High school students Vlad Zubialevich, Abrahim Emara, and Aman Mohapatra work on a computer with Ryan Teel, Manager of the Boys & Girls Club of Mercer County Computer Exchange.

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Boys & Girls Club of Mercer County’s computer exchange program: STEM programming creates career pathway

Driving down Spruce Street in Lawrence Township, one just might miss a storefront with the Boys & Girls Club logo that houses refurbished computers as well as a staff of mostly high school students who offer repairs and guidance on purchasing the computers at a fraction of the normal cost. This is the Boys & Girls Club Computer Exchange, a program spearheaded by David Anderson, president & CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Mercer County. 

Bristol Myers Squibb has supported STEM programming at the Boys & Girls Club of Mercer for the past five years. As a result, Anderson has been able to provide a variety of after-school programs for students in PreK-12 grades, with activities ranging from building light bulbs to creating robotic hands using a 3-D printer. There is also an annual popular Teen STEM Conference offered for students in grades 6-11, featuring workshops in coding, engineering, microbes and the Internet. 

In addition, based on Anderson’s keen interest in fostering workforce development in STEM fields, he wanted to focus on after-school programming for teens in the community. 

“Kids who are aged 10-18 actually need a lot of guidance on potential career options,” he noted. 

The club implements the Boys & Girls Club of America’s Career Launch Program, which teaches high school students the fundamentals of workplace readiness, including tips on writing resumes and interview techniques. After completing the course, students are placed into a 100-hour volunteer internship, and then have the opportunity to move into part-time employment with the club (or club partners). 

If you have the inclination to learn—to solve problems and work together and think critically—that will be the key to success in any chosen career

Enter the Computer Exchange Program: similar to the club’s successful Bike Exchange Program, high school students in the Computer Exchange learn how to fix and refurbish broken computers and other tech equipment and offer them for sale at the Computer Exchange on Spruce Street. While providing great work experience for the teens in the program, the Computer Exchange also brings in much needed revenue to the Boys & Girls Club of Mercer County--$15,000 in revenue this year.

Vlad Zubialevich, a 10th grade student at Lawrence High School, always enjoyed playing games on the computer and while still in middle school learned about the Computer Exchange and decided to volunteer. Even though the volunteer internship is for high school students who have completed the Career Launch Program, Vlad couldn’t wait. “I volunteered out of interest at first because I wanted to learn how to fix computers.” Now, he works at the store after school repairing computers and helping customers along with other high school students, Abrahim Emara, a senior at the Trenton charter school, STEMCivics High School, and Aman Mohapatra, a senior at South Brunswick High School.

Beyond the crucial training in computer science, what else do students learn through the Computer Exchange? For one, critical thinking. Paul Ashley, director of Strategic Engagement in Global Procurement at Bristol Myers Squibb and a Boys & Girls Club of Mercer County Board Member, mentioned the importance of critical thinking in virtually any career. “The ability to take any problem and work on it until you figure it out—that is key.” The students also talked about the importance of collaboration as they try to trouble shoot the various problems that customers bring in. Finally, students learn two critical skills in career development: how to run a retail operation and how best to deal with customer of all kinds. 

“If you have the inclination to learn—to solve problems and work together and think critically—that will be the key to success in any chosen career,” Anderson said.