Students from Red Bank and elsewhere participating in a four-way conference in a telepresence room at AT&T Labs in Middletown, above. Coolspeak founder Carlos Ojeda Jr. addresses the students, below. (Photos by Lola Todman. Click to enlarge)

Red Bank Charter School Intern

It was not a conventional office day for AT&T labs around the country Thursday. Instead of heading to their offices to deal with business matters, AT&T employees got ready for their fifteenth annual High Tech Day.

With more than 1,800 Hispanic students participating in 31 locations nationally, High Tech Day is an opportunity for adolescents to learn about the different jobs available in technology. Four of the schools involved sent a total of about 70 students to AT&T Labs in Middletown labs to participate: Red Bank Middle School, Red Bank Charter School, New Brunswick Middle School, and Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School.

The event is run by HACEMOS, an employee resource group for Hispanic/Latino employees. The underlying purpose of High Tech Day is to teach kids that no matter where they were born or how they grew up, only they can determine their futures, and the importance of education.

First, the schools were seated in the auditorium for a few opening speeches. Marian Croak, HACEMOS senior vice president, spoke about her junior and senior years at a rough high school, and how it helped her become the woman she is today. Ellen Webner introduced to students the It Can Wait campaign, a program started in 2009 to stop texting and driving.

The four schools were then split up into integrated groups and guided throughout the building. One interesting stop was the router room, where an AT&T worker told kids, “There is so much free money out there. Because of scholarships and grants, not having money should never be an excuse not to get an education.”

Back downstairs, Role Model Sessions were being conducted by Carlos Morales and Pedro Marabal, two network engineers. Marabal spoke about his upbringing in the Dominican Republic. He told students that he was poor growing up, but when he got to the United State,s he seized every opportunity to learn. He spoke about asking questions and taking every chance that you have to learn.

Marabal then said something that you would usually hear only from your parents: “I’m not here to tell you that I’m great. I’m here to tell you that you are great.”

The students were then led into two separate rooms called Telepresence rooms. This is where four-way videoconferences can take place. Each room is filled with three large screens from which the labs can connect to any others in the country.

Students sat down at the long table in front of the screens and conversed with other students also participating in High Tech Day. One screen displayed students from Charlotte, North Carolina; another displayed a group in Puerto Rico; and the third displayed the rest of the students in the Middletown building from a room on a separate floor.

After the tour everyone was walked back to the auditorium to hear the keynote speaker Carlos Ojeda Jr. founder of a program called coolspeak, which aims to inspire at-risk students in their educations. His speech was centered around his childhood. He spoke of the struggles he faced, especially in school. He told students about what his father had said to him: Ask questions, because questions give you answers, answers give you knowledge and knowledge gives you power.

He said that your voice is what you use to stand up. “Tu voc es tu poder,” he said; your voice is your power.

Students agreed that they took away from High Tech day more than thy expected. They didn’t just learn what was available to them careerwise. They learned why they deserve a successful career, and how to achieve a bright future.