Learning Change Agent: Emile Cambry, Jr.

What is your name? Emile Cambry, Jr.

Where are you from? Chicago

What organization do you represent? BLUE1647

What is your job title? Founder and CEO of BLUE1647

How long has the organization been in existence? 2 years

What is the mission and vision of the organization?

BLUE1647 is a technology and entrepreneurship center, but more importantly, we are trying to create a culture around technology development. We focus on three core areas: people development, workforce development and business acceleration. The mission of the organization is to enlarge the technology community in Chicago and other cities, but also provide a culture of development where people feel comfortable building, making, breaking, hacking and helping each other along the way.

What impact do you think your organization has on learning and education?

I think the impact that BLUE1647 has on learning and education is we find ways to make it fun. We take something that is, traditionally, not seen as fun for people that, historically, it’s been said that it is not fun for and we find a way to change that narrative, make it fun, applicable, and something that people can do for the rest of their lives.

So, you mention for people who have been told that things are not “fun,” would you clarify that point a little further?

 Yes, the imagery that we see in media and some of the different archetypes of technology competency, you see the Mark Zuckerberg types. You see the white guy in a hoodie as the representation of what a techie is, and instead, we are saying, no. Techies come in all forms. We’ve had minorities, women, young people, veterans that have done technology sense the beginning of time, and these types of people have not been boxed into this one Mark Zuckerberg archetype and are highly successful in the field. It’s our job, as educators, to provide spaces and places for people to feel comfortable doing technology.

Tell me a little bit more about the communities that you service through your educational programs.

 Our educational service programs are traditionally in underserved communities, working for predominately underrepresented minorities, but at the same time, we work with everyone. But, we have a particular focus of making sure that in these types of communities, that’s the place that we can enlarge the technology community. If you look at all of the cities that were are in [Chicago and St. Louis] and that we are going to, everything is concentrated in the downtown areas in terms of technology development and other activities associated with innovation. But instead, what we wanted to do is extend the boundaries and make it so that one doesn’t have to walk far outside of their own community to be a part of an innovation center.

What communities are you servicing currently?

 We are servicing the Washington Heights, Pilsen, Austin, and the North Lawndale communities. We also have an expansion opportunity in the Roseland community.

And looks like you are expanding outside of the city of Chicago as well?

 Yes, we’ll be expanding into several neighborhoods in St. Louis, Missouri.

 What inspired you to get involved in education or this type of work in the field of education?

I think, first and foremost, I consider myself to be an educator. I was a college professor for six years and spent a lot of time seeing the faults of the educational system or the need for it to innovate in many ways, to be relevant. You have a different type of student than you did ten to fifteen years ago, and the way we teach is virtually the same. I think as the world is becoming digital, we need to also allocate our resources to teaching digital development, digital manipulation, and everything else that would allow learners to build and create. My goal is to connect education to the job market, as oppose to saying, you have this degree go out and find a job.

If you could change anything regarding education and/or learning, what would it be?

 I think the one thing that I would change about education is that I would make it to be more open to experimentation. I think every school is different, every community is different, every person is different, but yet we have a one size fit all solution and it tends not to slant towards being fun and engaging. There is also a need to provide very relevant educational opportunities for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

What advice would you give to someone who is in the process of learning something new?

 I think a piece of advice that I would give to someone who is learning something new is it’s okay to make mistakes; you’ll make a ton of them.  I think underrepresented cultures and neighborhoods don’t necessarily get second and third chances. We need to make it easier for people to make mistakes in a positive way and be able to learn from them-from a learning standpoint. Allow learners to tinker and try to make something better. Ultimately, you may not get the answer right, but the more that you try, the more that you master, and the more cool things you will be able to develop. Also, put your own personality on it. It is your job to take ownership over your own educational experience now, more than ever before.   Put your own stamp on it and make it fun.

 What does it mean to be a learning change agent?

 What it means to be a learning change agent is someone who is willing to push the boundaries of the status quo. You look at education and healthcare, those are very slow moving industries. I think if you are going to be a change agent, you are not moving slow. You are tinkering, you’re making mistakes, you’re finding ways to make [learning] more relevant and applicable towards the students’ needs, and you are finding ways to get the student to be excited about something. I think every student wants to know what their talents are, it is your job to pull it out of them, it’s your job to figure out what’s the quickest way to get a student to say, “I like that.” That’s the job of every educator. It’s not about the teacher; it’s about the student.

Photo: Andrew A. Nelles via BlueSkyInnovation.com

Learning Change Agents are game changers in education. They are affiliated with organizations that are providing meaningful and passion-driven learning experiences to learners of all ages. The featured Learning Change Agents (and their organization) will be eligible to receive funds from the LEARNtheBrand Impact Apparel. LEARNtheBrand Impact Apparel is a clothing line that consists of limited edition fashion T-shirts that include unique designs that focus on rebranding the perception of learning and education from test-driven and rote memorization to meaningful, relevant and passion driven learning experiences.  Customers and supporters of LEARNtheBrand Impact Apparel and these organizations will select the organization(s) that should receive a portion of the profits received from each collection. Visit and shop the online store hosted by Threadless. Together we are change agents.


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