The 21st Century’s “Acres of Diamonds”

The rapid and pervasive development of digital technologies have brought unprecedented opportunities for innovations in our society. Tools like smart phones and social media are fundamentally changing the way we work and live. In many cases, these innovations have improved the quality of lives. Furthermore, these innovations have unleashed a new wave of entrepreneurial activities that define American spirit. However, unfortunately, the consequences of digital innovations are not being felt equally by every member of our society. While the digital technology helps companies produce record-breaking profits, many urban communities are left jobless as traditional jobs are being increasingly automated and outsourced through the use of technology. Furthermore, even though the “digital divide” for basic access to digital infrastructure might be shrinking, there is a widening gap between those who create and those who consume new digital innovations. Reducing the growing economic gap and the widening “digital creative divide” is a moral, economic and social imperative for our society.

Temple Unversity’s Urban Apps & Maps program is our response to this grand challenge of our society. It aims at eliminating the digital creative divide by providing real-life learning opportunities to urban youth in North Philadelphia. They learn to identify innovation opportunities in urban America, and then transform them into viable solutions through design, technology and entrepreneurship. This booklet provides a sneak view of what our students were able to do in six weeks, when they were given tools, training, trust and opportunities to think on their own. They ideas are creative, real and practical. We are all inspired by the ingenuity, wit and grit of our students.

The overwhelming success of our summer program is another reaffirmation of the approach that Temple University has taken over the last decade to work with urban youth and neighboring community. This is an approach based on a shared belief and commitment: that our urban community is an incredible source of innovations; that our urban youth are ready to learn new skills for the 21st century; and, that when we invest on our youth, they are ready to build new tools that solves real-world problems.

At the turn of last century, Dr. Russell Conwell once said, “We must know what the world needs first, and then invest ourselves to supply that need, and success is almost certain.” With Urban Apps & Maps program, we are preparing our youth to become the next generation urban leaders who can supply the tools that world needs. With this anticipation, we are looking forward to continuing to work with our students in coming years.

(This is to be included in the report from Apps & Maps 2013 Summer Progrm).

Professor | Writer | Teacher Digital Innovation, Design, Organizational Genetics Case Western Reserve University

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