Innovation Teams in Los Angeles and Long Beach were front and center at Innovation Week, an ambitious events series bringing together artists, entrepreneurs, government innovators and others to explore all things cutting edge in southern California. The Long Beach i-team shared key takeaways from a hackathon event hosted at a local middle school.

This is the second in a series of two blogs on Los Angeles and Long Beach Innovation Week, an ambitious series of events that ran from October 2-22, 2015. The first blog featured reflections from the Los Angeles i-team.

The Long Beach i-team partnered with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) to bring L.A. County’s Innovation Week to Long Beach for the very first time. The Long Beach element of Innovation Week brought members of the arts, educational and governmental communities together to showcase the city’s creativity, diversity and innovative spirit. Nineteen organizations volunteered to host 22 events in Long Beach during the course of Innovation Week. These events highlighted the City’s commitment to economic growth, development, and the expansion of educational opportunities through innovation.

During Long Beach Innovation Week, the Long Beach Public Library system, Verizon Wireless, WhizGirls Academy and Esri, a geographic information systems company, partnered to host a hackathon for local middle school students. As the first event of its kind in Long Beach, this was a major event for the local community. The hackathon brought 36 Washington Middle School students to the Main Library in Downtown Long Beach for a crash-course on web programming and digital mapping.

The Long Beach i-team has zeroed in on early exposure to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programming as a critical activity in preparing the local workforce for technology based jobs. Research shows that personalized, informal STEM education increases a student’s interest in STEM, in addition to enhancing attitude, self-confidence, and mastery of curriculum overall.

Holding the event at Washington Middle School was especially important given its location in Central Long Beach, an area with high levels of youth disconnection, poverty and unemployment rates in the city.

The hackathon was the first time that industry partners, the Long Beach Unified School District and Library Services came together to provide a targeted and highly personalized experience for students. The event provided the the i-team with an opportunity to prototype and test our theory of change model, which connects STEM programming to increasing student interest in STEM careers. The main library never had local students completely take over their space for a whole day dedicated to engaging with new technology and interacting with professionals in STEM fields, such as Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia, founder and CEO of WhizGirls Academy, a local nonprofit that hosts technology workshops for young women.

Throughout the day, students worked in groups on projects as diverse as mapping crime data and identifying Southern California beaches in need of cleanup. Teams then presented their projects to peers at the end of the day. Due to the success of the event, the i-team will continue to work with Washington Middle School and with the Long Beach Public Library system to expose more students to STEM through unique industry partnerships.

The hackathon and other Innovation Week events in Long Beach highlighted the City’s commitment to collaboration and innovation. Chris Rico, the Director of Innovation at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) remarked that there is, “Huge appetite for innovation across Los Angeles County. Bringing together diverse and dynamic partner organizations under the umbrella of innovation inspires a new generation to imagine the possibilities.”

After the event, Principal Traver emphasized the importance of guiding and inspiring students, saying, “They need and deserve experiences like this in order to show them the kinds of careers and opportunities that are out there for them.” Days later, many students told her how the whole experience of the day made them feel important and special. “That, in itself, is beyond value,” stated Principal Traver.