Winrock International’s Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock announced this week its multi-year partnership with Best Buy to open and operate the first Best Buy Teen Tech Center in the state.
The nonprofit said the center will open in 2022 and focus on helping teenagers — especially local, underserved teens — develop critical skills through hands-on activities that explore their interests in technology, art and entrepreneurial subjects. The center’s goal will be to motivate and better prepare teens for a career.
Hub Education Lead Hannah May, who will manage the center, told Arkansas Business by email that initial funding from Best Buy includes up to $50,000 for renovations, an amount the Hub will match one-to-one. The retailer will also provide $130,000 for new equipment, furniture and staff in the first year.
Hub Executive Director Chris Jones said the new center will be a member of The Clubhouse Network, a programmatic partner of Best Buy that was started in 1993 as a collaboration between MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group and The Computer Museum, which is now part of the Boston Museum of Science.
“We share Best Buy’s goal of reaching out to disinvested communities, a goal that has been part of our organization’s DNA from the very start,” Jones said in a news release. “It’s an honor to be Arkansas’s first Teen Tech Center. This partnership with Best Buy and the MIT Media Lab will be transformative to teens and our communities.”
Jones told Arkansas Business there is no designated end date for the partnership. Part-time staff will be hired as needed for the center. Youth mentors, interns and volunteers will also support the center.
May said the Hub’s remodel, now in the design phase, is not expected to be extensive. She said the center, at 204 E. Fourth St., is already "well-suited" to house the new center. She said the remodel will include audiovisual recording suites and equipment ideal for music, video and podcasts.
“We have facilities, studios and cutting-edge equipment,” May said in the release. “More importantly though, we are a core team of creative educators who are proficient in our own specialties — from ceramics and screen-printing to state-of-the-art technologies like 3D printing and digital fabrication. We encourage and motivate students to learn new skills and to use them toward practical businesses and career paths.”
Jones told Arkansas Business by email, "Knowledge and experience come from access. We are building the innovators of tomorrow by helping them explore their interests and develop critical skills as they learn how to bring their ideas to life."
The center will teach topics including music production and audio editing; fine art; graphic design; photography and video editing; coding to control robotics and make mobile applications; animation and design for interactive poetry stories and games; 3D-object design; ceramics; and digital fabrication.