Wednesday, December 13, 2017
News Roundup

TechStart Tampa Bay stimulates studies for STEM students

RUSKIN — It's one week before school starts and Christian Torres, 17, is immersed in all things video.

Seated at his desk in the studio/control room of Lennard High School, he is editing videos that will debut the first week of school. As producer of Lennard's morning show, The Daily Roundup, Torres can regularly be found roving the halls, bouncing from classroom to cafeteria to pep rally, with his Canon camera slung over his shoulder.

"The only thing I ever wanted to do in high school was to be on the morning show," he said.

In the eighth grade, he made a video highlighting his technology skills and sent it to a teacher at Lennard. The teacher liked his video so much that he was able to skip the preliminary production class and begin as a freshman, a spot usually reserved for incoming sophomores.

Torres' matter-of-fact dedication to video production makes it easy to see why he was awarded, at age 14, a full college scholarship from TechStart Tampa Bay, a charity that provides students who are on a STEM track (science, technology, engineering, math) with opportunities in the field.

Torres typically rearranges his daily schedule to accommodate various projects.

In the morning, he runs the live show and during lunch he films commercials for the administration or clubs. He also films events like homecoming and pep rallies.

He recognizes the challenges students at his school face.

"There are a lot of migrant families and it is a Title 1 school, so I see a lot of students who aren't as involved in school as they should be," said Torres, who sees his producer role as motivator to those students who want to be involved but aren't sure why.

"Students should come to school events because it's cool and fun and you should support your community. It's a social thing. Everything I produce is geared toward getting people to enjoy school. I love this place."

TechStart Tampa Bay's event and programming manager Melodie Hillier appreciates Torres' perspective.

"Christian has a vision for his high school," Hillier said. "He's definitely concerned about getting his classmates more involved with school and he uses his technology skills as a way to make a change there."

Torres said he would like to attend Brigham Young University. His mother went there and because he and his family are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Torres said "it has always been my desire to go there."

Although unsure about which program to enroll in, Torres has considered its technology program. Many of Torres' friends in the Ruskin congregation have gone on to BYU. "I will have a network," he said.

TechStart Tampa Bay is the philanthropic branch of Tampa Bay Technology Forum. Its mission is to create opportunities for at-risk youth by providing access to technology and computers and awarding college scholarships to students in grades 6 through 12 in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties who are pursuing a STEM education.

Students interested in applying for a TechStart college scholarship can apply through either the Pinellas Education Foundation or the Hillsborough Education Foundation. The Take Stock in Children statewide program assists low-income students in obtaining a college education through scholarships.

Depending on the cost of tuition, Hillier said TechStart raises an average of $8,000 to $10,000 per award recipient. Scholarship donations are matched dollar for dollar by either the Hillsborough Education Foundation or the Pinellas Education Foundation.

Hillier said each scholarship covers four years of tuition, and room and board.

In addition to college scholarships, Hillier said TechStart actively participates in existing programs like Computer*fic, helping open 28 computer labs in bay area Boys & Girls Clubs. Metropolitan Ministries also was given a computer lab, which will help provide 800 children daily access to technology.

Since its inception 12 years ago, the Tech Jam fundraiser has generated about $650,000 and awarded more than 50 college scholarships to students in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Hillier hopes Tech Jam will increase the amount of opportunities for promising students like Torres.

Aimee Alexander can be reached at [email protected]

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