Ten interns with the Prince George’s County Office of Information Technology did more than file paperwork and answer phones this summer. They created ways to use technology to solve county problems.
“Each year, we get interns, but we found it difficult to find work for them because it’s such a short time frame,” said Sandra Longs, the office’s training manager. “So this year, Director Vennard Wright and I developed this idea to have the interns work on a project and produce a finished product.”
The six-week internship culminated Friday with a presentation by the interns — who were divided into two teams — before a panel of judges.
“I could not be more proud of what these students have accomplished,” Segun Eubanks, school board chairman and one of the judges, said of the students’ projects.
After a week and a half of technology training, with the help of mentors from Bowie State University, the teams chose a societal problem to combat, then spent four-and-a-half weeks using technology to develop solutions.
“We helped point them in the right direction, but they controlled everything,” Longs said.
One team entitled its project “Making a Better Path Plan,” and sought ways to reduce the high school dropout rate in the county, which was 7.4 percent for the 2011-12 school year, the highest in the state, according to statistics from the Baltimore-based Kids Count Data Center.
Project leader Kayla Wright, 16, a student at Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro and daughter of Vennard Wright, said her team found many reasons for students dropping out. They included teens becoming pregnant or having to work to support their families. Technology — virtual labs, class websites and online classes — could be used to help keep them in school, the group concluded.
Kayla Wright demonstrated a lesson using video conference software, which would allow students to interact virtually with a class from home. She said class videos also could be posted online for working or ill students to watch, which her team felt would reduce the dropout rate.
The team is creating a website for teachers and students.
“We plan to further develop the website and keep working on the project,” Wright said.
The other team sought to improve technological literacy among senior citizens.
After surveying several seniors between the ages of 65 and 85, the interns created a website, technologywalker.com, and tutorial videos aimed at helping seniors learn to use social networking, email and iPads, said the team’s technology specialist, Kay-Cee Grant, 15, a student at Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine.
The team also created a version of the website specifically designed for mobile devices.
Team leader Sierra Proctor, 16, a student at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, said her team plans to continue providing technical support through the website even after their internship has ended. They will provide tutorials in other languages and create new tutorials for additional devices.
“I really learned how to be a leader, because I usually am the one who sits in the back and lets others take charge. I really learned how to be a team leader and project manager,” Proctor said of the internship. “This experience is going to last with us a lifetime.”
In the end, the panel of judges, led by Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III (D), declared both teams to be winners.
“Both of the projects were excellent,” Baker said. “There’s no way we could pick a winner.”
Each student received a mini iPad. Their projects will be featured on the county’s website, Longs said.
“We’re going to continue to support their projects, to make it a full-blown vocation, with apps, with whatever they need from us. We’re going to support it and make it larger than life,” Longs said.