Pathways in Technology High School

UPDATE: Since this story in May, 2012, P-TECH has been fea­tured in the President’s State of the Union speech, and on Octo­ber 25, 2013 got a visit from Pres­i­dent Obama him­self.

P-TECH is about the eco­nomic devel­op­ment of the city — to show that New York is a focus for IT careers
Imag­ine that you could go through high school, receive a Associate’s Degree and upon grad­u­a­tion, be in the front of the line for an entry-level job at IBM.

That’s exactly what P-TECH — the Path­ways in Tech­nol­ogy Early Col­lege High School — in Crown Heights, Brook­lyn is equipped to do. Its inno­v­a­tive and unique school model pairs each stu­dent (grades 9 –14 – yes, 14) with an IBM men­tor, pro­vid­ing them with the sup­port nec­es­sary to develop the STEM (Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy, Engi­neer­ing, and Math­e­mat­ics) skills needed to suc­ceed in today’s work­force. P-TECH is a public-private part­ner­ship between the NYC Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion, NYC Col­lege of Tech­nol­ogy, CUNY, and IBM, and opened its doors to its first class of ninth graders in Sep­tem­ber 2011.

P-TECH stu­dents and their IBM men­tors cor­re­spond weekly through an online resource called IBM Men­tor­Place. This web­site is used to post activ­i­ties that relate to what the stu­dents are learn­ing in school, and to allow com­mu­ni­ca­tion between men­tor and mentee via a dis­cus­sion board. And it is not just the stu­dents that this is ben­e­fi­cial for — the men­tors gain too, by shar­ing their time and knowl­edge with kids that oth­er­wise would have less of a chance at a tech career.

I recently had the oppor­tu­nity to visit the school for City Atlas, to see the stu­dents and IBM men­tors in action at an event in cel­e­bra­tion of the 2012 National Engineer’s Week. The event brought 35 IBM vol­un­teers, 103 stu­dents, and P-TECH staff together to build and test some cre­ative rocket ships made of balloons.

The stu­dents were divided into nine­teen dif­fer­ent groups, and each group was paired with an IBM vol­un­teer. The task at hand was to build a rocket out of bal­loons, straws, paper clips, and tape that could carry the great­est amount of weight (in this case, wash­ers) and zoom across the room to the end of a 25 foot fish­ing line. A tricky task indeed – and the win­ning team’s rocket toted a pay­load of a whop­ping twenty-two washers!

This was just one of many inter­ac­tive events P-TECH stu­dents have with their IBM men­tors. I spoke briefly with the Prin­ci­pal of P-TECH, Rashid Fer­rod Davis, as well as Robin Will­ner, VP of Global Com­mu­nity Ini­tia­tives at IBM to learn a lit­tle more about this inno­v­a­tive school model.

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I asked Prin­ci­pal Davis about the admis­sions process –

When will your next class hear if they are in P-TECH?

Stu­dents will receive their let­ters by the end of April. Then by May we should be able to start a pre-summer pro­gram for our sec­ond class – for the new 9th graders.

And P-TECH is open admissions?

Cor­rect.

So you just have to apply?

You have to come to an infor­ma­tion ses­sion and say that you’re inter­ested. You get twelve choices as an 8th grader, and you’d want to rank us in one of your top choices, so that you way have a bet­ter chance of get­ting in. So some schools you may have to do an audi­tion, you may have to actu­ally take a test, or you may need to meet an aca­d­e­mic require­ment. And with open admis­sions none of that applies to us.

The cur­rent stu­dents just had to attend an infor­ma­tion session?

Cor­rect.

Come to New York and you’ll have the best employ­ees; we’re prepar­ing them at P-TECH
Did just about every­one get in then?

Well, when we opened last year we were at a dif­fer­ent part of the process. We went through what was called the “third round” last year because the appli­ca­tions had already been mailed into their guid­ance coun­selors by Decem­ber. It was announced that we would be open­ing up around Feb­ru­ary or in March.

As a new school, we only got to deal with stu­dents who were not already matched. So that was our first class.

For this year, we were able to be part of the begin­ning process, going to the large high school fair and then to the indi­vid­ual bor­ough fairs. So that was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent for us this year. We got four times the num­ber of appli­cants this year as we got last year! And every year it will grow – the more you are known the more your rep­u­ta­tion builds.

But you’re still going to try to have 100 per class?

It’s a hun­dred and eight each year. So a max­i­mum of six years. It is a six-year model, Grades 9–14.

So that’s really excit­ing then.

It is! We’re look­ing for­ward to growing.

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While exper­i­ments con­tin­ued around us, I walked over to hear more from Robin Will­ner, VP of Global Com­mu­nity Ini­tia­tives at IBM:

How is P-TECH impor­tant for the city?

For every stu­dent who comes to P-TECH, they’re going to be a great leader in the city, in another ten years – and we’re so proud of them. But it’s also about the whole eco­nomic devel­op­ment of New York City – to show that we are a focus for IT careers, that we are a focus for tech­nol­ogy – come here and you will have the best employ­ees, because we’re prepar­ing them at P-TECH.

I know that they’re open­ing up three more schools with this sort of model in New York City. Are those all going to be IBM?

No. They’re each going to have a dif­fer­ent com­pany – so we’re look­ing for a lot of com­pa­nies to get involved, and work with the city, work with the schools, work with the uni­ver­si­ties to put this model together.

What would you like to see hap­pen with P-TECH in the next five, ten years?

Well in the next five years I’d like to see all these young peo­ple you saw today grad­u­ate! Because in five more years, they’ll have fin­ished their sixth year in the pro­gram, and we can’t wait for that.

But then also, you know this is not about one school as you said, it’s about get­ting a lot of new pro­grams or even exist­ing schools to think about hav­ing more career-readiness in their pro­gram, more college-readiness, more rigor in their cur­ricu­lum – so we hope we’re help­ing other schools to change as well.

Right now it’s a one-on-one men­tor rela­tion­ship – each stu­dent has their own men­tor – is that going to con­tinue when there are a hun­dred stu­dents per class added?

Well we’ll see. I think that’s best. But, we’ll make sure that every stu­dent will have a men­tor, and that every stu­dent will have a men­tor that has enough time for them. That we can assure you. Now we may have some IBMers who want to work with more than one stu­dent, but every stu­dent will have a men­tor who’s pay­ing full atten­tion to them.

As the years progress will there be more hands-on expe­ri­ence — more work expe­ri­ence inte­grated into the pro­gram – sort of like an internship?

That’s right. It’s a pro­gres­sion. At the end of six years, they’ll be ready to actu­ally start work­ing at IBM, and so that means that before then, they have to have time to actu­ally be doing work at an IBM site – maybe on a project. And before that they’ll have intern­ships, and before that they’ll shadow. This year they did a lot of vis­its. So it’s a progression.

I’d like to ask about sus­tain­abil­ity – since City Atlas is, as you know, a guide to a sus­tain­able New York City. Does P-TECH incor­po­rate sus­tain­abil­ity into its cur­ricu­lum? Will stu­dents learn skills to be able help develop ideas on PlaNYC and other such programs?

Well, I think that there are a lot of things – I think that tech­nol­ogy can be a won­der­ful way to increase our sus­tain­abil­ity and decrease our car­bon foot­print. And IBM has a lot of green solu­tions that we share with our cus­tomers and we’ll be shar­ing those.

And I actu­ally wanted to ask you about that in gen­eral – because IBM is involved in so many dif­fer­ent phil­an­thropic initiatives.

Sure, right – P-TECH is just one of the things we do. We work lit­er­ally with thou­sands of schools around the world, in early child­hood, we work with sci­ence teach­ers. We have a project called World Com­mu­nity Grid that actu­ally we have some great projects com­ing up for Earth Day, so watch out for that. Ways that peo­ple all over the city can get involved in help­ing to improve the qual­ity of water and air around the world.

But to hear more about that you’ll have to wait for Earth Day. We’re going to have an announce­ment for Earth Day, and it’s some­thing that every­body can join.

That’s great — so that’s the World Com­mu­nity Grid?

That’s right.

And it will be hap­pen­ing in the city?

It will be hap­pen­ing all over the world but every­body in the city can participate.

That’s great. And, in terms of New York City – would you say that P-TECH is the major ini­tia­tive of IBM here right now?

Well cer­tainly because we’re devel­op­ing – we’re still design­ing and work­ing and improv­ing P-TECH, we’re spend­ing a lot of time here. But we’re work­ing with the whole New York Hall of Sci­ence… with NYSci on a pro­gram for teach­ers, on sci­ence edu­ca­tion and we’re very proud of that. We do other work with the City Uni­ver­sity of New York – we have a project with Queens­bor­ough Com­mu­nity Col­lege, we have IBMers vol­un­teer­ing all over the city – so we’re very busy in New York. It’s a big city and there’s lots to do!

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After the win­ners of the com­pe­ti­tion had been announced, the event wrapped up with some clos­ing remarks from Rolando Franco, one of the IBM men­tors in attendance.

There are half a bil­lion words in the Eng­lish lan­guage, and that’s five times more than there were in the time of Shake­speare. So the world is chang­ing all around us, ulti­mately. And, by 2013 – that’s next year – it is pre­dicted that there will be a com­puter – a super com­puter design that will exceed the com­pu­ta­tional capac­ity of the human brain. And in fact I read that in Japan, they designed a machine that can com­pute 10 to the 14th com­pu­ta­tions per sec­ond. The human brain is esti­mated to do around that much. So we are already at the point, of just doing raw com­pu­ta­tions com­par­ing to how the human mind works. So think about the poten­tial years from now. It is pre­dicted that by 2023 when you guys are out of col­lege you will be able to buy one of these super­com­put­ers for about one thou­sand dollars.

So what does this mean to you? There will be careers that you’ll be work­ing in that prob­a­bly don’t exist today. Right? And engi­neers will be required. So it’s very impor­tant for you guys to focus on your school, to become engi­neers because you’ll help shape the future.”

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As Robin Will­ner stated, in addi­tion to P-TECH, IBM is involved in a range of other edu­ca­tional ini­tia­tives through­out New York City, rang­ing from a STEM pro­gram at Queens­bor­ough Com­mu­nity Col­lege to the dona­tion of Young Explorer™ com­puter learn­ing cen­ters to CUNY child care cen­ters, as well as plenty of pro­grams in between. Stay tuned for more on these other IBM initiatives!