Albany PAL and AT&T Team Up to Offer a Free Digital Literacy Summer Program to Help Close the Diversity Gap in Technology

By AT&T | August 4, 2021

Albany PAL and AT&T Team Up to Offer a Free Digital Literacy Summer Program to Help Close the Diversity Gap in Technology

Approximately 40 local underrepresented students took part in the AT&T Virtual Reality Boot Camp to help address the digital divide and learn about the growing gaming and virtual reality industries in the Capital Region                                            

Albany, N.Y. – August 4, 2021 – AT&T and Albany Police Athletic League (PAL) partnered this summer to offer the region’s first free virtual (VR) reality and digital literacy summer education program. The AT&T Virtual Reality Boot Camp provided approximately 40 underrepresented students ages 11-14 years old from across the city a unique hands-on introduction to VR technology, a significant sector of the Capital Region’s burgeoning gaming industry, and to help local students impacted by the digital divide gain critical digital literacy skills.  The immersive experience was also designed to inspire the students to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) educational and career paths and encourage more diverse students to enter the technology field, an industry that has a diversity gap. The free two-week program was made possible by financial support and programing collaboration from AT&T as part of the company’s recently announced $2 billion nationwide commitment to help bridge the digital divide and homework gap.

VR is a simulated experience that enables a person to interact with an artificial three-dimensional visual or other sensory environment that mimics reality by using interactive devices, such as goggles, headsets, gloves, or body suits. The VR industry is rapidly growing both locally and globally with the introduction of 5G, which will help VR applications evolve to the next level by unlocking its full potential.

AT&T Virtual Reality Boot Camp’s unique and engaging curriculum was developed and taught by Catapult Games, a growing Capital Region software and VR company.  The company’s CEO Dane Jennings and its Lead Developer Gabriel Langlois were the head instructors of the program and introduced the students to the future of digital interactivity, while providing them with the latest cutting-edge VR technology to use and learn from during the program. The students received an overview on the rapid expansion of the VR industry and an introduction to VR hardware and software.  They were given opportunities to explore and analyze a wide variety of VR applications while learning the basic process of building a VR application. They also learned and saw firsthand how VR is being used far beyond gaming for social good in medical fields, job training, police de-escalating instruction and education.

The participants of the AT&T Virtual Reality Boot Camp also learned about the rapidly growing digital gaming and VR industry in the Capital Region and the wide range of skill sets that can apply to a career in game development including art, programming, production, video, audio, music, and marketing.  They also heard from local VR and gaming professionals about the various career paths in the industry. The program tasked the participants to use their new VR knowledge to create storyboards to visualize the development of their own VR application designed to improve upon sectors such as healthcare, education, and professional development.

“I applaud AT&T, PAL and Catapult Games for collaborating on the AT&T Virtual Reality Boot Camp, the region’s first free virtual reality and digital literacy summer education program,” said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan. “Dozens of students from Albany were able to participate in this unique hands-on introduction to VR technology who otherwise may not have opportunities to enhance their digital literacy skills. It’s programs like these that inspire students to explore STEM as a career path and encourage more diverse students to enter the technology field, and I look forward to bringing more programming like this to our Albany students.”

Catapult Games is a software development studio based in Schenectady, N.Y. specializing in VR application design. Its mission is to improve lives, communities, and workplaces through innovative technology. The company has worked on several projects including: a VR physical therapy app that reduces pain, a mobile application that connects disabled and disadvantaged job seekers with employment opportunities, multiple classes introducing youth to VR and game development, and most recently, VRPD, a VR job training program that teaches de-escalation techniques to police officers.

Albany PAL’s mission is to bring together local youth, law enforcement and the community through after-school activities, summer camps, clubs, and sports programs, serving 2,000 youth every year.

Digital knowledge is quickly becoming the new literacy and is the driver of all new global technology. With the growing demand to innovate, organizations across various industries struggle to fill skilled positions. It’s projected that there will be 3.5 million STEM jobs in the U.S. by 2025, underscoring the importance of providing the youth the tools and skills necessary to compete in this innovation economy. The urgency for more diverse technology-trained employees is accentuated by the low percentage of diversity make-up of the technology industry. This alarming diversity shortage in the tech industry and the growing STEM job market emphasizes the importance of providing programing like the AT&T Virtual Reality Boot Camp for youth of all backgrounds and economic situations.

“AT&T is proud to collaborate with the Albany Police Athletic League and Catapult Games to develop and support this innovative experience for these students, as it further enhances our commitment to providing resources for digital literacy educational programming throughoutnd builds upon our vigorous efforts to bridge the diversity gap in the technology industry,” said Amy Kramer, president, New York, AT&T. “Our economy continues to transform at a robust pace – requiring a workforce with a focus on technological education and literacy – and digital literacy programs like the AT&T Virtual Reality Boot Camp are vital to ensure that students, despite gender, race, or ethnicity, are equipped to compete in the global innovation economy.”

The Albany Police Athletic League, Inc. (PAL), is excited to partner with AT&T and Catapult games to present this unique opportunity to our PAL youth, as they explore and learn using this technology,” said Sgt. (Retired) Lenny Ricchiuti, executive director, Albany PAL. “It’s impossible to measure the benefits to society when just one child is reached and nurtured to success, we promise to reach many.”

“I would like to thank AT&T and the Albany Police Athletic League for providing us with the opportunity to teach the students and empower them through technology and provide new digital literacy skills,” said Dane Jennings, CEO, Catapult Games. “The potential of virtual reality was certainly absorbed by the students, which was evident when they took part in group discussions about how they would apply the technology, they began to brainstorm a virtual school where they would attend classes, go to recess, and do homework together in VR. We were just as excited as they were during the entire program!”

AT&T’s support for this program is part of the company’s legacy of supporting educational programs focused on STEM and digital literacy disciplines in New York through AT&T Aspire, the company’s signature $600 million philanthropic initiative that drives innovation in education by bringing diverse resources to bear on the issue including funding, technology, programing, employee volunteerism and mentoring. Aspire is one of the nation’s largest corporate commitments focused on school success and workforce readiness by creating new learning environments and educational delivery systems to help students succeed and prepare them to take on 21st century careers.



About Philanthropy & Social Innovation at AT&T

We’re committed to advancing education, creating opportunities, strengthening communities and improving lives. AT&T Connected Learning is a multi-year commitment to bridge the digital divide and narrow the homework gap, so today’s learners are connected with skills, resources, and opportunities for success in school and in life. Since 2008, we’ve committed $600 million to programs that help millions of students across all 50 states and around the world, particularly those in underserved communities.