By Monica Mehta
A group of teens gather to create a student identification system for their new high school that checks students in by scanning their ID card. Using a Raspberry Pi computer and 3-D modeling, they build a real-life prototype, including a camera and touch screen so students can type in the number that correlates with their mood (1=bad, 10=excellent), signaling to teachers how they’re feeling as they begin the school day.
The coach leading the class is an Oracle employee on staff with the Oracle Education Foundation and the teens are from Design Tech High School (d.tech), a Bay Area high school that specializes in design thinking. These two-week elective classes take place four times a year and are part of d.tech’s Intersession program, in which students have the opportunity to learn about everything from cooking to coding, working with practitioners in those fields in their offices, kitchens, workshops, and studios.
For the October Intersession, 14 Oracle Volunteers donated their time and talents to help Oracle Education Foundation staff lead three concurrent, 30-hour workshops—two on facility automation, using Raspberry Pi computers and peripherals such as cameras and sensors, and one on 3-D modeling and design, using 3-D printers and Autodesk Fusion 360 software—for 74 d.tech students. In each workshop, students identified a challenge and then designed, built, and coded a prototype solution using industry-standard tools alongside experts in the field.
Learning While Teaching
Oracle Applications Engineer Kayci Nguyen, who regularly volunteers with the Oracle Education Foundation, saw it as an opportunity to use her skills to help the next generation advance—especially girls. “Women in the field of technology are few and far between,” says Nguyen. “I want to help girls be interested in technology and think about it as a career.”
Nguyen says volunteering also gave her something back.
“You’re not only helping the student—you’re learning at the same time,” says Nguyen. “I’ve learned a lot about design thinking through volunteering with Oracle Education Foundation. It’s really helpful in your daily work life. Now I think about how I communicate with my coworkers in different groups. What’s their priority? I’ve learned to empathize with them, think from their perspective, and work together better.”
This is the second Oracle Education Foundation workshop that Dennis Manalo, a program manager at Oracle Labs, has coached. He has a little more free time this year and is using that time to make a difference in his community.
“I wanted to do something a little bit more than my day job,” says Manalo. “The three areas that Oracle Corporate Citizenship programs focus on—education, the environment, and community—are very valuable to me. Being actively involved through Oracle volunteering helps me understand and then advocate for these issues.”
Another benefit of volunteering with Oracle Education Foundation is that coaches are able to see the real-life fruits of the students’ labors. In his first Intersession with the Oracle Education Foundation three years ago, d.tech junior Alex Lederman built a device with a Raspberry Pi computer that could detect whether a person was slouching and gently signal him or her to straighten up. Lederman says he has a lot of great ideas, and Oracle Volunteers help him direct those ideas into reality.
“The coaches are professionals, so their feedback is super valuable to me,” says Lederman. “At school, our teachers are pushing us to come up with our own ideas, and the sky is the limit. In Oracle Education Foundation workshops, the sky is the limit too, but Oracle Volunteers help us focus on what is plausible and can actually be built.”
It Takes a Village
d.tech is currently located in Burlingame, California. Next year, the high school will relocate to a purpose-built facility at 275 Oracle Parkway in Redwood Shores, California, becoming the first fully autonomous public high school in the United States to be located on a tech company’s campus. Oracle is providing the land and building the new facility—a 64,000-square-foot, LEED-certified school for 550 students and 30 faculty members.
“Here’s a school that is inviting the community into students’ educational experience, which is extraordinarily rare. Frankly, we think there’s a little bit of genius in that,” says Colleen Cassity, executive director of the Oracle Education Foundation, Oracle Volunteers, and Oracle Giving. “We always say it takes a village to raise a child, but I don’t think too many children today have that experience, and this is a new embodiment of that idea in a very twenty-first-century way.”
d.tech’s mission is to develop students who believe that the world can be a better place and that they can be the ones to make it happen. The Oracle Education Foundation program supports d.tech’s goals by empowering students with the creative confidence to engage with today’s technologies to design tomorrow’s innovations. The students leave the Oracle Education Foundation’s two-week workshops one step closer to solving real-world design challenges through design thinking and technology.
Oracle employees can volunteer as many as 104 work hours per year with the Oracle Education Foundation, with no impact in their vacation or leave. Every year, tens of thousands of Oracle Volunteers engage with nonprofit organizations all over the world, working in the areas of education, environment, and community. d.tech is itself a nonprofit organization, and having the school at Oracle headquarters will give Oracle employees even more opportunities to volunteer with d.tech and work with the students.
“The value to Oracle employees of having this experience is manifold,” says Cassity. “They have an opportunity to make a very real, positive impact on young people’s lives. Also, we train our employees in user-centered design and design thinking to help them teach students, and many of them tell us it transforms the way they work, and even how they think about their home life. It’s a serious commitment to coach a 30-hour workshop, but they come out of it feeling refreshed and energized.”