Vision Builder program at AT&T storeOn a recent Saturday, a dozen middle-schoolers came to the AT&T store near IKEA for an informal class on city planning, technology and math.

The draw for the kids and several parents? Learning from pros about rewarding careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Vision Builder Adventures, a UCity-based non-profit, organized the event.

A University City resident, Johnny White, launched Vision Builder Adventures several years ago to motivate young students.

Today, Vision Builder Adventures offers entertaining and challenging programs to help students develop confidence in their budding math and science skills.

The program at the AT&T store – held the week after Apple announced its newest iPhones – leveraged the students’ interest in smart phones and curiosity about the many changes reshaping Charlotte and University City, most notably the new light rail line.

For more than an hour, University City Partners Planning Director Tobe Holmes and representatives of AT&T and AT&T Portables, Logan Eaves and Chris Callender, spoke about what they do and why it matters to them and to our communities.

 

From Alexander Graham Bell to flying cell-phone towers

Johnny White with AT&T team

Johnny White, left, and his wife, Teresa, second from right, with the AT&T and AT&T Portables team: Logan Eaves, Heather Hildebran, Chris Callender and Stephanie Riddle.

Eaves and Callender peppered their audience with facts and questions about the communications industry.

“Do you know who invented the telephone?” Eaves asked the group.

“Alexander Graham Bell,” one student answered.

“Right, and then he invented AT&T,” Eaves responded. AT&T, in turn, created the first transcontinental phone line, the television and the computer language at the heart of the Internet, Eaves and Callender said. And that passion for inventing continues, they added.

AT&T recently developed a communications system for emergency responders. During this year’s West Coast forest fires, AT&T launched drones carrying mini-cellular towers to create a flying network for firefighters working in remote mountains.

 

From bike rides to a career in planning

Wilbur and Jennifer Carraway

Seventh grader Wilbur Carraway and his mom, Jennifer Carraway. “He wants to be an engineer, so it was important for him to be here today,” Jennifer Carraway said.

Tobe Holmes was young, like his audience, when he first developed an interest in city planning.

“I got into planning while riding a bicycle to school,” Holmes explained to the students. On those daily rides, he noticed changes taking place in his community. “I wondered, who decides where buildings go? Where roads go?”

That youthful curiosity blossomed into his career as a professional planner.

And what exactly do planners do?

It took about 20 minutes and three massive maps spread across the store floor for Holmes to explain how planners balance community needs, negotiate costs and create plans that must account for both existing and future buildings, roads, streams and so on.

When he asked for questions, the students had plenty.

“How much did the train to University City cost?”

“How long did it take to plan the train?”

“How long did it take to plan everything” in Charlotte?

And the question that drew a laugh from Holmes: “Did you ever plan something that you didn’t like?”

Planners sometimes do, he admitted, and the worst part about it is that those “mistakes” can last for decades.

 

More about Vision Builder Adventures

“Inspiring youth to see beyond where they are,” is the guiding slogan of Vision Builder Adventures. The nonprofit group provides learning opportunities for a small group of elementary- and middle-school students interested in making positive choices about their lives.

Programs include an annual summer camp and school-year activities, such as the “Game of Drones / Aviation Youth Program,” planned for April 20. Students ages 9-13 will travel to Harrisburg to learn about and fly drones.

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