Hello everyone. As both the summer of 2023 and my time as a Laidlaw scholar are coming to a close, I wish to reflect on the experiences I have committed myself to over the past few months with the Laidlaw Foundation.
Most noticeably, within 7 weeks between July and August, I undertook the long-awaited Leadership in Action project for the Laidlaw Foundation. For clarity, the project was based in Boston Massachusetts and was centred on overcoming the ‘digital divide’ that many students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds face in the United States. As already known, the funding for this project came from the Laidlaw scholarship and the corresponding department at Durham University, however, on the American side of the pond, specifically in Roxbury Massachusetts, the company that spearheaded everything was the Timothy Smith Network (TSN), a company I am forever grateful to for recruiting myself and a handful of other hardworking scholars.
On that note, to achieve their goal of overcoming a transparent lack of technology within many areas of the Boston public school system, many scholars were instructed to teach a technology-based module to a class of students so they could mimic working for a company or academic institution. Additionally, to prepare for this, a handful of meetings were conducted before our arrival, allowing many scholars, myself included, to begin requesting any necessary equipment and develop a curriculum that was then implemented over the summer. For my part, I undertook the teaching of 3D modelling for a module termed ‘Tech Your Health’ (TYH), which centred on students creating a prototype/device that would monitor or improve an individual’s mental and/or physical health. Here, the use of Python and Fusion 360 were imperative so students could improve upon their fledging tech skills whilst producing and 3D printing components needed for their alluded health device.
TYH itself required 6 out of the 7 allotted weeks to teach and took place Monday to Thursday, 10:00 a.m. to 15:00 p.m., whilst optional hours were open to students on Fridays. However, as any good teacher knows, many scholars found themselves working outside of those hours to lesson plan and ensure all classes ran as smoothly as possible. On that note, it is important to mention the fact that not all classes ran smoothly when guest speakers, such as patent lawyers, researchers, and even Peter Cullen, were brought in to speak to all the students. In particular, prior to the speaker’s arrival, a lot of attention was needed over many days to prepare and ensure everything, including classes, ran smoothly. Importantly however, through these ‘speedbumps’, many learning opportunities for leadership emerged, as it allowed everyone to work in a team that consisted of both the scholars and staff, something which dramatically helped improve upon my public speaking, science communication, and organisational skills. For example, the organisation became imperative during 07:00 am runs to the office to print off students' work or grab necessary equipment before the teaching day began, something which was also true for a colleague called Amanda who worked for the TSN, and my ‘3D partner in crime’ Thomas Williamson.
Finally, as the final weeks of the project emerged, all of our students managed to produce a functional prototype that encapsulated what they learned over the summer. In my eyes, the prototypes themselves served as the ‘proof in the pudding’ for all the hard work put in by both the students and staff to overcome the discussed digital divide. Ultimately, it is now hoped that due to the programmes offered by TSN, the students now possess connections with academics in Boston, are more geared towards a future with technology, and, at the very least, now have completed an impressive and intense programme that can be utilised in their academic careers.
Upon reflection on this post and my time teaching in Boston, I feel more poetic about my experience than I thought I would be, particularly as I fitted into the amazing city of Boston like a hand in a glove, and aside from experiencing the unusual tipping culture in America and seeing an unexpected amount of poverty that existed quite rampantly in the poorer areas of the well-developed city, I never once felt out of place and instead welcomed the cultural unfamiliarity with open arms. I only hope that now I can re-establish myself there professionally via the respective academic and professional connections I have made. The attached video, of a presentation I gave when reflecting on my summer in Boston, encapsulates my message well, but perhaps the phrase 'a summer well spent' does it even better.