For the third year in a row, TAF and Comcast NBCUniversal teamed up to provide TAF@Saghalie students the opportunity to participate in the Comcast Innovation Challenge — a telecommunications hackathon developed in partnership between TAF and the local Comcast Washington state team. 24 students split into six teams and worked with Comcast employee-mentors to “hack” an accessibility barrier people with disabilities may face during a disaster. Using telecommunications as a tool, students researched, designed, and built prototypes in preparation for final presentations.
As with many other planned events this year, the in-person presentations were canceled and replaced with a virtual alternative. This change presented an additional unforeseen challenge for students — developing an online presentation to reflect months of research and product development. Yet, TAF@Saghalie students were able to pivot quickly and work together to organize and record their presentations.
“Our students really did an amazing job transforming their presentations into a format that would work online. I think their ability to shift gears is indicative of the way we prepare our students on a daily basis,” TAF Career Readiness Program Manager Monique Hokett said, “Our students have had years of experience exploring solutions to challenges — problem-solving and student empowerment is what STEMbyTAF is all about — so I had no question whether they would be able to pull their presentations off.”
The challenge’s judging process experienced a shift as well. In previous years, a panel of local professionals judged projects. This year, judging fell in the hands of the public who represented a mix of friends, family, Comcast employees, and the general online community. Live stream viewers cast hundreds of votes to determine the top three prize-winning solutions based on each team’s process, product, and presentation. The presentations were also all available to see on TAF YouTube page and are still there for students and the public to see.
The winning team presented an innovative idea titled ‘E.V.A. to the Rescue’, an interactive artificial intelligence that alerts and guides people with disabilities to get through a natural disaster safely.
The top three winning teams each won scholarships towards their post-secondary education. In addition, each first-place team member received a laptop and a chance to be featured in an upcoming TAF PSA commercial sponsored by Comcast.
Partnerships with companies like Comcast are critical for students to expand their learning in and outside of the classroom. Students who participated in this opportunity strengthened their skills working in teams through various work environments, worked with and received feedback from industry professionals, and were able to explore their own innovative ideas outside the standard school curriculum.
For decades, industry talent acquisition efforts — particularly for Black, Latinx, Native American, and Pacific Islander candidates — have been challenged by what is perceived as a dry STEM pipeline. It is not enough to just recruit from colleges or tech schools. TAF recommends that all companies make investments in K-12 by giving more students similar opportunities, and especially students like those who TAF serves — 82% of which identify as a person of color and 75% who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. Our country’s demographic shift, where students of color in public schools outnumber white students, will dramatically change the talent pool of the future. Companies who not only reach a diverse talent pool early on, but open direct opportunities to them, will surely lead into the next generation of innovation.
TAF has 24 years of experience partnering with corporations to prepare students for college and career. While TAF can’t eliminate all technological and economic disparities, our corporate partnerships have helped bridge the gap of opportunity. Last year, 105 TAF high school students had access to a job shadow or internship opportunity. Many TAF students report their participation in hackathons and internships helped them forge professional relationships and acquire industry knowledge that helped them get their foot in the door of companies post-graduation.
We invite corporations to join Comcast and others in the effort to help build the next generation of professionals and entrepreneurs that will keep Washington State at the frontline of innovation.
Learn more about TAF at techaccess.org