BERWYN – Berwyn Tech Entrepreneurship Center is teaming up with Woz U, a technology education platform founded by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, in hopes of bringing technology skills programming to underserved youth in school districts in Berwyn and the Chicago area.
Woz U, which is based in Arizona, offers technology-driven STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) kits and programming for school districts, as well as online courses in coding, cybersecurity, app development and web design for adult learners. Berwyn Tech is hoping to bring the Woz U curriculum to Berwyn and surrounding suburbs by 2019, if not sooner.
Tony Garritano, program administrator at Berwyn Tech, said he approached Woz U because the curriculum is focused more on technology, rather than science. He said many jobs require the skills that students will be exposed to through Woz U, which is why he’s working to get districts to adopt the Woz U classes into their curriculum or offer them as an after-school program.
“We want students to get turned on to these fields by taking these classes. There are hundreds of jobs available in STEAM fields,” Garritano said. “The Woz U curriculum is technology driven. Berwyn Tech is aligning itself with a nationally recognized curriculum, and we want to make these types of classes more accessible.”
Xavier Hernandez, owner of Berwyn Tech, said the Woz U curriculum also teaches students about teamwork, critical thinking and troubleshooting, which are valuable career skills.
“We know that this is what big tech companies are looking for,” he said. “We can teach the fundamentals of business and entrepreneurship, and Woz U provides the education. Wozniak wants Americans to be able to compete in a global marketplace, and when you look at the rest of the world, we’re not dominant. There are jobs that are going overseas that should be American jobs.”
Berwyn Tech, which is at Cermak Road and Oak Park Avenue, is called a “technology incubator," which houses small businesses that offer a wide range of products and services, and provides business services and back-office solutions to help entrepreneurs. It also produces media and marketing materials for local businesses and nonprofits.
While the center doesn’t teach formal technology classes, it runs an “Earn and Learn” program with the North Riverside nonprofit Serco Central States to provide technology-driven, professional readiness training to young adults. The nine-week program provides basic skills and internship assistance.
“We identified kids from ages 16 to 24 through social media who dropped out of high school,” Hernandez said of the students who were in the pilot program. “We work to get them a high school diploma and put them into tech education. A lot of Latino youth are dropping out of high school, and education needs to be a focus for Latino families. Technology can be that gateway because many Latinos are very strong in STEM fields.”