The Research and Technology Park’s (RTPark) mission to cultivate a thriving tech ecosystem in the USVI includes attracting technology businesses to the territory. Still, more importantly, it requires growing the skills and resources of local Virgin Islanders to succeed in the technology industry. Engaging the tech industry community is the best way to create sustainable growth and prosperity long-term. We especially need to engage children in technology early and teach them the skills they’ll need to succeed in a STEM field.
This summer, the RTPark introduced its first coding camp for children, VI STEM Kids. The RTPark partnered with the Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls to provide four weeks of coding classes to kids between the ages of 8 and 10. These classes are taught by Virgin Islanders with experience in education, technology, or both. Originally these classes were intended to be taught in-person in three locations on St. Thomas and St. Croix, but the program was moved to a virtual format due to the pandemic to keep the kids and facilitators safe. Over four weeks, kids learn the basic concepts and processes behind writing code by working with a tool called Scratch.
One of the curriculum’s major goals is to get kids excited about technology and software, but learning to write code teaches kids much more than how to work with one particular tool or coding language. The process of working through an activity to create working code teaches kids logical problem-solving skills and persistence in the face of unfamiliar challenges. Working with the facilitators and the other kids in the class practices communication and collaboration. These skills will be immensely valuable to these children as they grow and learn, no matter their long-term interests or what career they pursue.
We hope to evolve and expand this program in the future to serve many more USVI children and continue to prepare future generations for successful, exciting careers in STEM fields. The technical, communication and problem-solving skills they learn from this program will serve them well no matter what they choose to do in their lives, and having a skilled workforce will increase the territory’s resilience in a rapidly changing global economy.
In addition to investing in the long-term technical workforce of the USVI by exposing children to STEM fields and skills, the RTPark is developing the current technical workforce. We are exploring options for potential partnerships for intensive coding training for adults in the territory from partner organizations. Through our talent attraction initiative, the RTPark has also developed an online database of USVI technical talent and job openings called VISTA+. This resource will help connect skilled workers with jobs that fully utilize their expertise at local companies and help show any tech workers who would like to return to the USVI that there are available opportunities for them here. VISTA+ is scheduled to launch early this Fall, and we encourage the USVI community to stay tuned for exciting updates and opportunities to learn more about the platform.
Through these workforce development efforts, the RTPark hopes to connect Virgin Islanders to high-paying, resilient job opportunities that allow them to remain in the territory while fully participating in global trends that will shape the world’s future.