Training Young People to Design, Market Apps

Young people propose, design and market smartphone apps that serve community needs.

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"I hope we can get more young people excited about coding, math, designing and science," said Richardson, who explained why she thought that many young people fail to find these subjects interesting or appealing.

"It doesn't look as glorifying or amazing to be a computer scientist as it would to be a lawyer or doctor," said Richardson. "The stereotype is people in cubicles who aren't very social and lead awkward lifestyles. That's how it's presented."

These stereotypes may be further generated because some young people might not be fully aware of what issues are addressed by different scientific fields. For instance, Richardson noted that for a long time, she didn't know what was meant by the term "engineering." "You weren't shown that in school," she said.

By contrast, the Mobile Action Lab engages young people in hands-on activities that address relevant, real-world issues. In addition to teaching young people the technical side of app programming, these activities teach them scientific careers that involve applying scientific, math and business skills outside the lab may be exciting.

"We're meeting people in the field, developers and designers. And they're outgoing people! They like to talk about their work and they travel ... they get to do all these amazing things that you wouldn't think a computer scientist does," said Richardson. "It gives you a face to counteract the images out there."

"We're not just teaching science and math. We're teaching how you develop something, how you sell it—even if it's free, we want a lot of people to use it," said Richardson about the app development process. "So now, even when I'm sitting down with something I've purchased, I look at how it works and why I like it. It makes us better designers of what we want to do. Whenever I download new apps, I'm looking at the color schemes, how many buttons it has, how it is actually working and whether it's intuitive." 

"It makes me a more critical thinker all around," said Richardson.