Lawmakers, business leaders, educators, parents and even special guests from all over the country united in Williston on Jan. 18 for an event that showcased the STEM talents of local students.
The inaugural DIG GoIT App Development Challenge was held Saturday, Jan. 18 at the Williston District 29 auditorium. GoIT was hosted by the Dreams, Imagination & Gift (DIG) Development Program in partnership with TATA Consulting Services. Elementary and middle schools were represented by Allendale-Fairfax, Blackville-Hilda, Barnwell, Denmark-Olar, Williston-Elko and Wagener.
“To witness this was proof that our kids are extremely talented and gifted. We will continue to showcase this to the world by bridging gaps,” said Steven Brown, a Williston native who founded DIG.
DIG is a program that focuses on the rural counties in South Carolina to help motivate children to achieve long-term goals for their future. Cedric Collins, who works in IT at the Cyber Center in Augusta and volunteers with DIG, dedicated personal days off to teach and encourage Blackville kids not to let anything or anyone stand in the way of achieving their dreams.
“Once you start by telling a kid that something is too hard, they are going to automatically shut it off,” said Collins.
Usually STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are viewed as the “harder” subjects in school. Collins explained that it is not that hard and once you introduce the subjects to kids at a young age, it becomes easier. However, if you discourage a kid from trying in STEM subjects, they will likely never try.
“STEM is not that hard. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it,” Collins said.
The DIG GoIT App Development Challenge culminated a six-week project where the student teams were challenged to focus on solving a real-life issue in their community using an app. The competition was based on which group’s app was the best at presenting and addressing the issue. Teachers worked with kids after school for six weeks and taught them how to write code and present their idea.
“Small towns have a superpower, and it is our community. A community that cares about our children...I would put my teachers here at Williston-Elko up against any in the county. They provide such amazing guidance, comfort, challenges, and inspiration and every day the teachers in this room and those who are working with the DIG program, you’re creating children who are taking flight into adulthood that are capable and who care about their community and they care about bringing it back,” stated Adair Ford Boroughs, who is originally from Williston and running for U.S. Congress.
Finding inspiration from their own communities, the teams created apps to stop trafficking, littering, crime, bullying, health issues, mental health and much more.
For instance, students from Macedonia Elementary-Middle School in Blackville came up with “Shoot for the Stars, Not from Your Arms” because many of the kids knew of other kids who had died early because of gun violence. Because they died young, those kids were not able to achieve their dreams. Other app ideas were “Ask the Teacher” for those students who could ask the teacher questions about homework after class; “Helping the Homeless” addressed the fact that all men were created equal but not everyone has equal opportunities; “B&D Movement” (Bullying and Depression) gave people access to a licensed counselor; “Kidnapping and Safety” would scan license plates and have motion sensors; and “Sportz Helper” helped parents to make it to their child’s game.
“Today was a great example of what kids in this area are capable of when given the opportunity,” said David Gleaton, vice president of DIG.
The competition was judged by a panel of four distinguished judges, including Democratic Congressional candidate Adair Boroughs, Barnwell County Councilman Freddie Houston, Dayco’s Williston plant manager Lori Miller, and John DiChiara from TATA Consultancy Services in Glendale, Calif. Some of the apps that particularly impressed the judges were “Helping the Homeless” from Barnwell Elementary School and “B&D Movement” from Allendale-Fairfax Middle School. “Sportz Helper” from Allendale-Fairfax Middle School took home the grand prize of $400.
After initial presentations were finished and the judges were tallying up scores, DIG President Steven Brown asked the audience to comment on the presentations and the work the kids put into the projects. Several people commented on how proud they were of their children and the future generation to follow their dreams and put their ideas to practical use.
“As a parent I was excited to be here. It is my daughter’s first time ever doing anything like this. I am so glad I came here because it was so heartwarming to see her get up there and not show any signs of nervousness. I am so proud of her this morning,” said a parent from the audience.
With this new program, DIG opened up a world of possibilities and hope. If DIG continues to spread to other rural areas, it can become a game changer for rural communities to have access to more opportunities.
“Big dreams do come from small places,” said Brown.
That is why there is such a need for partnerships and for DIG to spread to other rural areas. Partnerships such as the one Brown has with TATA Consultancy. After Brown realized that TATA was not in South Carolina, he reached out to them to create a program that was state-wide.
“What you saw today was the first piece of that. As long as I’m president, that’s the goal to have a state competition. We try to partner with organizations (like TATA) because our kids don’t have access to it so we try to bring it here,” Brown said.
More than 100 parents of participating students attended the event.
“It was refreshing to see the community support an educational competition with the same effort as a sporting event,” said Brown.
The event also attracted several special guests from as far away as Washington, D.C. and California. Special guests included S.C. Sen. Brad Hutto, S.C. Rep. Lonnie Hosey, Barnwell Mayor Marcus Rivera and U.S. Congressman Joe Wilson.
“I am so thankful for educators and mentors that work daily to prepare young minds with the knowledge and skills needed to pursue STEM and students that commit to pursue careers in STEM in South Carolina,” said Rep. Wilson.
For further inspiration and encouragement, Howard University will send 50 college students to mentor the kids from DIG as a part of their “Alternative Spring Break” program.
For more information or if you are interested in volunteering with DIG, go to digdp.org. To help DIG secure the dream of youth who aspire to be STEM professionals, sponsor a child’s dream at www.digdp.org/sponsoradream.