In the Summer of 2017, I was approached by a friend with an opportunity that would allow me to give back to the community in a way I had never imagined.
Michelle Heim and Bob Swanson of Youth Advocate Program had the idea of developing an afterschool program that was geared towards troubled teenagers and helping the learn about website design. The goal would be to teach kids how to produce a website with the hope of them learning transferable skills that could help them enter the workforce.
The program was called YAP Cyberworx and evolved into a collaborative effort between the Red Cross, United Way, Lebanon Valley College, and Youth Advocate Programs with me leading the charge to develop the courseware behind the 12-week program. The plan was to have the students produce for an entity of their choice and at the end of the project, we would host a grand gala event that everyone would attend, showing off the websites the students had created and awarding prizes to the top three teams.
There were a lot of people involved with this project and during the planning phases, key team members would meet at the Youth Advocate Programs facility in Lebanon, PA. It only took a few planning sessions to roll out the new program with everyone understanding their role in the operation.
This was a huge project with a lot of moving parts. I had assembled a team of my own to help me, but everyone bailed early in the project leaving me to develop the entire program on my own. There was no stopping at this point as the event was planned with everyone looking forward to the grand gala event.
The first step was to configure the infrastructure behind rolling out 13 different independent WordPress instances that the students would use to build their new websites. My solution was to utilize subdomains, allowing everyone to have their own unique WordPress instance using the most cost-effective method possible.
Every team had its own separate WordPress instance allowing students to work remotely on their own time. This was a great lesson in being organized and focused, all key skills to working remotely. This was also the perfect time to teach students about password management and cybersecurity in today’s workplace.
We had our teams assemble every two weeks at Lebanon Valley College so that we could touch base and answer questions. The meetings were structured in a manner where I would release new courseware and also be available to answer questions or concerns from the previous lesson. This format worked out very well throughout the course of the entire project.
One of my goals was the teach the students about the real-world challenges behind producing a website. I had them start by selecting a non-profit entity they wanted to support. With the organization being their client, I provided them with an outline of what they would need to ask in order to get what they needed in order to produce the website, showing them the real-world challenges of extracting content from a business owner.
Once our content was organized we moved on to implementing their selected design. Prior to starting the project I had selected five unique WordPress themes the teams could use with their website, giving them the chance to select a design that best suited the needs of their “client”. This was a great lesson in website design and user experience.
The teams would then apply their selected template and go through the configuration steps. It was interesting to see teams go around the templates I provided and purchase themes of their own, showing great initiative in wanting to win the contest.
All of this was building up to the grand Gala event. The students were excited as they could invite who they wanted and everyone was getting dressed up in formal attire, yet again teaching a lesson on business attire and how to present yourself in a public workplace.
There was a panel of judges, myself included, that would review the websites the students created and then select three grand prize winners. Below is a video from the event. This was before I hired professional videographers to attend my live events.
The YAP Cyberworx project was an amazing experience that tested all the skills I had built throughout my career including public speaking, project management, technical website skills, and so much more. The size and scope showed me I could handle a project of this magnitude and also shed light that I might have a path in education as I really enjoyed working with students and developing the courseware.
It was also enjoyable to work with so many talented people who all put forth massive effort into the production of this event. Youth Advocate Partners was kind enough to write an article on the event which can be seen at https://www.yapinc.org/News/Article/ArticleID/274/YAPCyberWorx-Engages-Youth-Students-and-Tech-Professionals-in-Web-Design-Project