The summer before his Junior Year of high school Ryan Barnett found himself at a crossroads. He had just received his drivers license and was eager to forge his path to independence with plans to get his first job. Meanwhile, his mom had learned about The Hidden Genius Project’s Intensive Immersion Program and was encouraging him to apply. “I thought it sounded cool, but I won’t lie, I didn’t want to do it,” Ryan admits. The thought of committing 15 months and giving up his last two summers before college was the last thing on his mind. Despite his hesitation, he was steered toward checking out the program and, following a successful interview day, he committed to the long haul. In the summer of 2017, Ryan joined the RICH1 cohort, The Hidden Genius Project’s inaugural Intensive Immersion Program in Richmond, CA.
“It took the whole first week for me to be interested,” said Ryan. “Once I started bonding with the other Geniuses, and once we got into the lesson, I realized [the program] had more to offer than just tech. We learned something new every day.”
While Ryan appreciated that The Hidden Genius Project infused Black History and Entrepreneurship into the curriculum, there was one particular insight that grabbed his attention.
“During one of the lessons they said that the #1 job in the U.S. is Truck Driving,” Ryan recalls The Hidden Genius Project mentors sharing, “but in 20 years there will be no more truck drivers.”
To most of the students in his cohort, this was an interesting fact that showed how technology can impact the way businesses operate. For Ryan, this news was life-changing. “My father actually owns his own truck company, Barnett & Sons…The Sons, that’s me.”
Ryan had pictured himself following in his father’s footsteps at some point, but that image quickly changed. “I feel like it’s crazy but also believable with self-driving cars.” Equipped with a new perspective on what the future may hold, and the skills and tools developed with The Hidden Genius Project, Ryan came to understand that a driverless future didn’t mean a dead end for his family business. “If you don’t understand tech, you’re going to be left behind.” Having the exposure to other possibilities, Ryan was able to see new paths toward success that could continue his family legacy. “Maybe I could get into the companies that are designing self-driving trucks.”
After graduating from the Intensive Immersion program, Ryan’s journey with The Hidden Genius Project was far from over. He returned to serve as a Youth Educator leading workshops at their annual Brother’s Code event as well as teaching classes in partnership with Bridge Housing – a non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening communities and improving the lives of its residents. Recently he hit the road with his fellow Geniuses, traveling to Baltimore to facilitate programming at Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp. “Being 18 years old and travelling to Baltimore, talking with Colin Kaepernick…I don’t know any other 18-year-olds doing that. It was a great experience.”
Now Ryan is wrapping up his final weeks at Rodriguez High School in Fairfield, CA. This fall he will head south to attend California State University, Dominguez Hills, where he will join his fellow RICH1 Hidden Genius Alumnus, Cam Leonard, who just finished his first collegiate year. Ryan plans to major in Digital Media Arts/Film and build upon his interest in street photography. When asked where he sees himself 10 years from now he says, “Hopefully financially stable and happy…with at least four cars.”