ACC, Verizon bring tech to Elgin

The Elgin Courier: August 1, 2018

For many rural students with an interest in technology, hands-on experience and access to equipment can be nearly impossible to come by.

Partnering with the Verizon Innovative Learning program, Austin Community College Elgin is combatting this problem by offering a free summer program for rural middle school girls from the Elgin, Manor and Bastrop areas.

The program is three weeks long with activities all day Monday through Friday. The students spend their time doing team-building activities, listening to speakers, attending classes about technology and working in teams on final projects they present at the end of the program.

One disadvantage rural students face when getting involved with technology is transportation, according to Natalie Almanza, an ACC high school programs enrollment and outreach specialist and one of the co-directors of the ACC Elgin program.

It is often difficult for rural students to get to Austin to experience the resources there, she said, but this program brought some of those experiences closer to them.

In addition, some schools might not have as many new technology resources, such as 3D printers and virtual reality equipment, that let the students get hands-on experience, said Lauren Thomas, another ACC high school programs enrollment and outreach specialist and co-director of the ACC Elgin program.

“As these technologies grow and become a bigger part of everyday lives, it’s really important for all students, and for all girls in particular, to have access to it,” Thomas said.

Laura Siller-Luis, one of the teachers for the program from Pflugerville ISD, said she thinks it’s important to give students who live in different areas and come from different backgrounds an opportunity to work with this technology.

“As girls, these kinds of things used to be targeted mostly at boys traditionally, so now it’s very important that they see it, that they can do it and they see that there’s other women out there (who) accomplish their goals, and they can use them as role models,” Siller-Luis said.

Almanza said the girls in the program have the potential to do things with technology, but they might not yet realize how powerful those skills are.

“They get discouraged (by the technology) a lot, so you have to encourage them a lot, they think it’s too hard for them when it’s really not,” said Dana Whitmire, another Pflugerville ISD teacher who teaches in the program. “Once you get them into it, they seem to enjoy it and they realize they can do it when they think they can’t.”

The summer program wrapped up on Friday, July 27 with a showcase of the students’ final projects, which range from making piggy banks out of empty water bottles to EpiPen watches and drones that alert endangered animals about nearby poachers.

“They’ve done some really great jobs,” Almanza said. “They’re very innovative, they’re thinking outside of the box.”

This is the second year for the Verizon Innovative Learning program for rural girls and the first year that ACC Elgin has participated.

The program is currently funded through next year, and Siller-Luis said she hopes that the program will continue even farther in the future.

“We’re thrilled that this is an opportunity for these girls, and we’re thrilled that it’s out here in the Elgin area,” Thomas said. “It has been a blast.”


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