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Students Explore the Business of Software Development with the Grand Rapids Public Library and Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes

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Julianna and brother David opening their anti-bullying app that they developed together on a phone for the first time

Julianna and brother David opening their anti-bullying app that they developed together on a phone for the first time /Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes

Students participating in the Be A Boss program this summer at The Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL) learned about more than software development and entrepreneurship, they learned how to work together. “The hardest part of developing the app was teamwork,” said 13-year-old year old David Williams, “but it was also the most fun part.”

Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes (JAMGL) designed curriculum for the camp based on the well-established JA Company Program, which teaches students how to start and run a business. Using volunteers from the tech community, they incorporated app design and development into the business program by using Thunkable, a drag and drop software platform. David and his sister Julianna, 12, decided to design an app that addressed bullying in schools by creating a way to anonymously alert administration of bullying incidents. Their app even connected to a phones’ camera so that someone could record incidents within the app. Julianna commented that before the camp she had seen her brothers using programs like Thunkable but didn’t know what they were. “Now I know how to program,” she says, “I know what the blocks are for.”

On top of app development, students were also given tours of local software development organizations like Open Systems Technologies (OST) and Grand Apps. During these tours, staff would describe their various positions and career journeys. Students heard from graphic designers, user experience developers, front and back end developers, and more. They were able to ask questions and consider what choices they might make if they wanted a career in software development.

Ben Parsell, a software developer and consultant for OST, was one of the volunteers throughout the summer. Parsell said, “I hope the kids takeaway that anybody can learn how to code and be a part of a company like OST.” Throughout his time with the kids, he emphasized taking initiative and using all of the resources available to learn about coding and software development, including resources available for free at the public library. “You have to stay curious. If you want to learn about something, do it.”

Alee’a Ulsh-Cherry, JA Company Program Coordinator for JAMGL said, “It was incredible to see how quickly the students absorbed basic business principles in relation to their applications. With a little guidance from myself and the volunteers, students were able to construct a theoretical business plan to monetize and market their apps.” The relationship between The GRPL and JAMGL has been growing for two years and both organizations remain excited about what they have been able to accomplish with the summer camp program. Bridget Ward, Youth Librarian, said, “The Grand Rapids Public Library is firmly committed to inspiring opportunity, connection, and innovation. We partnered with Junior Achievement to create a hands-on learning experience that allowed teens to flex their creative muscles while exploring career opportunities. Not only did we offer a physical space for the Be a Boss classes, but also combined our knowledge and resources with JA to create a truly unique and beneficial program.” This project was funded with a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services administered by the Library of Michigan.

David has plans to continue his learning about software development. Since touring OST, he says he wants to go back and tour again; he said, “I want to work in a place like that someday.” Julianna has other plans for the future, seeing herself as a politician. However, she adds that she might use her newfound programming skills to build herself a robot when she’s president.

About Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes, Inc.
Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes is the nation’s 20th largest JA chapter and an area office of JA USA, the world’s largest organization dedicated to educating students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy through experiential, hands-on programs. The organization offers programs to help prepare young people in Mid, West, and North Michigan for the real world by showing them how to generate wealth and effectively manage it, how to create jobs which make their communities more robust, and how to apply entrepreneurial thinking to the workplace. Students put these lessons into action and are empowered to own their economic success. Visit for more information.


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