An Interview with Key Leaders at NVIDIA and Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania: Their Partnership Aims to Make Artificial Intelligence More Accessible to Youth in Underserved Communities

The demand for artificial intelligence (AI) is increasing rapidly. Helping young people get educated and exposed to careers in AI has become a critical need. However, there are several challenges in getting underserved communities involved in AI. Learning to develop AI applications requires access to hands-on learning and adequate computing resources. In addition, many underrepresented communities, including women and people of color, do not see many role models in the field nor do they have guidance on getting started.

NVIDIA & BCGWPA Partnership Aims to Be Part of the Solution: Making AI Education More Accessible

To address this need, NVIDIA and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania (BGCWPA) entered into a three-year partnership in April 2021. Their joint goal is expanding access to AI education and scaling the curriculum to young people in traditionally underserved and underrepresented communities nationwide through the development of the AI Pathways Toolkit and expansion of the Artificial Intelligence Pathways Institute Program to Boys & Girls Clubs outside of Western PA.

The Marktechpost team interviewed leaders from both NVIDIA and BGCWPA on their partnership and the goal for their AI Pathways Toolkit. Liz Austin, a leader of NVIDIA’s philanthropic arm, and Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri, CEO at BGCWPA, were interviewed.

1. Marktechpost: Can you tell us about the AI education partnership between the BGCWPA and NVIDIA?

Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri, BGCWPA: Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania was awarded a PA Smart Grant with the whole goal of advancing STEM education in the State of Pennsylvania to ensure that we have a workforce that’s ready for the jobs of the future. And so, we initially designed this concept of the Artificial Intelligence Pathways Institute (AIPI) as part of that grant initiative. Our first cohort, our pilot program, in 2019 was about 40 young people. The majority of these young people were girls and students of color. Through local contacts, we were able to get connected with Liz and her wonderful team at NVIDIA to really just dream up and flesh out what it could look like to actually build this AI Pathways Toolkit and scale these AI knowledge & skills across the country.

Liz Austin, NVIDIA: On the NVIDIA side, the Foundation learned about some of the early work that Lisa described with the pilot summer programs. We believe that all students should have access to AI education. We were excited about the opportunity to partner with BGCWPA to help them scale the reach of their program to more students.

2. Marktechpost: Can you please shed some light on the NVIDIA Jetson Nano 2GB developer kit and JetBot platform?

Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri: The primary hardware we are working with, in terms of young people getting exposure to AI, is the Jetson Nano 2GB dev kit and open-source JetBot AI robotics platform from NVIDIA. In the first AIPI cohort, we had to figure out how the young people could use the Jetson Nano hardware to build an autonomous moving robot. Our second cohort in 2020 was a camp, and we had about 60 students. At this time, the Jetson had come further along in its development. There was an open-source curriculum we could access online that we then incorporated more formally into our AIPI program. This summer we are hosting over 200 students.

Liz Austin: NVIDIA’s goal with the Jetson Nano 2GB Developer Kit and the new grant program is to further democratize AI and robotics. With easy-to-follow tutorials and ready-to-build open-source projects created by an active community, the Jetson Nano 2GB is ideal for hands-on learning, building, and teaching AI and robotics.  

● According to a student of the 2019 AIPI cohort, Paige Frank: “Learning robotics hands-on with the Jetson Nano made it much easier. And it was exciting to actually see our programming in action as the NVIDIA JetBot robot navigated the maze we created for the Project.” Paige is now an intern with the BGCWPA, where she mentors and helps other young teens getting started with AI and coding.

3. Marktechpost: Can you please tell us about the AI Pathways Toolkit and AI Pathways Institute?

Liz Austin, NVIDIA: With this particular initiative, our focus is partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs to build out this toolkit consisting of that open-source curriculum and the staff tools and training. Our goal is to make it really easy for the Boys & Girls Clubs’ staff and other educators to deliver and implement the curriculum with their students. 

Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri: The hardware piece of this is key, and it’s at the heart of the Artificial Intelligence Pathways Institute. We explore other topics in our curriculum, like AI ethics and human-centered design, and how to design a product. And these additional career readiness skills, those sort of communication skills or business skills, project management, a taste of all those career readiness skills.

Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri: The AI curriculum, as of now, is definitely more geared to high school students. As we build out this curriculum even further, we’re looking to create different modules. With NVIDIA foundation support, we can bring in a full-time manager whose major support and effort will be to refine and break down these modules, to be able to customize it and scale it down to appropriate audiences based on the needs.

● AIPI aims to serve 20,000+ high school-aged students in the Boys & Girls Clubs community by 2024. And that’s just the beginning! The open-source curriculum will also be available to other organizations interested in implementing AI education programs worldwide.

4. Marktechpost: How are educators involved in the AI Pathways Toolkit curriculum?

Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri: I am excited about this partnership because we can scaffold the learning in a way with somebody who has no experience. The youth development professionals who work with students at Boys & Girls Clubs that use the toolkit will eventually get a certification from Jetson. It is a piece of hardware that somebody from a non-STEM background (like education or psychology) can pick up. We can walk them through how they can eventually gain certification, and that’s why we chose Jetson in the first place.

5. Marktechpost: What were some of the biggest challenges in building the curriculum?

Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri: Overcoming the perception that the field is difficult, designing it such that it’s for everyone, the diversity piece. In many of these roles, whether IT or software development, there is a lack of representation, particularly among people of color and women. We hope that in making the curriculum and the hardware accessible, we will ultimately be able to get more diverse folks into the field. To really roll kids in, you get them ultimately connected by personalizing learning and creating projects where they have a voice. It’s about creating opportunities where the topics are relevant to them.

● Intentional aspects of this program will be videos and interviews and stories of diverse people talking about their career journey and how they got into the roles, these technical roles, they’re in. “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

● Students also got to visit companies and see AI in action and present a capstone project that focused on a social problem they wanted to solve with AI.

6. Marktechpost: What has the students’ experience been? Can you give us some insights on the outcome after the first cohort? What is the biggest impact you have seen in people’s lives? What have been some of your students’ most rewarding experiences?

Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri: It’s a work-based learning experience where we pay all the young people a fair stipend. People are getting paid to learn, and then all of a sudden, they want to go to college for computer science. And it’s something that pays a good salary too. It makes a big difference when you can enter into these careers and break your family’s cycle of poverty. It’s literally a life-changing opportunity to enter into the technology space. Upon entering the program, only 50% of the young people were interested in going to a four-year college, and post-program surveying, we are now up to 90%. This program has shown them the possibilities and pathways that they never thought are possibilities for themselves. This program doesn’t fix college affordability, and many others are working on it as well.

● What are the students saying? Paige Frank of the 2019 pilot program says she wants to strengthen her coding skills and become a Python pro. And she definitely wants to pursue computer science in college. “I have a lot of goals,” says Paige.

7. Marktechpost: How do you envision this program growing in the future? How many students are you hoping to serve?

Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri: We eventually want to be in many Boys & Girls Clubs all over this country. The goal in the next few years is that we will be running this summer intensive program to up to 80 Boys & Girls Clubs. One of our primary goals is to increase diversity and democratize AI.

Liz Austin: Our goal is to serve 20,000 kids in Boys & Girls Clubs across the USA by 2024. And from there, the sky’s the limit, as we also plan to make the toolkit available to other organizations around the world that are interested in implementing AI education programs. 

Source:

NVIDIA: https://blogs.nvidia.com/blog/2021/04/20/ai-pathways-boys-girls-clubs/

Jetson Nano Toolkit:

https://www.nvidia.com/en-us/autonomous-machines/embedded-systems/jetson-nano/education-projects/

NVIDIA Leadership: Liz Austin – Liz Austin Author Page | The Official NVIDIA Blog

Boys & Girls Club Leadership: Dr. Lisa Abel-Abel-Palmieri | Boys & Girls Clubs of Western PA (bgcwpa.org)