By Greg Tucker
VISTA Jeremy Mitchell is helping build a program to bring STEM education opportunities to underserved areas
During the White House Maker Faire, participants in the do-it-yourself movement demonstrated their creativity with projects that included a biodiesel sports car, a robotic giraffe, and a banana piano. AmeriCorps VISTA Leader Jeremy Mitchell watched from the audience, knowing that he was helping introduce low-income youth across California to this revolution.
Motivating people and helping children connect with their creativity are two things that come naturally to Mitchell. The Memphis, TN, native began volunteering around his community and through his church, where he also played piano. He continued to share his love of music while attending college at Middle Tennessee State University, teaching piano and percussion instruments to children near the campus.
A few years after his college graduation, his mother urged Jeremy to look into VISTA because she served in the program when he was in high school. Soon, he was serving as a Community Relations Specialist and Volunteer Manager at Families of Incarcerated Individuals in his hometown of Memphis. He supported the program by focusing several initiatives on youth and created opportunities for group mentoring as a way to garner more community involvement with the program’s children.
“I’m really invested in youth and youth development,” he said. “I have a little brother who’s 16 years old, so that’s pretty relevant to me that I invest in youth and youth development.”
A second service term offered him the chance to become an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader with the Maker Education Initiative, which strives to create opportunities and interest in science, technology, engineering, math, arts, and learning through making. Mitchell now leads a team of 10 AmeriCorps VISTAs as they build the capacity of five Makerspaces targeted to increase the participation of low-income youth across the state.
The creativity labs give youth in those communities a chance to create and explore subjects that they may find boring in the classroom. This, Mitchell said, motivates some troubled students to attend school more regularly.
“The more time that goes on, the more we see people getting into it,” said Mitchell, noting the Maker movement’s increasing momentum. “It gives kids a chance to find themselves. This approach helps kids develop skills in an environment outside the classroom.”
With Makerspaces spread from northern to southern California, Mitchell relies on emails and frequent video chats and recordings to keep the other AmeriCorps members informed from his Oakland location.
“Google Hangouts have become my best and worst friend,” he said. His work as one of the first STEM AmeriCorps Maker Education VISTA members led him to serve as an adviser during the program’s expansion to five additional cities across the nation.
When he finishes his term later this year, Mitchell is planning to return to Tennessee to help the Maker movement spread and help youth in his hometown. He believes, “These programs would be very beneficial there – this is something that could really work.” When he returns to Memphis, Mitchell will take the lessons he learned as a VISTA with him.
“You can get a job making a certain amount of money, but what fulfillment will that bring? How is that going to better the future?” he said. “The way the world works, we need people to work together. If you have more people working together and doing things for each other, your life will be better.”
To learn more, read the White House Maker Faire blog