MINNEAPOLIS – North Minneapolis students were in for a special evening.
Earlier this month, a number of young people interested in STEM studies received career advice from Minnesota Vikings staff members and later met and spent time with Vikings players.
The Vikings and Best Buy teamed up for the unique event hosted at the Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Summit Academy OIC.
Best Buy Teen Tech Centers, located in multiple spots around the Twin Cities, operate as after-school drop-in programs. Each center offers access to various types of technology, from computer games and applications to 3-D printers and recording studios.
Nich Thomas, Coordinator at the Summit Academy center, elaborated on the educational opportunities.
“We’re not a school – I’m not a teacher – but I do have a lot of specialties with a lot of the creative technology, so I can teach them things,” Thomas said. “It is kind of up to kids to explore technology and create their own projects, and I’m along for the ride, showing them the ropes and guiding them the right direction.
“It’s really cool to give them the opportunity to come in here and explore with things they wouldn’t normally have access to,” Thomas added.
On Dec. 14, Best Buy welcomed a panel of three Vikings employees: Cheryl Nygaard, Vice President of Information Technology; Kendall Peters, Director of Business Analytics; and Chris French, football analyst. The conversation was moderated by Vikings Senior Manager of Partnership Activation Katrina Jaeger.
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Students heard from French, Nygaard and Peters about their various career paths, education backgrounds and experience.
Jalonda Combs, Director of STEM Programming for the Northside STEM district, emphasized the benefit of such a panel for her students.
“Being able to see that there are different opportunities is important. Even if they don’t ‘make it’ [in athletics], they still have other opportunities to be involved with the sports industry,” Combs said. “And being able to understand that background of IT, mathematics … that it will support their career later on.
“Things are ever-changing, always evolving, so we exist to provide students with early exposure to STEM programming,” Combs added. “If we can plant those seeds early on, then we can give them different opportunities to connect with people in the same career.”
Following the staff-led panel, the youth were greeted by Vikings reciever K.J. Osborn and safety Camryn Bynum.
The pair of teammates happily talked to, signed autographs for and snapped photos with the students and adult leaders alike.
Bynum and Osborn spent more than an hour at the Teen Tech Center, connecting with young people and taking the opportunity to enjoy the technology.
“It was fun,” Osborn said. “It was a smaller event, so I was able to go around and talk to people individually. It was cool. I talked with some kids – I met a group of boxers, and a football team, some kids working with technology and seeing what they were doing. It was a good experience.”
“Growing up, I wasn’t too much into technology besides playing video games,” Osborn quipped. “But I went to the Boys & Girls Clubs, so we did a lot of pool, bumper pool, those types of activities. The tech stuff, it was new. … I learned a lot. I had fun.”
Bynum joined a few of the older teenagers inside the recording studio. He garnered tips on using Garage Band to create some tunes, and he readily answered candid questions the young men had about his first NFL season.
“A lot of the community service things or appearances we do are ‘Hi and Bye,’ and this one we got to hang out here, I got to play music with some kids, just interact with them,” Bynum said. “I was asking them questions, they were asking me questions, and I could share with them my experiences in life.”
A lover of music himself, Bynum emphasized the importance of fans understanding athletes are much more than the sport they play.
“I think they’re able to see that we’re all people,” Bynum said. “They’re able to hang out, ask us questions and get advice about school and football. They were asking me what the NFL was like, and I was able to tell them about it. At a young age, I didn’t have that. I didn’t know any NFL players growing up or get to hang out with any, so me being able to offer that to them was huge.”
Osborn appreciated the Best Buy Teen Tech Center model and its focus on academics.
“Growing up going to the Boys & Girls Clubs, anything like this where the kids can come after school, make friends and new experiences and memories, keep the energy up, those things are always good,” Osborn said. “There’s also education involved … and they have mentors and people who are helping them out. All of that is really great for the kids, especially at this age.”