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Onramp is on a mission: Bring tech skills to more Idaho classrooms and communities

Onramp began in 2019 to teach coding to K-12 teachers and provide skills they could take back to their classrooms. The program, a Boise State partnership with the College of Western Idaho, the Idaho Digital Learning Academy and Apple, had a strong start working with teachers in four school districts. But when COVID-19 created additional burdens for teachers, Onramp changed its strategy to lighten their load and reach more learners.

In 2023, Onramp’s Mobile Lab – a bright, Bronco-blue van – started bringing iPads, Spheros (robotic toys that teach programming and coding concepts) and other equipment to schools, libraries and even to the Idaho Botanical Garden. Boise State students, some training to be teachers, took on the role of mentors.

“We had a busy summer,” said Mark Woychick, Onramp director, a clinical professor in the College of Innovation and Design and director of the Google Career Certificate program. “In our first year, we reached 1,200 students. Last summer alone, we reached more than 1,800 through our ‘direct model.'”

Onramp will continue to offer training to teachers like Jessica Griswold. She studied coding in Onramp’s original program and teaches math at Initial Point High School, an alternative school for about 100 students in Kuna, Idaho. She’s among the teachers there who now welcome the Mobile Lab to their classrooms for hands-on learning in subjects like animation and video.

“It’s still ‘training the trainer.’ I’m there with my students, taking notes, observing teaching strategies, learning lessons that I can later teach myself,” Griswold said.

As a small, rural school, Initial Point has a limited budget, she added. Onramp has loaned equipment and helped the school get its own iPad device lab. “This is so helpful for students like ours who don’t have as many opportunities as students in bigger schools.”

While Onramp has evolved, its philosophy remains the same: Target learners, including women, minorities and others, who are traditionally underrepresented in tech fields.

“But we are not coming in and saying, ‘We have the answer.’ We are always listening to who we’re working with, asking how we can collaborate and serve,” Woychick said.

Onramp receives support from the university’s Division of Extended Studies and the College of Innovation and Design.

By Anna Webb