Growing up, Q. Thang Do's father would play a game with him as they drove around metro Detroit, challenging Do to name the make and model of a car 10 to 15 feet before they got close enough to read them on the vehicle itself.
Do likens that pastime to the educational games he and his coworkers run at AccelerateKID, a Wixom-based after-school program that teaches students technology and entrepreneurship skills.
"I would learn the different cars and get better at naming them," Do says. "What we do is the same thing. The earlier we teach students about technology, the less likely they will be intimidated by technology. We tell the students that technology is a tool. You learn it and then focus on the task at hand, which is the real world."
AccelerateKID instructors prepare students to become the next generation of innovators, emphasizing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) principles while providing hands-on experience and real-world applications.
The organization was founded by Thanh Tran as Kidpreneur in 2013; it was renamed AccelerateKID in 2016. Echoing Do’s own story, Tran founded the organization after realizing there was a lack of technology education programs available for his children – so he started his own.
"This is about exposing kids to opportunity," Do says. "If you don’t know about technology, then you’ll never know about the opportunities that are out there."
There are four main sections to the AccelerateKID curriculum, much of which is applicable to the realm of mobility. Classes include coding, robotics, digital arts, and game design, with each broken up into five skill levels.
In the robotics courses, students as young as third grade work to guide LEGO Mindstorms robots through self-designed mazes by learning to use LEGO EV3 programming. The robots utilize sensors not unlike those found in autonomous vehicles today.
Despite this emphasis on technology, the coursework starts not with computers, but with the old-fashioned method of putting pen to paper. Students are taught the storyboarding process, with instructors having them map out their mazes by hand before they design them on a computer.
"It’s very purposeful, doing the offline portion of the course before going online," Do says. "We don’t want them addicted to the virtual world. This is all about the real world."
Do recounts the story of one student who excitedly approached the LEGO challenge, telling instructors that his father worked on autonomous vehicles and that he wanted to do the same. Do and his team customized an activity for the student, who successfully programmed the robot to travel through the maze.
Still, not every student is lucky enough to have such a deep-rooted awareness of the opportunities technology presents. AcclerateKID exists to introduce those students to technology too.
Take, for instance, the story of a student who was more athletic-minded than he was interested in computers. The student was a big basketball fan, so Do created a coding game with him in mind. The student was then much more interested in learning about coding and technology.
AccelerateKID works to cultivate this kind of story, introducing students to technology at a young age to stoke their interest in pursuing the careers necessary to fill the talent pipeline of the future.
"Michigan has a lot of potential. It’s ground zero ... for cars, but also technology and engineering in general," Do says. "There are great opportunities in both the hardware and software sides."
After living in California for a while, Do says he's seen "a change in kids and their schools" since returning to Michigan.
"They’re beginning to look at the auto industry in a different light," he says. "We’re trying to change the landscape of opportunity."