TECH Unleashed

TECH Unleashed members take a break from their group project to enjoy a comedy rehearsal by Ryan Wymer at Boundless Connections in Olean.

Boundless Connections’ TECH Unleashed program for teens has an ambitious goal for their 2019-20 service project: develop a voice-activated robot to help people with physical handicaps.

The group of 25 teens met last month during the TECH Unleashed summer camp, solidifying plans for their robotic helper.

“The amount of energy, brainstorming and problem solving is incredible,” says Michelle Cortez, one of the program facilitators. “They have a vision.”

Mike Marvin, program facilitator and Boundless Connections co-owner, adds, “We have an amazing group this year and there are exciting things going on.”

He explains that the first week, a 14-year-old participant asked if we could have a group project for everyone to work on. She then led a discussion from brainstorming to project definition.

“They decided that they all wanted to work on a robot that could accept voice commands,” Marvin says. “Later that same day, we had a participant sign up who had no use of her legs and limited use of her arms. Someone who could help us build this robot and also would know how to prioritize the features. It was amazing.”

He lauded the young people for valuing each other’s opinions.

“Another reason that it is so fun to work with these young people is that they’re really open and flexible about sharing ideas – they invite everyone into the process,” Marvin says. “Everyone’s input is valued. It’s a lot of fun.”

The group plans to develop a robot capable of opening doors, operating light switches and retrieving objects. The teens have divided into subgroups for drawing/development, 3D printing, robotics, coding and marketing.

As part of the program, the teens are also forming new connections with each other, learning about teambuilding and leadership.

“One of my favorite parts about the week was being around everyone,” says Kailyn West, 15, of Olean. “All their creativity made for a really neat environment.”

Brightleen Ngunyi, 16, of Olean, agrees, adding, “My favorite was learning and exploring new things.”

The TECH Unleashed program is for 13- to 17-year-olds interested in computer programming, augmented and virtual reality, graphic art, 3D printing and video/audio editing. Membership is available to any young person with an interest.

Along with summer, winter and spring camps, TECH Unleashed meets during the school year on Friday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. to work on their tech service projects and engage with the community while developing the technical skills needed to complete projects.

The program fosters the use of various technology skills in service to the community. Participants choose their annual projects and stay connected throughout the year for approximately 160 hours of coordination and instruction.

While the program’s annual projects are participant-driven, participants receive guidance on project and time management, leadership and team building, public speaking, research and industry networking.

Funding for scholarships is provided by Strength Solutions with generous contributions from Cattaraugus County Youth Bureau, Directions in Independent Living, Fox Financial, Sol Epoxy and United Way of Cattaraugus County.

Select equipment is funded through the Appalachian Regional Commission grant and Boundless Connections, LLC. Technical and business skills presentations and support is provided by Boundless Connections, LLC. Character education and scholarship administration are provided through Strength Solutions, Inc.

For more information and to register, visit bctechcenter.com, email info@bctechcenter.com or call (585) 376-0099. The programs are held at the Boundless Connections Technology Center at 160 N. Union St.

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