"Today we are here to call attention to a tremendous opportunity for youth educators around the city to help prepare local high school students to participate in the green economy as workers, consumers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and advocates through the stimulus funding that Philadelphia has been awarded for summer youth jobs.We all understand the importance of creating an economic system and jobs that lead to a sustainable future for our communities. We can green our economic system through using renewable resources in the place of non-renewable ones, fostering people and workplaces to engage in energy conserving practices, re-engineering our industrial production processes, developing sustainable transportation systems, and protecting the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Central to the effort to green our economic system is the need to develop the knowledge and applied research that support making the best decisions about which practices to engage, techniques to apply, and innovations to advance to ensure that our local economy is vibrant and our communities are sustainable for future generations. The core mission of our university is to advance the knowledge and research, teach students the skills and technologies, and translate what we learn into solutions for society to achieve economic and environmental quality goals.
ITSRG and Temple University, along with the other providers highlighted here today, are proud to have an opportunity to provide green jobs for high school students through the work-ready program. ITSRG aims to help program participants learn the conceptual underpinnings, gain practical experiences, and develop and use skills that will support them to pursue educational pathways and occupations that will ultimately support our city to develop its green sector. One day we hope these students will:Help us renovate our aging housing infrastructure to include renewable and energy conserving technologies, like installing solar panels, green roofs, and gray-water systems as builders, engineers, and designers;
- Find innovative ways to Leverage our city’s digital infrastructure to improve efficiencies in our transportation, education, and health delivery systems as entrepreneurs, business owners, and managers;
- Market Philadelphia’s green assets – like Fairmount Park, our waterfront spaces, our extremely walkable infrastructure, our car share and maybe one day soon our bike share systems as participants in the hospitality and tourist industries;
- Connect our community garden and urban agriculture infrastructures to promote a local foods agenda – one of the highest impact actions we can take to lessen our collective carbon footprints as health and environmental educators, restaurant managers and owners, and consumers;
- Further develop our knowledge economy by connecting environmental research and education at the city’s institutions of higher education with local investors who can translate state of the art technologies and findings from research studies into best practices for health, education, engineering, and innovation.
Because of this, we are keenly aware that the geography of distance is often at strong odds with true access to the resources and social networks people rely on to improve the qualities of their lives. We began our ten-year long effort by implementing a community technology center at Harrison Public Housing Development that offered technology literacy training to children, high school students and adults through programs offered by Geography and Urban Studies students.
We applied the lessons learned to expand our technology literacy training programs in the areas of environmental and health technology applications over the years. There is much literature in the field of youth education to suggest that the long standing disparities related to accessing technology, often referred to as the digital divide, are now resulting in a critical skills divide for students who must gain ICT skills to pursue their educational goals at the college level and to enter into the 21st century work force. This is particularly true for the green sector opportunities we are fostering in Philadelphia.
More than ever, students need to understand how to gather, interpret, analyze and visualize data related to environmental systems; how to communicate both in person and in a virtual realm; how to use ICTs to overcome distance in their collaborative endeavors; how to bridge geographic and cultural divides through an understanding about people’s practices in different places; and how to synthesize and innovate based on these foundations. These are the core competencies our students will need to participate in Philadelphia’s green sector in the future.
As a university research center that champions the importance of interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches for research, we have dealt with the challenges of our local communities through two pathways over the years.
First, we help families and students to gain the skills and knowledge they need, particularly related to IT and geography. Our aim is to foster engagement and persistence for students to take a long view of the relationship of their educations to their economic opportunities in the future. We work to leverage the resources of our institution through partnering with students and their families to provide access to state of the art facilities on our campus related to our programs (such as the tech center where we are meeting today) and to translate what we study in discipines into programs that will help students prepare for the next chapters in their lives as they pursue their educational goals.
Second, we work to foster an understanding of the needs and challenges faced by local students and their families within our Temple community so that we can create the partnerships needed to enable local students to prepare for and pursue their goals through achieving academic success.In order to do this, we have over the years called many to service; and we are always pleased by the willingness of faculty and staff, administrators and most of all students to respond to those calls.
Our programs have involved over 50 faculty through the years, just as many staff and administrators, and literally hundreds of students through courses, service learning opportunities, internships, work-study community outreach programs, and grant funded positions to advance technological and basic literacies, improve the quality of local environments, and teach fundamentals of geography and maps to students young and old around the neighborhood. We have partnered with organizations large and small, have been fortunate to receive enormous support for our vision from PYN over the years, and because of that support from nationally competitive sources like the National Science Foundation.
Faculty have given countless lectures, staff have made untold numbers of accommodations, deans and department chairs have shared their space and labs, and most of all Temple students have given their time through the years. In order to do this, Temple students have also taken the time to acquire the ICT, geography, and environmental knowledge and skills they need to pass on to students and families who participate in our programs. So, both Temple and high school students alike learn how to make maps, interpret spatial data, use information technologies such as geographic information systems, social media applications, digital photography, global positioning systems, graphic design, landscape analysis and narrative description. They all engage in field experiences – the backbone for geographic and environmental research, involving applying scientific and social science methods to see their local landscapes through the lens of our disciplinary frameworks.
This summer we are pleased to add new partners to our efforts, including Friends of the Wissahickon Park and environmental and health researchers from across the university who have agreed to open their labs and staff to provide interns with experience-based projects to learn the science and technology that underpins the green economy we are building.
Some examples of this work include Professor Michel Boufadel's work on studying the effects of remediation in the landscapes impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill 20 years ago and Research Scientist Giuseppe Russo's efforts to create a digital-laboratory within a prominent virtual environmental computing platform called Second Life that supports research collaborations in different countries.Most of all, at ITSRG, we are proud to be a home for the memories of the students we engage in our programs.
We bear witness to a part of the educational process that sometimes eludes families and formal educators: the establishment of ties between students at vastly different stages in their educations that sustain interests in new endeavors; the value of role models for young students who envision themselves in the experiences they witness; the importance of hard work which challenges one’s patience; the commitment to oneself and one’s family required to defer gratification in order to pursue an education – particularly in these times of such economic turmoil. The environmental and economic challenges we face today require the participation and success of the young people with whom we are privileged to work. We – their elders – are counting on them, need them, urge them to transcend the barriers they face in their immediate circumstances to take the long view and persist in their studies.
Hazreena Ali and Jennifer Caddell, two BITS Participants in prior years are now joining our Harrison Campus Compact staff as mentors and who plan to begin their university educations in the coming year. I am pleased that they will share a few words about their experiences at ITSRG that help to illustrate our commitment to fostering persistence among students in Philadelphia to pursue science and technology careers.I want to conclude my comments by sharing some images of our programs taken by students through the past few years. These show the local landscapes they study, with an aim to interpret the history of the built environment, the cultural legacies of previous generations embedded in our places, the ways in which health facilities are integrated into our daily lives, environmental quality concerns locally, and some examples of designs students have come up with to alter those realities.
June 24, 2009