Saturday, August 05, 2000

Students get taste of tech from program

Hands-on projects give minorities boost for college classes

By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CRESTVIEW HILLS — When Philip Jemison began Platinum Communications with some fellow high school students six days ago, the company's profit soon shot up to more than $8 million.

[photo] Ryan Scott, 16, (left) and Oluchi Nwankwo, 16, work on building a telephone as part of the Building Enthusiasm for Science and Technology program
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        Now it's in the red, losing millions, but Mr. Jemison, 17, isn't nervous, even though he and his colleagues had to present to the board of directors Friday morning.

        Lucky for him, he is in the third and final year of a science and technology summer program for minority youth, sponsored by Cincinnati Bell. Platinum Communications is a mock company, and the board of directors is a smattering of corporate folk brought in to judge its business proposal.

        “They're teaching a lot of this stuff on a college level, but we're going to be prepared for it,” said Mr. Jemison, an incoming senior at St. Xavier High School in Fin neytown. He is looking at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Clark University in Atlanta for next year.

        The Building Enthusiasm for Science and Technology program, in its 12th year, the third at Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, has touched more than 1,000 youths in the Greater Cincinnati area since its inception. About 65 minority students from high schools in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky who expressed interest in science and technology fields are in the program this year.

        “We have a deficit of African- Americans trained and employed in technological and science fields,” said Barbara Milon, executive director of the Neighborhood Development Corporations Association of Cincinnati. “The more we can expose them to those fields, the better off we are.”

        Most of the students are from Cincinnati Public Schools, although some are from Kentucky. They all share an interest in science and technology.

        The multifaceted program builds on itself each year, said Vernita Henderson, a Cincinnati Bell consultant who helps organize BEST.

        First-year students, usually incoming sophomores in high school, build usable telephones from a component system. Some third-year students still use in their households the telephones they made two years ago.

        In the students' second year, they work on computers, this year constructing their own Web sites and resumes. In the final year, they group together and make their own mock company with an MBA-style business plan.

        “It gives the kids a practical application to something that seems very theoretical,” said Tamika Green, a Cincinnati Bell engineer who volunteered to help with the phone construction.

        Ms. Green, 25, knows what it is like to be on the learning side of BEST. She was a participant, at age 14, in the program's first year. Being on a real college campus was a benefit, she said, as was having a lot of positive role models in the science and technology fields. Ms. Green went to get a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Cincinnati.

        BEST also conducts a diversity workshop and a professional image workshop for the students, similar to workshops that Cincinnati Bell puts on for employees.

        Chad Thrasher, 15, of Mount Healthy High School, is in his second year in the program and says he can now construct a Web page in about five minutes. He knew a little HTML — the computer coding system that makes up Web sites — before the computer workshop.

        His Web page is for a Lexus sport coupe, and reads, “Lexus is da bomb.”


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