JUNIOR GEEKS: The best minds ‘STEM’ from the best opportunities

Geeks: We all are them in some ways. We’ve all had a phase where we cared so much about a trivial book we spent hours learning every character’s name or participated in a school activity that sparked a joy in us to learn. Geeks have and will continue to be a symbol of what power knowledge can be. It is best displayed through the 3 groups of bright teen minds from all of Kosovo who, after 3 consecutive months of intensive training in the fields of STEM, have become powerful young minds able to think critically, innovate, and make ideas happen. Don’t believe me? Well, listen.

After implementing the monumental-for-Kosovo project dubbed “Junior Geeks” powered and funded by the US Department of State’s Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund 2018 and first conceptualized by the Innovation Centre of Kosovo, the creators Eldita Tarani, Shpend Lila and Zana Tabaku have wrapped up the journey of their program through a 3-day science camping experience for the “Junior Geeks” students where they’d put all their earned knowledge to the test and had fun in the meanwhile too.

Starting off from a smooth arrival with 90 children in tow, various activities set off with themes such as getting to know each other, bonding and team-building exercises that not only made the campers think, it made them use their education as a source of fun. In lieu of the STEM theme encompassing the Junior Geeks project, the camp creators organized a cinema night on the first night showcasing the brilliant awareness-inspiring and STEM beautifying movie “Hidden Figures” giving insight and empowerment to minorities in the geek-y community which is paramount to a perfect nerd world.

Mentors were presented, staff were ready and students were fired up when the agenda revealed the following activities of the geeky final weekend which contained a competition for the best hypothetical challenge the students had to solve applying all their skills, their team strengths and unique nerdy abilities for which they’ve been chosen.

The 90 students were broken down into 12 diverse teams and had to choose one of three challenges to work upon, group project style, a project they would pitch to the expert mentors at the end of the day. The challenges included:

  1. Digital solutions to social problems    
  2. Using AI and future technology to solve real-life problems
  3. Designing a board game to help society

Following the days ahead, each student worked long and hard on their ideas, making sure it wasn’t only quality and innovative, but necessary and helpful for their communities.
The aim was to have a focus on a creative idea and a catchy pitch for the positive impression of their peers while also piquing the interest of the judges.

An added aid to both these fields of importance in a teen’s life, came from the wise guidance of the patient and cool mentors who were always up to making learning entertaining. The mentor staff included: Lekë Sahatqija, Marigona Syla, Erzen Komoni, Agnesa Belegu, Anesa Chollakovic, Shenaj Shala, Erris Veliu, and many more.

Yoga, pool, sauna, food, ping-pong, all mingled in with the duty of a scholar, the students pushed through and made friends out of colleagues and people they’d formerly never thought they’d ever need to know.

While it is a proud thing to be a person of knowledge, it is just as important to have good people to count on regardless of origin or interests. The camp, not only helped the geeks expand themselves intellectually, but also socially. They made ideas come to life, and nurtured strong bonds of friendship and teamwork while doing so.

After every team was done with their projects and ready to go, each pitched their product designs. Some teams even presented real-time hardweric and softweric prototypes, constructed within the hours. Even though the idea of the camp was not to point out winners or losers, the mentors decided to award the three best crafted products/solutions. These solutions included an anti-harassment button which could be worn in different day to day accessories, the development of an A.I. tool that will be able to created musical tunes for the mood, based on the playlist and most cherished songs, as well as ‘Monopoly’ -like board game depicting particular world events (catastrophical and otherwise) to bring awareness to environment preservation and quick fun knowledge.

To follow the success of every camper’s participation, all students that successfully completed the camp experience and the previous modules, were proudly certified and recognized by Innovation Center Kosovo and the US embassy officially as the Junior Geeks of 2019.

Another fan favorite activity was the Q&A with mentors which allowed the students to ask direct questions about their experiences, previous perspectives, their road to making career choices and the passion that led them there. The aim of this activity was to give the teens a clear and bright perspective on their future, give them tips on acquiring a good education and job position as well as implementing projects of their own no different from the one that put them in that place.

A bunch of parties, a TV appearance and a couple of Q and A’s from mentors in a panel-style setting later, the students gave feedback for the whole experience during this program; what they’ve learned, what they’ve liked and who changed their lives.

Gaining new perspective is imperative for an adolescent with a bright mind in a third world country and a lot to show the world. Before, some students thought their future was something confusing to think about. Today, they look forward to grabbing every opportunity by the arm and never letting go, adhering to the things they’ve learned, the people they’ve learned from, the friends they’ve gained and the more to follow they’re holding their breath for.

All can learn, few can be inaugurated a geek for the passion they create for the things they learn from.