A partnership between a community association in West Africa and the St. Louis Metro Gateway NSBE Jr. Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) is seeking to create new career pathways in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for Nigerian youth. The international partnership grew from a project launched by Fola Olishile, Ph.D., president and CEO of PSYNC Group. The St. Louis resident conceived a collaboration between the “Owo Is One” Association (OIOA) in his native city of Owo, in Ondo State, Nigeria, and the St. Louis Metro Gateway NSBE Jr. chapter.
 
The OIOA’s Digital Academy, also known as the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Project, has as its mission to “to develop the next generation of African technology entrepreneurs by teaching high-potential students between the ages of 10 and 16 computer programming skills, life skills, problem solving skills and business skills, (and) contribute meaningfully to the growth of the national economy.” NSBE, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is a 24,000-member, student-led organization with more than 600 chapters in the U.S. and abroad. NSBE’s mission is “to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.” The ICT Project organizers are working with NSBE to realize their vision of Owo as “the heart of Nigeria’s digital talent incubator and accelerator, an Africa version of Silicon Valley.”
 
To bolster its training for youth in areas including critical thinking, problem solving, web development, animations and games, programming, algorithms and design thinking, robotic engineering, nanotechnologies, machine learning and artificial intelligence, OIOA turned to the NSBE Jr. program in St. Louis. NSBE Jr. is designed for students in grades 3 through 12, to increase their interest and proficiency in STEM and guide them toward STEM careers. Dr. Olishile and the adult leaders of the St. Louis Metro Gateway NSBE Jr. Chapter collaborated with OIOA members in Nigeria to enroll 50 Owo students aged 12 to 14 in the program. The Owo, Ondo State NSBE Jr. Chapter now has 280 members and has been active since September 2018.
 
“Our aspiration is to equip the kids with proper tools and skillsets to make them competitive in the knowledge economy and, in the process, build within our community structures that enhance learning innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Akin Aruwajoye, OIOA’s national coordinator and the retired deputy managing director of Nigeria Agip Oil Co. Ltd.
 
Ronald Moore is a Pre-College Program officer for the St. Louis Chapter of NSBE Professionals, a 4,000-member organization of STEM practitioners within the National Society of Black Engineers.
 
“The St. Louis NSBE members are happy to assist in starting NSBE youth chapters wherever we can,” says Moore. “We are extremely proud of the Owo, Ondo State leadership for having the vision to provide these young people an opportunity to succeed in STEM.
 
“NSBE’s St. Louis Professionals will continue to strive to make STEM educational opportunities a focus of school superintendents, elected officials and corporate leaders in the St. Louis region as well,” Moore continues. “In our 20 years of existence, with our limited resources, we have managed to help 320 students obtain college degrees.”

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‘Dream Come True’

As with the NSBE Jr. program in St. Louis and other places throughout the U.S., the Owo NSBE Jr. members benefit from exposure to basic STEM concepts as well as instruction and mentoring by college students and practitioners in engineering and other STEM fields. Building on its resources — which include a 200-person facility for children, subscription-based broadband internet and interactive digital boards — OIOA is developing a three-tiered program of supplemental education for the NSBE Jr. students: a six-month Alpha Class providing basic computer education; a six-month Beta Class to train 30 high-performing students from the Alpha Class in object-oriented programming languages, cybersecurity and design thinking; and a Gamma Class, where 15 top performers from the Beta Class will receive instruction in robotic engineering, nanotechnologies, artificial intelligence, machine learning and more.
 
NSBE members have a mandate to “positively impact the community,” and the Owo NSBE Jr. members have embraced it by initiating projects such as “N-Trans,” an Uber-type transportation network system being designed by a group of the students; “Donate for a Child (Get Fund),” a web-based platform to match high-achieving students with potential sponsors of their education; “Local Cuisine Watch, ” a web platform designed to maintain the city’s cultural heritage by teaching how to prepare local dishes; and “Learning Everywhere,” a platform for smartphones that enables students to earn educational certificates on-the-go.
 
The ICT Project and its Owo NSBE Jr. chapter are unique in Ondo State and are growing in popularity among young students and their parents. The program has been funded to date by donations from OIOA members, but the program administrators say it will need a broader base of financial support to continuously revise and update the curriculum, acquire needed high-tech equipment and facilities, expand the program to additional locations within Ondo State and otherwise sustain the initiative.
 
“It has been a dream come true for me to see the enthusiasm generated in St. Louis and in Owo and to connect the kids under a common vision for technology development,” said Dr. Olishile, who is a member of the St. Louis NSBE Professionals Chapter and an advisor of the Owo NSBE Jr. Chapter. “So far, the collaboration has been a complete success.”
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For more information about the ICT Project and the St. Louis Metro Gateway NSBE Jr. Chapter, please contact Dr. Olishile at folaolishile@psyncgroup.com or Israel Taiwo at yontai@gmail.com or +2348036559603.