Volunteering with America On Tech

Smiling group of students from America On Tech

Hello! My name is Lin Xia, and I’ve been a Full Stack Engineer at Panorama Education since April of 2021. Before joining Panorama, I had volunteered with America On Tech, a non-profit organization that aims to decrease the racial wealth gap by providing free technology-skills education to teens of color. In June, I organized a volunteer event for Panorama engineers to bring their experiences to students at America On Tech. I’d like to share what it’s like to volunteer for this organization.

America On Tech (AOT) launched in 2014 and currently supports students in New York and California. They offer a web development program, a UX design program, and opportunities for high school students to engage in leadership roles. The programs are completely free and have recently started offering stipends to further encourage engagement.

I started volunteering with AOT right before COVID-19 related restrictions were imposed, forcing the organization to move to an all virtual format. The class sizes were relatively small at about 15 students, staffed with 3 volunteers and a manager, and the environment was friendly and conducive to learning. The curriculum had been prepared by the organization, with the tasks, projects, and daily lessons clearly laid out and rubrics neatly defined. Students received live code demonstrations and examples in addition to the slide lecture. At the end of the course, the students learned a lot, were able to present their completed group project, and made some new friends!

Although the students were from various schools, the round table set up and rotating seats encouraged students to interact and form new friendships. When we went virtual, AOT proactively sought feedback in order to improve their virtual learning environment. Based on this feedback, students were allowed to keep cameras off and use direct messaging if that made them more comfortable interacting in class. Throughout the year, AOT holds events to help expose students to industry professionals and give them opportunities to interact with individuals. On June 28th, the organization held a panel on communication where students learned essential workplace etiquettes, such as how to write emails and how to talk to coworkers. I participated along with a few other Panorama engineers.

The one hour panel was part of a 3 day event for students to learn more about what internships were, how to prepare for them, and how to behave once they land an opportunity. We were one of several professional volunteers and corporate speakers to attend. I had been communicating with the staff to help facilitate this event and had a great experience working with them. The people at America On Tech were informative, polite, and kind. AOT graciously offered Panorama the opportunity to participate in the event free-of-charge, so that we could experience what volunteering with their organization was like before committing to a full sponsorship.

Panorama volunteers had to do little to prepare for the panel as AOT provided training and slides ahead of the event. They published an hourly schedule and kept the session on pace. The staff also offered tips and advice to understand what it’s like to give a talk over Zoom and how their students may feel and react so that we avoid misunderstandings. During the talk, we shared our thoughts and personal experiences to help paint a picture of what it was like to work in a professional environment. We gave advice and answered some student questions. It felt great to alleviate some of the worries and curiosities they had, although we would’ve loved to have a bit more time to do so! We all had a positive, fulfilling time and would love to participate again in the future.

“It was refreshing to talk with students who are actively interested in tech. It was also a learning experience for myself since many of the panel questions reflected skills that I’ve taken for granted while working in professional settings — skills like how to write professional emails or how to gain the trust of your new team as a new member.”
— Corey Hornbeck, Full Stack Engineer at Panorama Education

“I appreciated the opportunity to be a part of something that would have benefited me greatly. I’m grateful to America On Tech for providing this invaluable opportunity.”
— Ean Nugent, Full Stack Engineer at Panorama Education

The experience was beneficial for everyone involved. America On Tech provided resources to students in a safe and inclusive environment. The students learned new skills and expanded their career paths for the future. Panorama volunteers gave the students insights gained from working in tech and gained professional experience as public speakers and teachers. Seeing the impact we can personally have on student careers reinvigorates our passion and builds pride for the work we do at Panorama for students across the United States.

Volunteering with AOT was a wonderful experience. I’m very happy to know that such organizations exist, and that I can get involved along with my colleagues because I know how much I would’ve appreciated this sort of resource back when I was confused and struggling in high school. I’m excited to see America On Tech continue to grow and help out many more young students in need.

About America On Tech
America On Tech (AOT) is an award-winning nonprofit organization on a mission to prepare the next generation of technology leaders in order to decrease the economic and racial wealth gap in underestimated communities. AOT’s work has received national media attention in Forbes, CNN, TechCrunch, Crain’s, and other publications for its resounding success in developing diverse tech talent pipelines.

Learn more: https://americaontech.org




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