SAN JUAN COUNTY, Utah (January 28, 2019) -- At Whitehorse High School, Principal Kim Schaefer hopes students, who she calls “scholars,” will be certified in Virtual Reality (VR) technology and entrepreneurship, to reward a new generation with successful jobs and careers without leaving their families, rural reservation, and community.
The high school is located within the Navajo Nation in Southeastern Utah.
As expressed in the 2010 census report, one third of the Navajo population is under 18. The community has a 38% poverty rate, and unemployment is over 40% - more than 10 times the US average.
“Kids think that when they graduate, they will make money, but at the same time they’re thinking about being home,” says Ramsey Seweingyawma, math and coding teacher at Whitehorse High School. “But there are no jobs here.”
Indigo Impact Initiative (I3), a Colorado-based nonprofit providing at-risk youth with mentorship in technology and entrepreneurship, has partnered with two high-tech companies - Lobaki Inc. and ClearCenter Inc. - to start a virtual reality and coding academy at Whitehorse. Throughout the courses, students will get hands-on experience in storyboarding, app development, networking, design, and programming.
“ClearCenter is very proud to participate with I3 in providing career training for the students at Whitehorse High School,” said ClearCenter CEO Michael Proper. “These bright entrepreneurs are on track to start high-tech local companies that will create well-paying jobs for years to come.”
“Bringing Virtual Reality and programming tools into our district will create generations of students with new and marketable skills,” said Aaron Brewer, Director of Technology for San Juan School District.
Kit Mantz, Secondary Schools Supervisor and CTE Director for San Juan County added, “The most important part of this program is that it could potentially create new jobs locally so that our scholars would not have to leave our communities and county to find employment opportunities that pay well.”
The VR centers are being set up and managed by Lobaki, a social enterprise from Jackson, MS. Spending on VR globally is currently greater than $13 billion, and is expected to significantly increase in the next decade, with career opportunities spiking as a result.
Scholars who graduate Whitehorse’s VR certification program with distinction have opportunities to be hired by Lobaki and other corporations to work on commercial projects, creating jobs on the reservation.
Indigo is also leading an entrepreneurship certification course to help Navajo students build the skills needed to start a company from scratch. Students participating in the program will work with the Utah Offices of Economic Development and the Navajo Regional Business Development Offices to turn their projects into successful local businesses.
Whitehorse High School was awarded a Talent Ready Utah grant from the Department of Workforce Services for the project. I3 has been working with the school district since 2016 through the support of Target Training International and the San Juan Foundation.
Natalie Randall, Director of Economic Development and Tourism in San Juan County says, “Overall, the goals and values of this program will be an integral piece that contributes to a strong and sustainable economy and community for San Juan County.”
Watch the video below to learn more about the San Juan Initiative.