As Urban Technology Project Turns 20, These Former Apprentices Are Thriving

A few years ago, Angela Chapple was at a crossroads: should she go back to school to get a degree in programming while raising a child, or take a year off to work full-time for the Urban technology project?

With little information available about this new technology apprenticeship program and a recommendation from his sister, Chapple took a leap of faith and decided to apply to the first cohort of the AmeriCorps Digital Service Fellow (DSF) – Pre-Apprenticeship program. Perks like the AmeriCorps scholarship and childcare and transportation grants were a big part of why she took the job opportunity.

“I was already going to school for programming and I knew I wanted to do something else in computer science but I didn’t know what,” Chapple said. “When I understood what they [Urban Technology Project] offered, doing this program made more sense. With this opportunity, it allowed me to do different things within IT and engage in hands-on work. »

Since 2002, the Philadelphia School District Urban Technology Project, a computer science apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship program, gave budding techs the opportunity to gain skills through industry-recognized certifications, on-the-job experience, and mentorship.

Employment in the tech industry grew by 175,700 jobs in 2022, following a whopping 92% before 2019, according to a recent CompTIA The data. As the tech innovation landscape continues to expand, the need for programs like the Philly Urban Tech Project remains at the forefront.

Today, not only is Chapple thriving in her career, but she has also lured her daughter into the industry. Chapple’s daughter, who was three months old when she first joined the program, is now in the program as a second-year DSF.

Chapple herself is now a senior systems engineer in identity management at Geico’s office of cybersecurity and continues to praise the urban technology project for its success in the field of technology: “For [this work experience] still providing opportunities 20 years later, changing lives and growing – it has been an incredible experience. I would do the program again if I could.

A Legacy of Technological Opportunity

Launched by a group of high school students in 1995 as “LatinoTech”, the urban tech project was born out of a “labor of love”, as quoted by the founder and co-visionary, Edison Freire.

“UrbanTech was an experiment to see how we could work with young people in ways that create learning together and it’s an approach to demonstrate how powerful young people can be to give back and solve the challenges they have if we build that confidence in their skills,” Freire said.

According to Institute of Learning and Work88% of young people believe that digital skills will be important for their future careers, but only 18% said they felt comfortable with advanced skills such as coding and using more specialized software, which employers may need need.

With numbers like these, the mission to provide a clear path to entry-level tech roles and enable individuals to find themselves through education and work experience is critical.

Urban Tech Project apprentices learn the basics of laptop repair, digital literacy, earn CompTIA certifications and more. Apprentices also serve as IT specialists and technology mentors at schools in Philadelphia, developing the soft and technical skills needed to navigate the professional technology industry.

In the early years of the Urban Technology Project, there was a gap in services that provided technology training opportunities for young people. In a report published by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commissionthe tech industry workforce is 68% white, 14% Asian, 8% Hispanic, and 7% African American.

For Gregory Johns Millercurrently an IT administrator who joined the Urban Tech Project in 2017, the program helped him believe he could be a tech professional and gave him the tools and support to succeed.

“I was referred to UTP by a friend of mine who was also a Digital Services Fellow at the time,” he said. “I struggled financially in college and he knew I loved working with technology. The same day he told me that I went downstairs and applied. The same week, I was accepted into the program.

Gregory Johns-Miller fixing computer hardware. (Courtesy picture)

During his participation in the program, Johns-Miller had a number of experiences that helped him become more comfortable with networking and develop his technical skills.

“I was able to meet with the governor and the mayor during my time at UTP,” Johns-Miller said. “I was able to travel to San Antonio for the first time and attend a conference to talk about the need for an apprenticeship program, and I traveled to Williamsport, PA to talk about the importance of ‘AmeriCorps. This program has given me many opportunities that I would not have had otherwise.

The Urban Tech Project gave Johns-Miller his start, and thanks to his success in the tech industry over the past five years, he was able to buy his first home.

20 years celebration

Now in 2022, Urban Technology Project continues its dual mission: to advance digital literacy and equity through education and mentorship to develop the present and inspire the future generation of technologists. Executive Director Shana Wild sees the program expanding to offer apprenticeship training in other career streams, including cybersecurity, networking and digital media.

The Urban Tech Project will celebrate 20 years of preparing underrepresented people for careers in tech on Saturday, October 22. Guests will be able to enjoy a full brunch, live student band, hear from special speakers and more.

To learn more about the occasion, visit the event website:

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