As the executive director of aSTEAM Village, William Wells always thinks of the next big thing. His job involves engaging K-12 students and their families in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) pursuits. Under his leadership, aSTEAM Village—a nonprofit based in the third council district of the City of Kansas City, Missouri—was recently recognized as the Pre-College Initiative National Chapter of the Year by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).
Some of the programs Wells has led at aSTEAM Village include taking local teams to national championships featuring autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) robotics and engineering. As a result, more than 85% of students focused on ASV move on to college or the workforce.
Last year, when Wells was interviewed on Career Communications Group’s High-Tech Sunday podcast to mark America’s Fourth of July celebrations, he spoke of how aSTEAM Village sees Kansas City as a connected community that adopts STEAM education as a pathway to achieve prosperity in the 21st century.
This week, aSTEAM Village announced that it is leading a new component of a digital equity initiative launched by the City of Kansas.
“Connecting businesses and residents to the internet in underserved communities is a fundamental step in providing an infrastructure of equity and opportunity,” said Melissa Robinson, 3rd District council member at the launch on Thursday. “Educating people on how to use the internet is key to improving quality of life for our residents.”
Kansas City leaders shared the podium with Lincoln University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, AT&T, and aSTEAM Village.
“The pandemic will force education, industry, government, and our communities to make a decision,” Wells explained to Black Engineer magazine online. “The only path to successful digital transformation and equity and inclusion is to accept that you cannot accomplish anything in the digital age without full engagement and participation of our youth and adults working in concert to leverage the knowledge and skills that all of them possess,” he added.
Wells said that success in the digital economies would only happen when everyone can access learn-work-earn projects like the Digital KC Now initiative. He also thanked local leaders: Quinton Lucas, mayor, City of Kansas City, Missouri; Brian Platt, city manager, City of Kansas; Melissa Kozakiewicz, assistant city manager, City of Kansas; and 3rd District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson.
When it is fully implemented, Digital KC Now will connect businesses and residents to internet opportunities that will enhance personal, social, and economic development across the district and enhance equity and opportunity. It also will be another critical element of a collaborative approach to obtaining digital equity in Kansas City.
The Digital KC NOW project will bridge the digital divide across neighborhoods, beginning with a pilot project in the 3rd District, where aSTEAM Village is based.
aSTEAM Village will hire, train and mentor a youth workforce from the 3rd District to put Digital KC Now into action. aSTEAM Village is working with local and national partners to bring this program to fruition, generating both increased digital access and creating a body of knowledge workers from the 3rd District who will be able to utilize this skillset for years to come.
“aSTEAM Village is filling the pipeline with trained young minds to meet 21st Century workforce demands,” said Chester Thompson, Jr., chair of aSTEAM Village’s board of directors.
Using technically trained citizens of the 3rd District means the community will lead the charge of education, healthcare, and workforce development for participation in the 21st-century economy.
Digital KC NOW is an initiative created to bring equitable internet access and technology-focused education to Kansas City neighborhoods that need better internet connectivity and more practical guidance on making better use of the internet.