The Future of #VegasTech – Southwest Career and Technical Academy Senior Capstones

Last night I had the tremendous opportunity to go and check out the Senior Capstone presentations by the members of the Southwest Career and Technical Academy’s IT students. Cindi Chang and Craig Statucki have done a great job helping these high school students put together some pretty awesome IT projects.

I’ve been recently considering the value that investing in high school students can provide to the long term growth of the Vegas Tech startup community. In very few other cities is it as normal for high school students to go straight into the workforce as it is to go to college. Why not redirect these students from being bartenders and valets and have them instead work at startup companies? In fact, they can work part time as a well paid valet as a way to fund their startup company. I see this as a tremendous opportunity for Las Vegas.

With that idea in mind, I was interested to see what the seniors at Southwest Career and Technical Academy had created for their senior capstone projects. I was pleasantly surprised that the students carried themselves very well, presented their projects, and created some pretty creative things. It seemed as part of their projects they were to do something good and they could be easy enough for a third grader to use.

This last part was really good, because I happened to bring my third grader along with me so he could be inspired by what these kids had created. It also worked out really nice when they’d say, “we created the interface so that a third grader could use it.” I’d respond, “Sounds good, let’s have a third grader try it.”

They divided the projects into Gaming and Web. I was able to grab a handful of the websites for the web projects. Here’s a look at a few of my favorites:

Pencils and Markers – This was a really neat project that my son loved. It basically steps you through the stages of drawing various animals, robots, etc. The great part is that we have a stack of books that do the same thing and my son loves them. It was a great idea to take something kids love and make it electronic. I’d much rather have this built into an iPad than lugging around the books.

Paper Pals – This website teaches a child how to make origami. They provide some high quality images that demonstrate and instruct how to fold the paper, and they also have a video demonstration on how to make the origami. I was really impressed by the quality of the images and video. I’ve done a fair amount of origami in my days and their instructions were very professional. I only wish they’d offered me some paper so I could have tried out one of their designs.

Podster – This was my son’s favorite website. I’m quite sure he’ll be using the website from home. Their idea is to create a kid friendly social network. They currently provide a bunch of kid friendly content, instagram integration, and games. Eventually they’d like to add other components like messaging. My son loved the Ballooner game. They said, “they selected mind games so your mind wouldn’t go to mush.”

Sprout Squad – This team was the best dressed team of the night. They had matching outfits that even matched their website. They also gave one of the most polished presentations I saw. Their website is a tool to teach third graders about global warming and other environmental issues.

Flowing Freely – This is a cool website that teaches cursive. They had really good reviews from the teachers and students that tested it. In many ways cursive is a lost art (I really only know how to sign my name), but the team made a good pitch for why there’s value in retaining cursive. Plus, I was really impressed by Flora Shi. I’d be happy to have her working with me one day. Even in the short time I was with her I could tell she’s someone who gets stuff done.

Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder for me to show you all of the cool game applications that were created since most of them weren’t online. One of the games was called Actuator and worked and felt a lot like Doom or Quake. It was fun to play and really impressive that they were able to get it working the way they did. They had some pretty slick looking character designs as well with some interesting powers.

Another cool game was Gnomeseek Academy. I wish I had the video they created for the game. If I can get it later I’ll update the post. The game was a virtual representation of their school and the game is about the social consequences of your actions. It’s a great concept with bullying such an important topic today.

My favorite game was called Elite 6. They had 6 different characters and you’d travel around their game trying to take out the big baddies. I love the game because it was a really polished product. You could switch characters in the middle of the game and the game play was quite nice.

There were a lot more cool applications. I was only able to capture a few of them here. All in all I was impressed by what these high school students had created. How cool to see young people talking about Twitter Bootstrap and the Unity Gaming Engine. It gives me a lot of hope for the future of Vegas Tech. More than even their accomplishments, you could see how many of them had a real love and passion for working on the various technologies. That’s going to take them a long way.

UPDATE: Here’s the video of the game that I mention above: