By Dawn M Chiossi
Believing that students can reach for the sky no matter what, STEAM Forward nonprofit organization believes that there should never be a price put on the potential of others– literally and figuratively.
STEAM Forward was the inspiration of Mendham teen Nicholas Vitebsky, as a way to tangibly combine his love of computer programing, music, and giving back to others.
Investing in people in the community here and abroad, STEAM Forward was founded in 2017. With the goal of empowering students and enriching their lives, this nonprofit runs computer coding workshops, content, and musical concerts for thousands of low-income students. By working with large corporations and nonprofits, they bring students, technology professionals, and musicians together to end education inequality in STEAM fields.
To date, approximately 3,700 students have taken advantage of the STEAM Forward initiative. Vitebsky was even awarded the PPM Prize for Social Change for his efforts.
Vitebsky shares that he came up with the idea for STEAM Forward when he was not able to find personable, high-quality resources online or in the community specifically for kids without a supportive financial or family situation.
“We are very unique, producing community workshops to mostly middle and high school students,” Vitebsky says, explaining that they often teach classes such as Python, Java, website development, and Scratch. STEAM Forward is a win-win for everyone from the student volunteers to help mentor the students, to the participants themselves.
Truly a pioneer in its field, STEAM Forward focuses on innovative ways to build on the new instead of clinging to the outdated. Armed with the knowledge that young people face a plethora of challenges today and that it takes a different perspective to meet an overcome them, Vitebsky was determined to make STEAM Forward a different type of nonprofit. “It is a whole new way of teaching, of learning,” he explains. “At STEAM Forward we don’t want learning to be boring. We engage the students in various ways. It isn’t just hearing a passive lecture. Some students are visual learners, but some are not, so the programs reflect that. Some of our programs are auditory, and some are even tactile, with sensory and interactive technology. When students are engaged, they are learning at their fullest capacity and are successful.”
Some of his favorite activities include having the students go outside to use and maneuver drones, and web site development where the students can enjoy using graphics and animation on the screen.
The program is extremely relatable for both students and teachers. “Students enjoy STEAM Forward because we know how they think and assimilate information. Teachers like it because they see valuable teaching techniques and want to use them in their own classes.” Vitebsky shares.
With a deep conviction that traditional fields such as music are just as important as the more modern fields of coding for students’ self-expression, STEAM Forward runs charity concerts. As a music lover and a jazz musician at Mendham High School, Vitebsky is particularly excited about this aspect of the organization. He is gearing up for the large concert being held in June. So far more than 50 student musicians of Mendham High School, across six music ensembles will be playing.
The concerts not only inspire the community, but all proceeds will benefit STEAM Forward. “It’s inspiring to bring tech, arts, and interests together,” Vitebsky enthuses.
For Vitebsky, more than computers or music, STEM forward is about inspiration and connection with others most of all. He recalls a student from Queens in one of his workshops. “Originally we couldn’t have been more different,” Vitebsky says, “But during the classes, he was so enlightening. We found a way to connect. It was super special.”
For more information on STEAM Forward, visit www.steamforwardinc.com.