(Summer 2014) Brad Goldsberry,15

Brad Goldsberry (‘15, Computer Science and Engineering)

Brad spent the summer in Dorchester, MA, working with a Non-Profit Organization named InnerCity Weightlifting. He increased their technical reach in the community by building improvements into their website, as well as organizing software and services for the expansion to new locations. He also spent time helping the students in the program develop successfully as they push to reduce their involvement in gangs, whether that be helping to promote a supportive family of individuals at ICW or helping them study for certifications/jobs. By the end of the summer he was able to create sustainable technological change that will help ICW’s progress in the future, as well as create lasting beneficial relationships that helped the students develop and helped change the culture at the gym.

Blog Entry #4 – 8/16/2014

Well, it’s finally time for me to write my final blog post for the summer. My summer went by so fast; it almost hit me by surprise. I enjoyed my time at ICW so much; this was the first summer I haven’t been actively anticipating the final day of my internship. I’ve been home in Colorado for about a week (although still helping at ICW when I can) and feel that I can comfortably wrap up my summer experience.

First of all, I accomplished and got out of the summer what I wanted to. There were basically three things that I sought out to do, the first of which was redesigning the website. I’ve already talked about some of the issues that I ran into with this, but I was able to work backwards and create a website that captured the Program Director’s vision. I’ve already designed the website and it’s been tested/approved by all, and the only thing I’m waiting for is some content to plug in to the website (just wording, really easy, should get it from the CFO soon and then the website will be up). I also was able to set up their new team workstation and consolidate many softwares, services, and methods of doing things so that as they expand to a new location, their program is sustainable, efficient, and scalable.

My last goal for the summer was to have a meaningful impact on the students of ICW, which I feel that I definitely accomplished. Just the other day I had a Google Hangout with the CFO and all the guys heard my voice and came running over to tell me what they’ve been up to for the last week. I made sure that every day I served the guys in the program. Because of their circumstances, there is so much that I can help these guys with. Through this, I was also able to learn so much from them. The group of guys that I interacted with day in and day out was from a completely different socioeconomic group than I have ever interacted with. They taught me how to reach out and communicate with a very different group of people, and because of this I feel that I can abstract the same process to be an effective leader for people from all backgrounds.

Blog Entry #3 – 7/19/2014

I just got back from a semi-pro football game for one of the guys in the ICW program, and figured that now would be a good time to write another blog post. I think that tonight I realized where I’ve been able to have the biggest impact on the guys in the program.

One of the students of ICW used to be one of the top linebacker recruits in the state of Massachusetts. He had a full ride offer from Boston College until he got involved with the wrong people and spent the next half a decade in jail. He now plays semi-pro football, so the staff and some guys in the program went to watch his game. Everybody basically came for the first 5 minutes, enough time to yell his name and make sure he knew they were there. I stayed for the entire game, however, and headed down to the field to hang out with him and meet some of his teammates and family. I stayed for a bit after the game and he told me how glad he was that I stayed for the whole game. He could tell that I cared a lot about him and wanted to support him, and he let me know that a lot of the other guys in the program have noticed the same thing from me.

I realize that the other people in the program probably had things to do, and I also realize that I love football so that’s a little unfair, but more than anything I’ve realized that hard work and commitment are not just for yourself, they have just as much of an impact on others. When I’m at work, I’m always trying to engage with the guys in the program. I’ve sat down and talked to them about many different things, from test taking strategies (since many of them are studying for their personal trainer certification) to how to use a computer, to just general things that are going on in their lives and how to overcome their situations. I’ve become involved with many different aspects of the program and am always trying to help improve any aspect I can. Even when I work out, guys can tell that I am on a mission. I guess this probably isn’t too much of a surprise for most of you reading this, because all MIT people work hard and are always trying to improve things, but my biggest revelation is how much of an impact this can have on others. In my time at ICW this summer, I have noticed a huge culture change. In the beginning of the summer, it was more of a place to just hangout, and there wasn’t a lot of “pushing the envelope” happening. However, I can now feel a completely different culture, where guys come in and spend more time trying to improve themselves, whether that’s in weightlifting, studying, working, or any of the other issues they are dealing with.

On the technical side of things, I ran into a bit of difficulty with the website work that I did. In the beginning of the summer, ICW brought on a new CFO, and the founder basically put him in charge of the website. We decided that it would be best to modernize the website and change the feel from its dark, old, and static feel. I did all of my work based upon this fact, and everybody at ICW seemed very happy with the work that I did. A couple of weeks ago, when I was about ready to push the new site, the founder stepped in and said that he didn’t want to go ahead with the changes. I later found out that he thought that the website was too much of a change from the feel of the existing website. The website is basically the main source of information about the program, so in a sense, he felt that changing the website that much would change the branding that the organization had established.

Looking back at it now, this makes sense. However, it was frustrating that the only person that mattered remained so uninvolved during the process and still gave me approval during all of the stages that I showed him. However, I didn’t reach out to him much throughout the process (because it didn’t seem to me like he cared), so I realize now that I should be more proactive when working on such a large project. This project has given me free design freedom, which is completely different than my other internships that were very well laid out. I’m used to not needing much approval from my work. Also, this program is basically the founder’s baby; he has invested so much of his money and time into the program that I should have realized that there wouldn’t be any aspects of the program that he wouldn’t care about – he simply has so many other things going on that he can’t worry about everything. His distant seeming looks of approval were actually looks of “I have so many other things going on.”

However, there were a lot of things that pleased him about my work, so once again working with the CTO I am working backwards from my design in order to encapsulate the current feel of the website. This time however, I am running my prototypes by the founder in order to make sure that he is okay with each part of my work. I’ve realized now that there is something called the reveal effect, which is basically where you wait to reveal your work because you want the shock and awe when you display the final product. However this is very risky, and as I learned, it is much more productive to have the most invested people involved every step of the way. You lose the satisfaction of the final reveal, but you gain the satisfaction of not having to redesign your work. I’m already halfway done with my final revisions that have all been run by the founder, so I’m hoping that by the end of this week I will be finished with that part of the project and everybody will be happy. I’ve definitely learned a lot from this experience, and although I would have rather not learned this lesson, it will definitely help me be proactive in the future and notice the warning signs that led to this problem.

Blog Entry #2 – 6/26/2014

I am about a month into my project with InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW) and I couldn’t be more excited about the way that my summer has gone so far. There’s so much that I can write about right now, but I want to first focus on what I’ve done and then talk about what I have learned. In my 3rd blog post later on during the summer, I plan on talking more about the relationships that I’ve formed and the changes I’ve been able to see come about.

As far as work goes, my main project for the summer has been redesigning the website in order to focus on user experience, captivation, and increasing the reach that ICW has in the community/increasing the amount of support that it has. Two weeks ago, on June 11th, we started our public Summer Workout Series on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and these workouts have gone so well that I had to put a lot more work into getting the website done as soon as possible. My goal was to publish the first round of the new website yesterday, and then continue to reiterate on it throughout the summer, but in order to create a less stressful time crunch, we decided to wait until this weekend to make the change. I’m hosting it on my own website right now, and I’m starting to get to the point where I’m getting happy with it. I think that a huge learning point for me (being a huge perfectionist) is the fact that it is very beneficial for me to post the website before I’m completely happy with it. I’m not quite happy with it (and perhaps never will be), but I had to realize that it was so much better than the current website and that I just need to smooth it out for now and not feel like something needs to be perfect in my eyes before it can benefit it’s users. So at the beginning of next week, feel free to check out innercityweightlifting.org and let me know what you think!

Besides the website, I’ve basically had my hand in almost every other operation, and I’m starting to realize that my computer science degree goes far beyond coding. I’ve never really considered myself a programming master, and I can barely even sit at a computer for more than an hour, but my studies at MIT have taught me to be efficient and sustainable the first time I do something. There are many tools and programs ICW uses, such as email clients, mass email senders, online vendors, and distributed calendars, and over the past few weeks I’ve been working on making these operations more efficient. For instance, I am in the process of working with Google for Nonprofits in order to move all of ICW’s services over to Google Apps. This way, they can use a calendar across the entire organization and send push notifications to their students whenever they have a personal training session or something similar. I have a feeling that this is going to play a huge role in improving the miscommunication problem that exists between some staff and students.

Now, onto what I’ve learned. I think that the single biggest thing that I’ve learned is that the students of the program are very bright. I’ve had some incredible conversations with some students and I can see their intelligence shining through. The problem though, is that there is a gap in the skills that they have and the things that they think they can do. Because of their circumstances, they don’t realize what else is out there for them. In a sense, they have been anchored into a certain set of lifestyle choices, and without outside help it is so hard to leave that life. I grew up with a brother and father who faced different issues with drug and alcohol addiction. I lost my brother to drugs, and by looking back on his life I realize now that he just wasn’t aware of the good that can be found outside of a life of drugs. He didn’t have anybody go out of their way to show him the good and the purpose in life and the numerous opportunities that existed outside that life. And for many of these kids, that’s what weightlifting is. It’s a program going out of their way in order to let these kids in gangs know that there’s something else that they can get excited about, and there’s a different group of people that they can learn to call their brothers. In songs that the guys play in the weight room, I always hear lyrics such as “wake up and think about money” or “wake up and thing about dealing.” However, I’ve seen that weightlifting has started to give them something else to wake up and think about. It gives them something to think about the night before, because they don’t want to be dead for the next day’s workout. I can only hope to continue to reinforce this mentality.

I think that’s about all for now. This is honestly the first time I’ve had a summer internship where I didn’t look for any excuse not to go. I’m loving every second of my summer, and I can’t wait to write more in the coming weeks!

Blog Entry #1 – 5/27/2014

I am just now easing into the start of my summer project with InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW). This summer is going to be an exciting time for ICW, as they are expanding their program, expanding their team, and have many events planned in the community. I am excited to be working for them at such a critical time. My goal is to devote my technical skills, particular in website development, in order to help the program expand.

On my first day of officially starting this internship, I sat down with the recently hired Chief Financial Officer in order to discuss the website design. Together, we decided that it would be best to just scratch the website as it currently exists, because it will only hold me back in terms of design and incorporating new features into the website. This is exciting and a bit scary because in my previous internships I have only worked on parts of already created projects. However, I am looking forward to the challenge of starting from scratch and creating a website that is captivating and functional. This is what I have determined were the biggest faults with the previous website. The pictures (and in fact the website in general) did not grab you attention. Also, there was a lot of text but not a lot happening. If you wanted to join the program or get involved as a supporter, it was hard to tell what you should do.

I have already started prototyping the website design, and I am striving to show the impact that this program has. Looking at the website/social media as it stands, you’d never know that this program has been featured on ESPN and has the backing of many huge organizations.

Aside from the technical aspect, I also have a desire to have an influence on the students of the program. Over my past 6 months of volunteering here, I have already met a ton of awesome people. I’m excited to see what kind of influence I can have when I have an entire summer.

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