Chapter 1: In the Beginning
The Wilderness Technology Alliance (WTA) began in the late 1980’s as the “The Mount Rainier Technology Camp,” a company-funded project of Trinity Technology, Inc. Trinity was a leading West Coast provider of personal computers and networks. From 1983 to 2000, Trinity Technology served corporations, government agencies and the general public out of offices in Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle. It was also a major computer supplier to public education.
Lou August, Trinity Technology’s founder and CEO, viewed the onset of the digital divide. While wealthy individuals and schools acquired vast numbers of computers, less fortunate individuals and schools got nothing. He felt his company could do something about it. When delivering new computers to its corporate customers, staff members got permission to take their old computers to needy school districts. Year after year the numbers grew, and relocating surplus technology and providing refurbishing training to schools became Trinity’s primary philanthropic function. In 1989, Trinity Technology became part of Issaquah School District’s TIP project, creating a program where fast-learning, tech-savvy youth fulfilled the technology support function of their school district — a new paradigm was emerging!
With full awareness of the digital divide and youth’s amazing aptitude for technology work, from 1989 to 1992, Lou constructed a wilderness technology camp for at-risk youth on the flanks on Mount Rainier in Washington State. Trinity Technology staff members also researched program methods from Outward Bound, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Princeton University and others. The training model created improves the lives of disadvantaged youth by using the wilderness to teach important skills including diligence, teamwork and self-confidence. This new environment, away from existing habits and social groups, places new demands upon students, promoting better ways to solve problems and learn.
These newfound skills are then consciously translated and applied to technology training and completing a technology project for a real customer. The program targets poorly funded schools with high enrollment in free and reduced lunch programs. These schools typically contain high Native American, Mexican American, and African American populations. They are often located in rural or inner-city areas.
Once the facility was completed and the program model created, the Trinity team worked for two years to find a school willing to allow a corporation to take at-risk students on leadership expeditions on Mount Rainier and to apply these skills to project-based learning in technology. As a former at-risk urban youth, Scott Fischer, owner of Mountain Madness, recognized the value of the program and joined the effort. Bill Briggle, former Deputy Director of the National Park Service and Superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park, soon became a major champion. Ultimately, the Mount Rainier Technology Camp was built through alliances with Metropolitan Parks District of Tacoma, Mountain Madness, the National Park Service, the US Department of Energy, Macromedia, Microsoft and Washington State Schools.
In 1995, the first program year, students took part in backpacking expeditions in Mount Rainier National Park. They then produced sections of the official Mount Rainier National Park CD-ROM, still sold at National Park gift stores. News of the program’s success quickly traveled to Olympic National Park, where in 1996, students took part in a backpacking expedition and produced sections of the Olympic National Park official CD-ROM. After completing the program, students in both years were given free computers and software.
After a large pilot project in 1998, including a wilderness program led by Keith and Christine Boskoff of Mountain Madness, Mount Rainier National Park selected the program as a major part of its Centennial Celebration. In 1999, 100 At-Risk students from 33 schools took part in the program. Honorary leaders opened each of 11 expeditions and spent a day on the mountain with the students. These leaders included Dr. Terry Bergeson, (State Superintendent of Public Instruction), Mark Wolfram (General Manager – Microsoft), Paul Brainerd (Founder – Aldous), Doug Walker (CEO – Walker, Richer and Quinn) and US Senator Slade Gorton. In all, nearly $1million in technology hardware and software were provided to Washington Schools. On April 3rd, 2000, the program was inducted into the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC as an event of historic significance in technology education.
Chapter 2: The Birth of the Wilderness Technology Alliance
Out of the success of the Centennial Project was born the Wilderness Technology Alliance. A statewide student-based computer hardware program and a statewide project-based multimedia program were established. Both are designed to harness the tremendous aptitude young people have in technology to provide work-based learning experiences and to serve their communities and schools.
Yet the WTA also recognized a critical weakness in its wilderness-multimedia program: Once students returned from their wilderness and project-based learning experiences, they went back to the same neighborhoods and often associated with the same friends. In too many cases, poor behaviors returned and much of the value of the experience was lost. The WTA needed a way to immediately transition wilderness expeditionary behaviors and technology skills into the classroom and ultimately into gainful employment – before these behaviors were lost! And the WTA had a solution…
Chapter 3: Digital Design & Hands on the Land
In November of 1999, Lou August approached board member Pat Brogan, VP of Macromedia, as well as board member Dr. Terry Bergeson, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and asked that they collaborate with ten schools pre-selected by the WTA to create a project-based curriculum in multimedia. The WTA laid-out the concept of a curriculum designed to teach students multimedia skills, project management and communications skills, all by completing real-world multimedia projects. The WTA identified that with this curriculum, Macromedia could better proliferate its products into public Education and the State Department of Education would have a captivating state-of-the art curriculum using an innovative new method for curriculum development. For the WTA, it meant that its summer program graduates could then go back to school and assume leadership positions by working with their teacher to deliver this curriculum to fellow students. Better yet, the WTA could then create a virtual non-profit multimedia design company involving students from schools across the state. Knowing the success of previous WTA programs and their proof of what students could to, all agreed.
In December of 1999 the WTA then bid on a contract with the Washington DC headquarters of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management to connect the educational resources of America’s federal land management agencies to public education. The WTA’s proposal included the novel and never-before done concept of having students design portions of the web sites for these federal land management agencies. After a great deal of convincing and evidence from prior programs, the Feds agreed and awarded the “Hands on the Land” contract to the WTA.
The WTA then began a two year project to train the teachers and students that would execute the federal web-development contract. During 2000 and 2001, 30 teachers and 64 students from sixteen school districts took part in an intensive 3-day packing expedition followed by a 5-day multimedia training camp. Their objective was to develop teamwork skills and gather media and knowledge in the wilderness, then apply them to building a real-life virtual backpacking web site that the WTA would use in future years to training students in wilderness safety. Armed with this experience, these teacher/student teams would then teach their school’s web design class using the Digital Design curriculum during the 2001/2002 school year.
The ten most successful teacher/student teams during this training program were invited to join with Hands-on-the-Land web development program. During the 2001/2002 school year, each of these schools were assigned a federal land that they had to design a web site for. In this way, teachers designed and tested the new Digital Design curriculum in the context of completing a real-life project. Since monies were already collected from the Federal Government, it also meant that failure was not an option. The following schools and teachers were involved:
Battle Ground Schools – Teacher: Eric Elbe – Site: Wolftree, OR
Ellensburg School District – Teacher: Joanne Fevergeon
Kennewick School District – Teacher: Sara McReynolds – Site: Hanford Reach National Monument
North River School District – Teacher: David Franell – Site: Olympic National Park
Olympia School District – Teacher: Brenda Daniels – Site: Hands on the Land Glossary
Quincy School District – Site: Big Thicket National Preserve
Spokane School District – Teacher: Chris Sande – Site: Red Rocks, NV
Spokane School District – Teacher: Mary Anne Campo – Site: Uinta National Forest
Sultan School District – Teacher: David Moon – Site: Hands on the Land Topic of the Year
White Pass / Chief Leschi – Teacher: Shane Loucks / Will Fry – Site: Central Savannah
Wishkah School District – Teacher: Anne Taylor – Site: Panhandle RC&D
In the end, the project was a resounding success. The sites students built became a critical element of what is now an ongoing federal program called “Hands on the Land.” (www.handsontheland.org). The project-based learning methods pioneered by the WTA from 1995 to 2001 were documented by the participating teachers in the Digital Design curriculum, which is now the state standard curriculum for multimedia education in Washington State as well as at least five other states.
In November of 2000, the WTA president became one of 10 national winners of the Stanford Education Hero Award for his “extraordinary contributions to education,” presented in Washington DC by the US Secretary of Education. In March of 2002 the WTA was one of five statewide winners of the Golden Apple Award for education excellence, presented during a PBS television special by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Terry Bergeson and Washington Governor Gary Locke. Finally, the CEO of Macromedia nominated the Wilderness Technology Alliance for a Computerworld Honors Award for the visionary creation of Hands-on-the-Land, made possible by dozens of incredible teachers and scores of motivated students united in a statewide student-based multimedia development company using leadership skills they developed in the wilderness and technical skills they developed using the Digital Design curriculum. WTA became one of five worldwide finalists during an awards presentation in Washington DC in June of 2002.
In the summer of 2002, the WTA advanced its works in combining wilderness-leadership and technology project-based learning with three major projects. These involved nine school districts and three federal land management agencies — Olympic National Park (NPS), Mount St. Helens (USFS), and Douglas Creek (BLM). In each case, students took part in a three-day wilderness expedition where they gained teamwork, media and knowledge, then applied these to produce educational web sites for these federal land management agencies. In each case, the teacher/student teams went on to teach their school’s multimedia class during the 2003/2004 school year.
Finally, the Digital Design / Hands on the Land contract concluded in 2003 with a WTA project sponsored by Verizon Corporation. Two exemplary teachers, Eric Christianson from Selkirk Schools and Chris Sande from the Spokane School District, led students from six school districts in a three day expedition in Mount Rainier National Park, followed by a four-day multimedia camp, where they produced a Wilderness Leadership website, used of years by teachers and students to convey leadership concepts made possible by wilderness experiences.
Many lives were changed as a result of this work. Countless students — but also teachers and WTA staff. In 2003, the WTA opened an additional program office in Washington DC. Chris Sande and Eric Christianson won a major grant and opened a high school in the Spokane area based on the wilderness leadership and project-based learning approaches pioneered by the WTA.
THE WILDERNESS TECHNOLOGY ALLIANCE FROM 2003-2015
In February of 2003, the WTA President established a foothold in Washington DC to advance the federal partnership made possible by Hands on the Land project as well as to establish new WTA sites on the East Coast. Programs advanced on both coasts with the WTA headquarters still located in Seattle. In February of 2004, the WTA established a partnership with the East Baltimore Technology Resource Center (EBTRC) and Johns Hopkins University and began offering technology training classes and free computers to low-income families in Baltimore. This program was supported by a myriad of Baltimore-area community centers referring low income clients in need of essential technology skills to gain employment, computers for k-12 students to use at home and at school and more.
In December of 2006, the WTA established its second site on the East Coast through a partnership with the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV), the largest homeless shelter in America and just three blocks from the US Capitol Building in downtown Washington DC. This center provides technology training classes, job search skills, software training classes and Internet access to over 1000 homeless people at the shelter as well as to other low-income community members. In adherence to the WTA service-learning model, technically advanced members of the homeless community are trained in teaching skills and well as other “softskills.” They then provide software training classes to employees of Washington DC area non-profit organizations and government agencies.
The WTA in the West Coast also continued to serve. In October of 2005, the WTA re-located its headquarters from Redmond, Washington to the White Center area of Seattle, Washington. In the process, it expanded its office and warehouse space to over 5000 square feet. The WTA served the entire Pacific Northwest region from this location from 2005-2015. WTA staff and volunteers as well as AmeriCorps and VISTA members served low-income adults in the Puget Sound region with hundreds of refurbished computers, training classes, repair services, and service-learning opportunities. They even exported computers to the neediest schools of the world, including El Salvador.
Washington State schools joined the WildTech hardware or multimedia program and are trained in WildTech service-learning activities associated with the technology curricula they use. Those joining the hardware program also received 10 to 30 high quality surplus computers for their students to refurbish. All gained access to the WildTech Enterprise Curriculum to assist them in establishing and running a student-run technology enterprise.
Each year from 2005 to 2009 the Seattle headquarters sponsored a wilderness-based technology enterprise institute for teachers and students where they learned new business models, technology skills and shared best-practices in operating student-run technology enterprises, including developing detailed business plans for the upcoming school year.
THE WILDERNESS TECHNOLOGY ALLIANCE TODAY
The WTA continues to adapt to a changing world. The need for youth to have high-impact, culturally unbiased, character and leadership training through wilderness expeditions has never been higher. To link these with project-based learning in technology is even more relevant to 21st century employment. So it seems the WTA has been on the right track for over 20 years.