Summer 2003

Nyvia Colón: Real-Life Assignments, Real-Life Lessons
by anonymous

Nyvia Colón grew up in Boston in the early 1970s when things were tough for the minority community immigrating to the area. Her parents—illiterate themselves—were not aware of the importance of becoming involved in their children's education. Due to the lack of parental support and peer pressure, Col—n dropped out of high school in 1982, at age seventeen. Twenty-plus years and many hurdles later, Col—n is truly happy that she chose go on to higher education, to secure and excel in her position as IT Director for the Lower Roxbury Technology Goes Home program.

Current Work

At the Lower Roxbury TGH, Nyvia Col—n is an innovator, coordinator, and instructor. She has taken basic computer curriculum and has modified it to include real-life practical assignments. Col—n uses fact sheets that explain the high numbers of teenage pregnancies and people with credit card debt in the Roxbury area. She includes stories about programs developed to help people get out of debt and other topics that elicit dialogue. Students type from these fact sheets as they learn how to navigate and utilize Microsoft Word.

In order for families to learn Excel, she has them understand the importance of financial planning. She has them create a list that indicates the amount owed to credit card companies, the amount of interest being paid, and the credit card company phone numbers. The assignment then is to create a simple spreadsheet that provides them with the fundamentals for working in Excel. The next assignment is to create a budget that they must update weekly.

For children, Col—n promotes the positive self-fulfilling prophecy. She has students identify their dream job as they write a story in MSWord. The children create resume-like documents that identify what they want to be when they grow up and provide a space to keep track of all the successes they have had throughout their years leading up to college.

"As a technology program instructor and an inspirational speaker, I have drawn from my own life experience to deliver effective life-changing workshops and seminars. I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to learn in their comfort zone, meaning whether they learn best by seeing, hearing, or doing, I'm going to make sure that whatever I'm teaching is interactive and leaves space for sharing ideas."


The challenges I have faced are that many instructors are comfortable with a certain way to teaching (lecture) and provide our residents a negative experience when it comes to learning. Learning should be fun and interactive, conducted in an environment that encourages group participation, critical thinking, and problem solving.

The Rewards

The most rewarding thing for me is to see all the positive changes families are making. They are receiving better paying jobs, better grades, better parent/child relationships, and more thirst for knowledge. They're taking pride in their neighborhoods, sharing ideas and information with their neighbors, fulfilling their civic duty as a way of giving back with the understanding that others have the same opportunity they did by going through the program.

Some Words of Advice

Developing a need assessment for your clients is the most important step in helping you develop a comprehensive plan to help them. If many of your clients are having issues with depression, then you must help them work that out before trying to move forward with any other programs. Many of our clients' negative attitudes towards the institutions that are set up to help them are passed down from generation to generation. Therefore we must gain the trust and respect for what we are doing before people in our neighborhood begin to knock on our doors again.

Remember to respect all individuals as you would like to be respected and most important: don't be judgmental. People who are poverty-stricken have a lot more issues than that of not having money. Empowerment is the key.

Looking Ahead

I see an opportunity for CTCs to become hands-on training institutions that provide graduates real life opportunities to work as a contractor or in a developed business within the CTC as a way to gain experience. It will also help the CTCs with funding if they can develop a for-profit entity within their non-profit organization.

This interview builds upon and expands the sidebar piece on Nyvia in the's October 2002 story, "Going to Scale with Boston's Revolution."

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