Can technology transform communities?

Published on Sunday, April 6, 2014 - 16:12
Teens Exploring Technology Students Working During Summer Program at USC

Can websites and apps keep teens out of trouble and off the streets of South LA? Pepperdine alumnus Oscar Menjivar is proving that it can be done...with much success. Oscar graduated from the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology with a master’s degree in learning technologies. But years before that, he himself was a kid growing up in Watts. It didn’t take long for Oscar to apply his technological skills to help others. URBAN TxT teaches inner-city male teens research skills, public speaking, leadership, project management, and, of course, technology. The program’s accomplishments and high success rate have caught the attention of many (check out Mashable’s recent article on URBAN TxT www.mashable.com/2013/06/25/urbantxt/#). Oscar recently answered some questions from his alma mater. WOS: How did you get the idea to start the organization? Oscar: I founded URBAN TxT because I saw the necessity in my own community. I grew up in Watts and when I was going to school we didn’t have access to computer science classes. Ten years later, when I returned to my community as a career speaker, I realized that the kids in my community still didn’t have access to entrepreneurial or tech classes. Therefore, with the help of friends, I decided to start URBAN TxT. URBAN TxT now inspires young men to become technology entrepreneurs. WOS: What types of things has URBAN TxT accomplished since it was founded? Oscar: 100% of our seniors attend four year universities. 100% of our students stay in our program and 0 drop out. We have taught more than 100 students how to program and build their own web apps. WOS: What's your typical day like with URBAN TxT? Oscar: A typical day at URBAN TxT is a fun learning day. You will find students designing, developing, and building strong friendships. We smile, play, and learn to build web apps. It’s a fun learning environment where students are challenged to do their best. WOS: What's the best part of your job? Oscar: As a social entrepreneur, my favorite part of my job is when I see a kid have a spark in their eyes. Kids start believing that they can accomplish anything they put their minds too. WOS: What's the most challenging part of your job? Oscar: The most challenging part is realizing that in order for us to keep doing such a great job, we must fundraise $200,000 by the end of this year. We hope that some funding from a few foundations come through. WOS: How did your education at Pepperdine shape your career and/or you as a person? Oscar: Pepperdine allowed me to be creative and play in a new sandbox. It gave me the confidence I needed to be a social entrepreneur. Pepperdine allowed me to discover a new potential in myself and in others. WOS: What piece of advice would you give to others who would also like to start an organization like yours? Oscar: Make sure that anything you start is something you truly love. Surround yourself with friends who will believe in you, even in the hardest times. Learn to take advice from others who are not in your immediate circle. However, learn to assess what advice is good for the growth of the organization.