Steven Seiden, president of Acquired Data Solutions (ADS), has been involved in “digital divide issues” for more than 20 years, and he believes broadening inclusion and diversity in the STEM literacy field is one of his purposes. An engineer by trade, Seiden has experienced a shift in the tech world over the years, watching the convergence of technology, IT and IOT and noting the ever-expanding engineering lifecycle that now includes security. He believes that giving youth the opportunities to become well-rounded individuals with competency in a variety of areas, including technology, economy and art, as well as the art of marketing themselves and socializing effectively, will set kids up for success in the future.
“I think we are starting to see a trend in younger people going into [STEM] fields, but the gap is very wide. One of the paths to inclusion is getting kids engaged with things that are fun, real, relevant and cool,” he says. To do his part, Seiden and his small software company of 25 people, think big and have partnered with a number of organizations to get kids, particularly minority students or those in underserved communities, interested in STEM and STEAM careers and open up their future possibilities.
Five years ago, ADS launched a summer tech internship program. Two years ago, to help expand the program’s reach to minorities and underserved communities in the Maryland and D.C. area, ADS partnered with On-Ramps to Careers, a non-profit business-education partnership for young students interested in technology jobs. With curriculum put together by college students and overseen by a primary instructor, the six-week, 25-hour-per-week, peer-based summer program encourages collaboration and learning on a number of projects surrounding an overall theme each year. The first year’s theme, for example, was animatronics.
When COVID-19 became a reality last year, ADS continued its program virtually, hosting more than 40 students and teaching them how to socialize and market themselves around technology and those skills. This year, ADS will host another virtual internship program for 2021.
In addition to the summer programs, ADS just launched a three-year apprenticeship program at the company’s Maryland headquarters in February 2021 through a partnership with non-profit CityWorks DC. Right now, the company is hosting three high school students for a 12-to-16-hour-per-week program that aims to give underserved youth in the D.C.-area an opportunity to learn more about working in a technical field and giving them additional skills to take into college and beyond.
Seiden sees these programs as more important than ever. “The coronavirus has only increased the digital divide gap that had been closing for many moons, with so many kids at home and not in school right now. We’ve reopened the wound at some level,” Seiden says. “There is a suffering now with the pandemic and all the protests and politics of 2020. I think it has shined a light on diversity and given us an opportunity to go out and do more. So, I’m very encouraged that more young people will go into these fields if we can give them the education and ability to bridge the gap.”