LARGO – A mobile library bus may be in the future for Langley Park after a group of students presented it as a solution for a lack of libraries in the area. Last week, six groups from the Prince George’s County Office of Information Technology’s (OIT) program “STEAM Dream Team” went head-to-head in the OIT […]
LARGO – A mobile library bus may be in the future for Langley Park after a group of students presented it as a solution for a lack of libraries in the area.
Last week, six groups from the Prince George’s County Office of Information Technology’s (OIT) program “STEAM Dream Team” went head-to-head in the OIT Summer Youth Faceoff, which was dubbed “The Barracuda Bowl.”
Thirty-six students from local high schools, colleges and universities across the area paired off into teams to come up with real-world solutions for community challenges in the six Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI) zones in Prince George’s County. The teams had to use three different types of technology in their solutions including a 3D printer, a Raspberry Pi, which is a credit-card sized computer, and a mobile application. The program had a heavy focus on science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM), as each member took on a role regarding those subjects.
Sandra Longs, the STEAM Dream Team program director, said she started the program four years ago when she took over the summer youth program. She said she didn’t feel the students were learning enough from OIT.
“I kind of felt like we were giving them busy work, so I wanted to change that a little bit,” Longs said. “I wanted to make sure that the students will be walking away from OIT with some really hard, concrete skills, some professionalism.”
The summer youth are chosen through an application and interview process and are paid for their work during the summer. Each team had the summer to identify a key issue they wanted to address and then develop a practical solution.
County Executive Rushern Baker III said that was the ultimate goal of the summer youth program – to have an internship, a job and a program where the students were not only making money, but were gaining experience for a career.
“These young people are taking fresh eyes and they’re looking at (the problems). They’re not constrained by any of the barriers that we have as a government. So it helps us when they’re doing this, but it also puts them on a road of thinking differently and broadly about critical issues and how to solve them,” Baker said.
Key issues in the TNI zones the six groups hit upon were the lack of education resources such as libraries and technology labs, theft and other crimes rates, and the low ratio of health professionals to population size.
Longs said OIT partnered with TNI in hopes of finding actual solutions for the areas. Longs herself is part of the TNI team and said she really wanted to put the focus on the community and increase the livelihood of those in the county.
The Barracuda Bowl was a competition between the six teams to decide which solution was the best and could possibly be implemented in the county. Held in the style of the television show Shark Tank, judges from across multiple platforms, including a county staffer, a technology professor from Bowie State University and professionals in information technology fields, grilled the students on their solutions and the practicalities before ultimately selecting a winner.
Longs said she is always impressed with the solutions the students develop.
“I’m amazed every year. Seriously, every year it takes my breath away when they show me their presentations,” Longs said. “I’m beyond amazed.”
Operation Restoration, one of the six groups, was given the TNI Zone of Hillcrest Heights and Marlow Heights. They took a hard look at the crime rates in the area, which are higher than the national average, and decided they would try to subdue crime by creating a crime watch app, restoring a vacant lot into a police substation, and installing hidden cameras in the high crime areas.
The Crime Clippers, who had Glassmanor/Oxon Hill, developed a security camera made with a 3D printer, while the Operation Win team developed the Pillar of Lux, which is a motion sensing, video recording device to prevent and report crime.
The three other teams each thought up a mobile solution to community concerns in their TNI Zones. The B.E.S.T team created a mobile health van for Bladensburg, Diamond Developers created a mobile technology bus titled “Power Trip” for Suitland/Coral Hills, and the Park Progressives developed a mobile library for Langley Park.
Ultimately the Park Progressives won. Their project, titled the “Libro Lounge,” incorporated technology and books, in both Spanish and English, to assist the area’s students and parents with their education needs.
The team felt that, since there is no library in the area, and only one elementary school, and because transportation is a hardship for many residents, creating a bilingual library bus that goes to the students would be the best solution.
Aroun Den-Gassama from the University of Maryland, Eniyah Clark-Kennedy from Frederick Douglass High School and Jasmine Stewart from Riverdale Baptist said they developed a connection with Langley Park and hope their solution, if implemented, will make a difference.
“We decided to use education to bring up the community and change a generation,” Stewart said.
The group also partnered with the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System, the local police station and CASA to make sure the mobile library would thrive through support. The group wants to renovate an older bus for the mobile library and said the project would cost approximately $12,400 to put in bookshelves and desks.
Both Longs and Baker said it was the outreach to the community partners that made the Park Progressives presentation thrive and Clark-Kennedy said she felt making education the focus not only helped them win the Barracuda Bowl, but will help the project make its case when budgeting comes around.
“Education in very important in Prince George’s County, so when we focus on education I feel that is a good solution for Langely Park,” she said.