Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Social Justice

Juan Camacho and Stephany Ayala
Jersey Cares’ PCF Fellows

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear innovation? Creative, new, original? ATMs are probably not included in that list. For two fellows in the Jersey Cares’ Project Coordinator Fellowship (PCF), Stephany Ayala and Juan Camacho, ATMs became a proposed innovative community solution during their internship at the I Have A Dream Foundation – Newark (IHDF-NJ). 

Stephany and Juan are PCF interns.  The PCF connects young people between the ages of 16 and 24 in Newark with opportunities.  With a unique collaboration between corporate partners, non-profit organizations and young people from low-to-moderate-income families, fellows learn valuable career skills which they put into practice at Newark non-profits.  While participating in workforce development workshops facilitated by corporate partners, and mentorship from Jersey Cares, students help build the capacity of local non-profits, putting their newly developed skills to work as interns. 

Juan and Stephany meet with their PCF Mentors, Anthony Barley and Janique Sanders

Although Stephany and Juan worked on multiple projects during their time at IHDF-NJ, ATMs became a focus for the team.  In observing local businesses in the West Ward of Newark, the students realized there was a surplus of ATMs located in the neighborhood.  Juan shared, “ATMs are considered a business and in the West Ward, they [ATMs] account for 16% of all businesses. In comparison to only 2% in New Jersey.”  Stephany continued, “The people of the neighborhood have limited access to banks and ATMs are usually easier to get to. They are always in different stores who have card limits or do not accept cards. This is an example of a social engineering project.”

The team related that the profit from the ATMs are typically attributed to the individual owner and those funds rarely are circulated back into the community. The team recognized a link between engineering, entrepreneurship and social justice and the opportunity to put an innovative solution in place.  With the support of their supervisor, Yolanda Gadson, the two fellows began developing solutions that would benefit the community. Stephany and Juan developed the idea of the creation of community owned ATMs that would be operated and maintained by a community group. The community group would reinvest the profits made from fees back into the community to fund after-school programs, feed and provide resources for underserved populations, and other community programs and initiatives. This cycle would put communal interest at the forefront in local conversations. They imagined creating a platform for local businesses to use a portion of their profits to help fund revitalization projects within the community– in schools, community centers and other local institutions. They would schedule town hall meetings to introduce the business owners to the community members to understand who their donations are helping.

Yolanda Gadson
Executive Director
I Have a Dream Foundation – Newark

Stephany and Juan’s supervisor, Yolanda Gadson, Executive Director, IHDF-NJ, raved about the two fellows and the work they have completed while interning. She was so thrilled by their capabilities that both students have been offered continued opportunities to work with the foundation after the completion of their internship. She highlights the impact of having two young people, especially two young people of color, to help explain how engineering relates to everyday life. Gadson states, “It’s not often you have interns come together and they work, but they really work. They make time for something outside themselves. I go to them and ask for their voices, because their voices matter. They were such a positive and professional light in the office.”

Juan and Stephany are rising sophomores at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) where they are studying engineering. Both fellows are heavily involved in various campus organizations such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, where they both are executive board members, and the Robotics Club. These two outstanding students also mentor Dreamer populations, help create and facilitate interactive STEM workshops for Pre-K children, and are working on a sustainable schoolyard revitalization project at 13th Ave School in Newark’s West Ward community. They made a commitment to go above and beyond and are shining examples of the power of people to be the change they want to see in their own community.   

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