From a computer game to teach players about the consequences of their life decisions to more comfortable socks for sports, ideas are percolating in the Young Enterprising Society’s summer STEAM program.
About 27 students ranging in age from 12 to 17 are participating in the four-week program. They have split into groups, each of which has developed an idea for a business and is working to build a product or service.
YES co-founder Que El-Amin encourages the students to start with “why” when developing their company ideas.
“As long as they’re solving a problem, I really can’t argue with that,” he said.
The program runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium’s Energy Innovation Center in Milwaukee. On Wednesdays, the STEAM students learn UNIX coding from entrepreneur Greg Meier. On Fridays, they take field trips for hands-on learning.
“This one, since it’s every day, it’s more intense,” El-Amin said. “We’ve got a nice time with them to really dig in deep.”
On Monday, students were working on their 60-second pitches, explaining what problem the company solves and how.
“Do your feet ever hurt? If so, Sockies are for you,” said Antonio Robinson, who is going into seventh grade at Mother of Good Counsel School.
In a conference room, Gabriel Folds, who will be a sophomore at Milwaukee Lutheran, Treyvon Hamberlin, who will be a sophomore at Pius XI, and Elijah Garcia, who will be a freshman at Milwaukee Lutheran, talked to YES employee Hank McGowan and YES co-founder Khalif El-Amin about their product, a shoe cleaner. Their motto: “One squirt, no dirt.”
“We are kind of sneaker heads,” Folds said. “Especially shoes that have white in them, they’re getting dirty faster than other shoes.”
He pointed to a list of potential competitors the group had made on a whiteboard and said the group’s product would be better.
YES, which is based out of the Energy Innovation Center, was founded in 2012 by Que and Khalif, who are brothers. MWERC, the Northwest Side Community Development Corp. and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority are funding YES’ spring and summer programs with a $47,500 contract. It’s free for students.
YES originally put on events at downtown Milwaukee night spots.
“We saw a niche in the market. At the time, it was providing entertainment for people of color,” said Que, 32, who has a bachelor’s in art with an emphasis in graphic design from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s in geography from Chicago State University.
“We were always doing a program called ‘Haircuts for Kids,’” Que said, with the help of a friend who was a licensed barber. “Our mission was always to mobilize our resources for the benefit of our members.”
Through that work, Que began to think about how he could use his expertise to help the community, as well.
Eventually, YES’ mission changed to teaching students about STEAM, Que said.
“I always thought when I was in school how boring school was,” he said. “How could I do something to help? We want to build leaders who will build great jobs for our community.”
YES now has 12 employees, who this summer are putting on student programming at the EIC, as well as at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, at St. Joan Antida High School and outdoors in Sherman Park. The company also offers programming during the school year at a variety of Milwaukee schools, and nationally, in Philadelphia and in Texas.
At St. Joan Antida, YES’ STEAM offering is part of the school’s summer programming for incoming female freshmen. At MLK, Que is teaching older students how to use free technology programs like content management tool WordPress, graphic design software Canva, 3D modeling program SketchUp, presentation software Prezi and marketing automation site MailChimp.
In Sherman Park, a younger group of students works on art projects, such as creating signature logos to brand themselves and learning to screen print T-shirts.
“One thing we had them do was paint their perfect Milwaukee,” Que said.
Programming ranges from building and operating an aquaponics system to taking a field trip to tour the new science building at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where Khalif is an alumnus. In some programs, students get a general IT introduction or learn life skills like budgeting.
“You adjust it for different students,” Que said.
On July 29, the STEAM students at the Energy Innovation Center will present their companies for Demo Day.
This is the second year YES has offered its STEAM programming. After completing YES’ programs, students often are more interested in STEAM and more comfortable taking those classes in school, Que said.
“We were actually able to see that they were more adept at starting businesses and more confident taking the science and engineering classes,” he said.