19 Mar Big Idea Week Seeking Mentors

True to its name, the leaders behind Big Idea Week don’t think small. The free community program connects students in grades 4-8 with mentors from tech, media, and design companies, with a larger goal of educating today’s youth about entrepreneurship and STEM subjects, so they’ll be better prepared for the workplace of the future. The headline on Big Idea Week’s website lays out the simple, all-encompassing challenge: Think of a problem in your world and come up with an idea to solve it. Like we said: They don’t think small.

big idea weekBig Idea Week began in May 2013 as a collaboration between the DUMBO Improvement District and Alex Rappaport, co-founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based education company Flocabulary, which engages students with an online library of educational hip-hop songs and videos. The third annual Big Idea Week is May 4-8, and the program is currently looking for volunteers to serve as mentors in schools throughout NYC. The total time commitment is one hour on Monday, May 4th, and 90 minutes on Friday, May 8th; in between, classroom visits are optional. Anyone with experience in engineering, industrial product design, tech, architecture, or business is encouraged to apply. You can learn more about the program right here.

In advance of the next Big Idea Week, we spoke with Rappaport about the genesis of Big Idea Week, making a lasting impact on local communities, and inspiring students to think big.

Why did you decide to start Big Idea Week?

Big Idea Week started as a way to build a bridge between the DUMBO tech community and PS 307, an elementary school a few blocks away. It’s a way to teach the kids about tech, design, and 21st-century careers, but it’s also a way to bring the community together in a meaningful way. I have this idea that we are all stakeholders in education, and Big Idea Week gives people who live and work near a school a chance to make a lasting impact on students in their communities.

Ideally, what do you hope the students get from the experience? The mentors?

This program is all about exposure. Many students play video games or use social media but have never met an app developer or game designer. We want to show students real-world applications of the skills they’re learning in school in an immediate, first-hand way. It’s a way of tearing down the walls of the traditional classroom. Meeting and collaborating with the people who use these skills in their jobs opens up a whole new world of opportunity for the kids. The students also learn important practical skills, from sketching and modeling to presenting and answering questions from an audience.

Big Idea Week mentors get that rewarding feeling of inspiring a group of kids, but they also get this incredible infusion of energy and creativity from hearing the kids’ questions and ideas. Kids have amazing minds for brainstorming, and mentors have said how inspired they feel after participating in the program. It’s short on time commitment but long on impact.

You mentioned that the program is expanding across schools in Brooklyn this year. Are you able to publicly identify which schools at this point?

We’re still confirming the final list, but we’ve had 17 school register thus far. Most are in Brooklyn and a handful are in Queens. There are quite a few schools around the Downtown Brooklyn area – including DUMBO, Ft. Greene, Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy, Red Hook. We’re working very hard to recruit mentors who live and work in those neighborhoods.

How many mentors are you looking for?

All told we’d like to have between 45-60 for this year’s program. But we’re planning on future programs too, so anyone who registers will be on the list for upcoming events. The mentor registration link is here: http://www.bigideaweek.org/mentors.html.