Finding Innovation, Inspiration and Hope in Washington, D.C.

Editor’s note: Last month, Richmond Pulse contributor Yasmine Elsafy traveled to Washington, D.C., as a member of a youth delegation sponsored by The California Endowment, a private health foundation. The purpose of their trip was to gain a broader understanding of how government works, and to learn about advances in education technology.

On my first day in Washington, D.C., our group attended an event at Microsoft where we learned about Glass Lab, a project that applies gaming to education in new and innovative ways. Glass Lab’s mission is to create quality video games that help kids learn and perform better in the classroom, with a focus on engagement, problem solving and teamwork.

Glass Lab’s work runs counter to a rising dissent among many parents and teachers who claim that video games only foster violence and contribute to children having low attention spans, which leads to underperformance at school.

Our group heard from a number of speakers associated with Glass Lab, including students. One was a 7th grader who spoke about how video games can actually help hold attention by engaging students and teaching them relevant information in different subject areas. Later in the day, we spoke to various professionals about video game design, education advocacy and emerging technology fields.

By the end of the day, I’d come to see much more potential in the video game industry as a creative and beneficial platform for educating young people.

The following day, we had a series of exciting meetings with representatives from the White House. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but we had many valuable conversations and I came away with a lot of useful information.

Among the speakers we heard from were Stephanie Valencia and Ronnie Cho from the Office of Public Engagement, Laura Andersen and Katie Dowd who do work on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) issues, Roberto Rodriguez who is a senior advisor to the president on education matters, and Sam Kass, the senior policy advisor on nutrition.

We spoke about issues affecting our communities — health, immigration, education, inclusion of women and minorities in the STEM fields, and youth outreach. Valencia spoke about a program called Youth Jobs Plus, an initiative for young people to have access to resources that will help them find summer jobs, internships, and other development opportunities. Andersen and Dowd spoke about President Obama’s efforts to reward students excelling in STEM fields, as well as involving professionals in these fields to volunteer as mentors to create more opportunities young women and students of color. All the speakers were passionate and optimistic about their respective projects and efforts to reach out to different communities.

We also visited Senator Diane Feinstein’s office and heard personal testimonies from individuals who are now working professionals. Hearing how they struggled as young people was inspiring because I could relate. Hearing about how they overcame personal challenges to become prominent members in their professional fields gave me hope. Their experiences reinforced how important it is to work hard and not be discouraged by failures, but to keep going.

I was also lucky enough to get to do some sightseeing and explore the nation’s Capitol. We were able to visit the major monuments and memorials, including the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King Memorial. It was humbling to be at the site of so much history and to consider all the major events and movements that took place in the area.

I left D.C. with a reinforced sense of motivation and inspiration. I feel more determined now than ever before to push myself past my comfort zone and exceed people’s expectations of me. Making connections and being part of a talented and promising group of young people was so rewarding, and provided me the opportunity to see firsthand just how much is possible when you combine a solid work ethic with the motivation to succeed.

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