Birmingham City Council President Austin Observes STEM Technology Program at the Central Library

Standing l-r: Lance Simpson, Dr. Abidin Yildirim, and Johnathan 
Austin. Sitting are student participants Tamia Dunlap, left, and 
Tatyonna Cohill.

Touring the STEM technology program at the Central Library on November 17 brought home fond memories for Birmingham City Council President Johnathan Austin.

In the early 2000s, Austin and his father, Rev. Gerald Austin, ran a summer technology program called Stars Tech Camp. After observing and talking to the students who were making tracks for their electronic trains, Austin came away impressed.

“Our Stars Tech Camp was very similar to this—skill building, tech training, achieving results, and self-sufficiency,” Austin said. “We did exactly what you are doing here at the library—exposing kids to opportunities like this they may not otherwise get to do.”

Thanks to a $10,000 grant received in October from the Best Buy Foundation, the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is planning to add new services in its STEM-focused afterschool program at the Central Library. The money will be used to purchase microcomputers, robotics kits, and an array of other technological tools to facilitate teaching engineering concepts in the weekly afterschool program.

Lance Simpson, teen librarian for the Birmingham Public Library, said the Best Buy grant will enable the Central Library to take its STEM technology program “to another level and enhance what we are doing. We will be able to show them how it is that they can take concepts of robotics and be prepared for future careers.”

Since the summer of 2015, the Central Library has been collaborating with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Engineering to provide a weekly STEM-focused technology-based afterschool program for teens. Simpson and grants writer Carrie Campbell joined with the School of Engineering's director of outreach, Dr. Abidin Yildirim, and community volunteer Keiah Shauku to write a grant seeking funds to expand the program’s offerings.

“Our partnership with UAB kicked off over the summer with a one-week STEM camp offered at the Central Library, and has continued on with a weekly afterschool program offered on Tuesdays,” Simpson said. “The funds from the grant will allow us to expand the program from our current curriculum to allow for more technology-driven classes, including teaching teens basic computer coding languages, and practical application of coding through robotics.”

During the school year, BPL's Central Library hosts 70 to 90 children and teens daily after school. Most of these students attend Phillips Academy, a Birmingham City Schools magnet K-8 school located near the library.

Austin said he hopes the public, businesses, and other politicians in Birmingham will support the STEM program in the Birmingham Public Library. “I continue to do everything I can to support our young people,” he said. “Everything we do now should be geared towards them. They are our future.”