemic provided opportunity to start turning the idea into reality.
“I’ve personally been a video producer and content creator going all the way back to my time at New Bedford High, and so naturally that became a part of what we did with STEAM the Streets,” said Gilbarg, noting that the group’s video productions came to include career profiles highlighting various STEAM-based pathways. “We noticed it was definitely working, students would be hooked to the screen, so we wanted a way to bring our content and approach to scale because we realized it’s great to reach a few schools, but this is a national problem we’re trying to address where there’s not enough people to fill in all these jobs that are out there.”
The app: How it works
The STEAM the Streets app, currently available to download for free on the Apple iOS (iPhone) and Android platforms, features slickly produced video segments — or “episodes” — of professionals of diverse backgrounds talking about their jobs and the pathways one can take in getting there; as well as a news feed of articles and other resources.
But it’s much more than a guided video player and media scroller. Upon first signing in, new users are presented with a series of unrelated images displayed two-at-a-time, and prompted in each case to select the image that appeals to them. “And if you don’t fully know what each one is, that’s fine — it’s about which image resonates with you,” explains Diaz in a video walk-through of the app.
Users’ selections then help the app determine three potential career paths to explore, each with two-part video lessons. The first part consists of an interview with a professional in that field, after which users are quizzed on what they learned, earning them points in the app and unlocking the second video in which Diaz talks, and raps, about things such as the impacts those roles have and details such as earning potential, as well as the steps of entering that field. Users can see how their progress measures up to others in the app via a leaderboard, and at the end of a “season,” top score holders will be entered to win prizes, Diaz explains in the introductory video.
“After the two videos are finished, you’ll see a road map with major milestones to complete if you go into that field,” Diaz explains, “and after you complete all questions, then Step 3 will be unlocked. These are curated entry level resources for you to try out an activity and act upon your inspiration. And once you’ve completed each STEAM challenge, you’ll unlock a new one.”
To STEAM the Streets, one must reach the streets
While Gilbarg and Diaz still consider the app to be in an early stage, they say the approach to its design and execution is one that is tried and true based on their experience since starting STEAM the Streets over six years ago, and from many years prior, with Gilbarg having co-founded New Bedford-based youth empowerment organization 3rd Eye Unlimited in 1998, and Diaz having worked in youth outreach programs since a teenager.
“We try to hit that ‘just right’ mark where they’re like, oh, I can buy into this and this is not over my head, but it’s also not underwhelming where they’re like, this doesn’t serve me,” said Diaz, also known as “DJ Anghelli” when performing hip-hop. “It’s the music, it’s the flare, it’s the graphics, it’s the language that’s being used. It’s really just meeting young folks where they’re at. We know that there’s a style of energy that is needed.”
According to a press release from STEAM the Streets, an estimated four million jobs in STEAM fields will go unfilled in 2023. While that ever-growing number is exponentially larger now than it was when Diaz and Gilbarg were growing up, the outreach has never been proportionate to the opportunities available, both men said.
Diaz, who teaches at the tuition-free, all-girl Our Sisters’ School in New Bedford, says this has been especially true for historically underserved demographics, which is why emphasis has been placed on featuring professionals who are of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) backgrounds in the app.
“I was failed by the public school system, is what I tell people, and I think a lot of it was just due to not having the right information that I needed to inspire me to make different decisions,” Diaz said, noting his Puerto Rican heritage. “And I’m just sick and tired of the Black and brown community getting left out of things. If kids don’t see anyone that looks like them doing something, they won’t necessarily realize that could be them doing it.”
“My grandfather … was the head of the math department at Stanford University, and even with that, I felt totally disenfranchised from things like algebra in school,” Gilbarg said. “I never heard a teacher explain why we were learning it or telling us things like how you’d use this math in making software, graphic design, and all these things a lot of us probably would have found interesting. In our case, we know how to reach youth in a way that creates that interest.
“We want them to see you don’t have to wait till college to start discovering and pursuing what you want to be. You can start these things as early as middle school and high school.”
NOAA helping out on marine science addition
With a big part of STEAM the Streets’ mission being to diversify vastly white male populated STEAM fields, the group found a friend in NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) which has stated a like-aim for itself, as the two entities partner on developing a marine science career module for the app.
The first highlighted career of the module, already in the works, will focus on the position of research marine ecologist through the experience of Fall River native Dr. Tammy Silva, who fills that role at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in Scituate.
“We’re currently in the pre-production phase on the episodes,” Gilbarg said. “We have one of our first video shoots in January where we’ll be talking to Tammy. You’ll hear her story of how she got into this and what she does, the salary range…. She graduated from UMass Dartmouth and is from Fall River so it’s a good, relatable link for people in our area.”
Gilbarg said it’s hopefully the first of many marine science careers to be highlighted. “I mean, the ocean is our backyard — we have SMST (UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology), Woods Hole, Stellwagen Bank,” he said. “As we know, offshore wind is a huge thing so we’re hoping to expand to that next.”
Diaz and Gilbarg said over the next year, emphasis will be focused on raising awareness about the app, as STEAM the Streets continues to set up meetings and partnerships with schools and other organizations both locally and beyond, like last month when Gilbarg visited Aspire High School in Oakland, California, to introduce the app to students there.
“We have something scheduled with Voc-Tech coming up in January,” Diaz said.
Beyond the yet-to-be unveiled marine module, Gilbarg said future development plans for the app include incorporating mentorship into the app as an unlockable feature that can be earned. “The support part is really big because no matter how accessible something may seem, you need community,” he said, noting that much is owed to the support of sponsors like the Marion Institute, BayCoast Bank, Carney Family Foundation, and McMillian-Stewart Foundation for STEAM the Streets’ accomplishments. “That’s really the bigger vision of this — to create a community.”
“When I look at us and where we at with this work it’s like, yo, who would think we’d be here doing what we do on this level? I mean, we built an app! A couple of New Bedford kids who came up from a love for hip-hop, knew nothing about building apps, and still did it anyway,” Diaz said. “And now look — we’re working with a federal agency and talking about how we can put this thing into as many people’s hands as possible across the country.
“If we can do all this, just imagine what you could do.”
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