During the last four years, ITSRG has sponsored the BITS Program, an after school and summer intensive program aimed at increasing information technology skills among students enrolled in local public high schools. The program has involved over 400 high school students and reached out to their families across North Philadelphia to raise community technology skills and improve preparedness of students to pursue their educational aims. We focus particularly on broadening participation among underrepresented youth in science, technology, engineering and math - so called STEM fields of study.
Today, Barack Obama’s campaign held a rally at Progress Plaza, located in North Philadelphia - next door to ITSRG’s location on Temple University’s Main Campus. Our recent opening of the ITSRG Workroom, a community-university computer technology learning space located in University Services Building at the corner of Broad and Oxford Streets, is the culmination of our long effort to situate our community outreach and collaborative programs in a dedicated lab on Temple University’s campus. We have aimed to create a spot where students from the surrounding neighborhoods can join with Temple students and faculty in the exploration of the local community, gain an appreciation of the geographer’s eye for learning about people and places, and build information technology and geographic analysis skills through hands on learning activities that are fun to engage.
Our students have been studying Progress Plaza throughout these past four years. They have examined it in the context of the Charles Blockson-inspired program to demarkate sites of importance in the African American experience throughout Philadelphia. They have examined it in terms of its role in supporting community health because of the dental and chiropractic community services that are located at the shopping center. They have considered the magnitude of the loss of the neighborhood’s only supermarket ten years ago and its long term impacts on community nutritional needs and food security concerns. They have anticipated, along with the whole ITSRG staff, the promise of the return of a new grocery store. They have examined the use of Progress Plaza’s ramps to provide accessibility for wheelchair users to the shops and services and thus fostered an understanding of how built environments can shape social inclusion in the local economy. They have tested the availability of wireless Internet services through Philadelphia’s free wi-fi available through Wireless Philadelphia at Progess Plaza, concluding that the wall along Broad Street is not a bad spot from which to use an Ipod Touch!
As ITSRG begins recruitment for BITS 2008, we observe the dramatic changes that are occuring at this historic hub of local economic development in North Philadelphia. Who could have imagined when we began teaching students from the community how to take digital photos, create blogs, make maps using web applications, and use collaborative technologies to share their work with each other that this spot would be a backdrop in a presidential election of unprecidented historic proportions four years later? The event may be momentary, but the symbolism at this historic site founded by Leon Sullivan forty years ago will resonate in this community’s memories for years to come. Maybe that is why people stood in a half-mile long line beginning at 6:00 am this morning to catch a glimpse and be a part of the moment.
Michele Masucci, Director - ITSRG