Martin Luther King Day of Service 2014

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service, which commemorates the distinguished civil rights leader and celebrates civic engagement, the Urban Technology Project’s (UTP) Digital Service Fellows (DSF) served with two projects in the Philadelphia community. 

Mayor Nutter addresses the Girard College volunteers

Mayor Nutter addresses the Girard College volunteers

Students take home their refurbished computers from NTR

Students take home their refurbished computers from NTR

Derek helps set up Girard College computer lab

Derek helps set up Girard College computer lab

The Digital Service Fellows volunteered at Girard College, the signature site for the Martin Luther King Day of Service, with UTP’s partner organization, Non-profit Technology Resources (NTR).  NTR works to serve low-income community members in Philadelphia by recycling used computers, providing hands-on work experience, and assisting community-based service organizations to integrate computers into their work. The Digital Service Fellows assisted NTR with their computer donation program, which donated a refurbished computer to fifty selected students and offered  a class on how to maintain their new devices.  The class consisted of students from Girard College and the Philadelphia Futures program and focused on practical computer basics, such as how to connect to the Internet and use various computer programs. The DSFs helped students open their computers to learn how to identify the components as well as perform basic troubleshooting.  This service project enabled the Urban Technology Project and NTR to showcase their abilities and beliefs regarding equal access to technology, the importance of digital literacy and how to use technology to leverage resources for economic sustainability.

Another portion of the Digital Service Fellows volunteered at the John Street Community Center, a local Philadelphia Housing Authority facility.  Again, the fellows applied their knowledge and expertise in computer repairs to diagnosis technical problems afflicting the center’s computer lab.  The impact of these services will be felt long after the MLK day activities, as the community center will have a greater capacity to serve the community with digital literacy and GED classes.  The DSFs also got their hands dirty as they joined several other community volunteers in painting the community center’s large group room.  Philadelphia Housing Authority President & CEO, Kelvin Jeremiah, joined the fellows to paint and thanked them for their contributions as AmeriCorps members serving the Philadelphia community. 

Gabby, Keven and Ahmeer painting the John Street Community Center

Gabby, Keven and Ahmeer painting the John Street Community Center

Digital Service Fellows diagnosing computer issues

Digital Service Fellows diagnosing computer issues

Digital Service Fellows on MLK Day 2014

Digital Service Fellows on MLK Day 2014

Both service projects were incredible successful and exemplified the Urban Technology Project’s mission to bring meaningful technology experiences to Philadelphia communities.  The Urban Technology Project would like to thank all of our partners that made the 2014 Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service incredibly successful. 

Digital Service Fellows Serve in Math Science Academy and Visit Harrisburg University

Teaching and learning is at the base of what it means to be a part of the Urban Technology Project, and today the Digital Service Fellows had the chance to do both.


Awake early, the UTP team drove out to Harrisburg to serve in the Harrisburg school district and perform an Hour of Code at it’s Math Science Academy. The team formed two groups and led a lesson titled, “Lost in Space” in two 8th grade classrooms. They introduced themselves  to the students and talked about what coding is, how computers can be used for a multitude of purposes and how computers need to be told what to do. This is the job of programmers, to create commands for computers to execute.

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Dylan, Shevar and Kenny explained different examples for what coding can be used for: functions in videogames, cheat codes, building websites, managing data and much more. Gabby discussed the growing field of computer science and the opportunities that are available for young people who choose to learn programming languages. After the introduction, the students jumped into the activity and began coding.

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The DSFs circulated throughout the classroom answering questions, giving advice and problem-solving with the students. The activity engaged the 8th graders and pushed some to compete with each other and code faster than their classmates. Some finished the lesson in less than an hour.

We thank the Harrisburg school district for inviting us into their classrooms and giving us the opportunity to start a relationship that we hope to continue based around technology, computer science and service learning.


After finishing up and saying goodbye to Math Science Academy we headed over to Strawberry Square in downtown Harrisburg and took lunch. Our stomachs full, we were ready to move on and learn about a young, innovative institution. Conveniently located next store, we walked to Harrisburg University and were greeted by Jankail and Jaison from the admissions office. Our tour guide, Jankail showed us upstairs to the executive conference room where we were greeted by Dr. Eric Darr, President of the University,  Provost Dr. Bili Mattes, Steven Infanti, head of admissions, and professor Charles Palmer. Dr. Darr  gave a brief history of the young institution and its educational and organizational philosophy. Founded in 2001, HU was the first university to be created in Pennsylvania in over 100 years (Carnegie Technical school, now Carnegie Mellon University, was the last). Harrisburg University has grown since its inception and currently enrolls over 400 degree-seeking students and over 400 non-degree students taking classes. Dr. Darr explained that because the university is still a small institution, it is flexible and can make changes more quickly, unlike larger institutions. The focus of HU is the student’s experience.

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On our tour we saw a number of projects that HU students are working on, and the resources that are available to them. The campus is vertical, located in one building and offers premier facilities. The classrooms have many technical capabilities including worktables that have laptop connectors, so the professor can project what’s on any laptop screen that is connected to the front of the classroom at any time. Also, cameras are located in most classrooms, so if a student is sick or on a trip and can’t make it, he/she can see a live video stream of the lesson.

We talked to a geospatial technology professor who told us about an ongoing project to scan hundreds of historical maps and locate coal mines throughout Pennsylvania. As he was speaking, two students were sliding a map in between large plastic sheets and guiding it through a scanner – this was a paid student job, $14 an hour – not so bad.

We also stopped in a lab used for environmental science and forensics and in the classroom there were many different living animals, insects in boxes and plastic containers as well as deceased specimens in glass jars. Among the living were: a bearded dragon, flesh-eating beetles (yes, you heard me right, flesh-eating!), spiders, and other creepy crawly critters.

Our second to last stop was with interactive media professor Charlie Palmer. He showed us one of HU’s many cool toys. Imagine a huge hamster ball, constructed with a beehive design, made out of plastic. This was the virtusphere, meant for people to design, test, and experience virtual reality. Ahmeer and Tyree had the chance to put on the virtual reality headset and jump in the giant hamster ball. Inside there was a moveable handrail that helped whoever was inside to walk- The virtusphere rolls in place and allows people to move around the virtual world without actually going anywhere – for game and virtual design it also helps measure X and Z variables, but not Y. Everyone who was watching could see a screen that displayed what the person inside the ball was seeing, and how they were moving around.

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Finally, we saw one of the dorms, met some students and the resident life coordinator, and then had to get ready to head back to Philadelphia.

The Digital Service Fellows were pumped from the tour and many have already began to apply to receive more information. Over all, a great day!



The lesson can be found on Tynker’s website. Tynker is an educational online tool to teach computational thinking and introductory code to students of all ages. The lesson can also be found on the Computer Science Education Week’s website.

Digital Service Fellows Serve in Philadelphia Schools for Computer Science Education Week

Computer Science Education Week’s Hour of Code initiative, a national educational movement that introduces and demystifies computer coding and computational thinking, has just concluded. The event ran from December 9-15, 2013. The Hour of Code initiative was created to address the lack of formal computer science education in K-12 schools in America and empower students to be creators of digital media, not just consumers of it.
As part of the initiative, over 16 million students were engaged nationally in a variety of online and offline educational tutorials. Computer Science Education Week was supported by organizations and individuals such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the College Board, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, President Bill Clinton, and over 100 others.

Numerous schools in the Philadelphia area participated in the Hour of Code initiative.  The Urban Technology Project’s Digital Service Fellows (DSF) an award-winning AmeriCorps program dedicated to improving digital literacy and closing the digital divide in Philadelphia, took this opportunity to help introduce students to  computer science in schools throughout the city. The Digital Service Fellows assisted teachers by serving as technology specialists and guides for the various activities. During Computer Science Education Week, the DSFs assisted 25 teachers and served over 900 students at ten schools throughout the city of Philadelphia.

Student "robot" following code to stack cups

Student “robot” following student written code to stack cups

These engaging activities inspired students, as young as first graders, and as old as 8th graders, to start learning about computer science.  The Hour of Code activity was well received by classes where Digital Service Fellows provided support; 85 percent of students polled expressed that they would like to learn more about computer science. The Hour of Code tutorials will remain online to encourage students to explore further and continue learning about code and computer science.   A link to the CSEdWeek tutorials can be found here:

Mentoring students

Keven Campana mentoring students

The Urban Technology Project’s  Digital Service Fellows worked hard to provide service during Computer Science Education Week. However, it would not have been possible without all of the teachers, administrators and parents, who welcomed the Urban Technology Project into their schools and communities.  We thank everyone for their
passion and support during this last week. The Hour of Code initiative allowed us to address the need for greater digital literacy. Computer Science not only prepares students for college degrees or careers that utilize technology,  it emphasizes creative problem solving and persistence. Computer Science is applicable in hundreds of industries and areas of focus.  A workforce that is highly skilled and tech savvy is required for the twenty-first century.  The Digital Service Fellows were proud to help engage students in using computers and technology to code. Our hope is to continue these connections so that we can mentor students in coding and application design on a regular basis.

We  served in the following schools:

Edwin M. Stanton School A.B. Day School James R. Lowell School Jay Cooke Elementary School Dr. Ethel Allen School Thomas K. Finletter School Horatio B. Hackett Elementary School Woodrow Wilson Middle School Luis Muñoz- Marín School Gen. G. A. McCall school

Digital Service Fellows ‘Hangout’ with Google Recruiter

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work at one of the largest tech companies in the world? This past Friday the Urban Technology Project’s Digital Service Fellows (DSF) had the unique opportunity to speak with Chris Watkins, an employee with Google. Chris was able to meet us from across the country through a “Google Hang Out” from their Mountain View Campus in California. Jay Cohen, public school parent, Google Doc and apps developer and long time friend of the Urban Technology Project, connected with Chris when he traveled to Google’s Mountain View campus in California for a development event last month.

Google’s Mountain View campus

Chris spoke with the Digital Service Fellows about his experiences and the importance of persistence in achieving one’s professional goals. He talked about his experiences growing up outside of Chicago, attending college and working at Google as a recruiter focused on incorporating minority populations in the tech industry.

Asking questions

Dylan explaining our program to Chris

The DSFs had a chance to introduce our program and what the Urban Technology Project does,  and how they develop their professional skills and provide service to parents, students and community members in Philadelphia. The DSFs had a chance to ask Chris questions about how he came to work at Google, what it’s like to work with a big tech company and what the server room looks like. He said he hasn’t seen it, due to high security.

Chris received the questions openly and responded with great advice. He  expressed the importance of enhancing one’s versatility by beginning to learn coding languages, and emphasized the utility of scripting and how prevalent languages like Java, Python and Bash are in the tech industry. He advised that the DSFs do the best job they can, and take advantage of all the learning opportunities they get, because down the line it will pay off in getting a job or recommendation for another employer. The meeting with Chris left the DSF’s feeling energized and gave them an insight into the process of getting a job and what it’s like at one of the largest tech companies in the world. At the end of our discussion he said, “it’s like any other job” there are days when you don’t feel like going, and there are days when you enjoy it.

DSF group