Events + Media

Fam 1st Summer Camp Gives Mentees and their Mentors a Moment to Shine


Students from Fam 1st Architecture Camp learned AutoCAD basics to redesign Oakland's Mosswood Park. 

by Avi Salem | CED Communications
7 July 2017

When Savion Green attended Fam 1st Architecture Camp three years ago, the last thing he imagined was coming back to Wurster Hall as a camp instructor, teaching students the design principles and skills he learned himself just a few years back.

Green, now just 14 years old, was a graduate of the first Fam 1st Architecture Camp, which was founded by College of Environmental Design alumni and AIA East Bay members Jeremiah Tolbert (B.Arch ‘04) and Cameron Toler (B.Arch ‘09). Tolbert and Toler, in partnership with the AIA East Bay and Fam 1st Family Foundation—a locally-focused nonprofit founded by Oakland natives and NFL players Joshua Johnson and Marshawn Lynch—organized the camp to expose underserved youth to the disciplines of architecture, engineering and construction.


A student from this year's architecture camp poses in front of her final project, the culmination of a week's worth of designing a new recreation center for Oakland's Mosswood Park.

Now in its fourth year, the camp has grown to serve a cohort of over a dozen middle schoolers aged 11 to 14, encouraging them to express their creativity by creating innovative designs for local projects. Learning the basics of architectural design, including an introduction to AutoCAD, students spent a week this past June redesigning the recreation center in Oakland’s Mosswood Park to fit their idea and definition of a community-centered and inclusive space for East Bay residents.

Many of Fam 1st students, including Green, were exposed to the program due to mentorship from Oakland middle school teacher Shalonda Tillman. Green, who described his younger self as unfocused and somewhat troubled in school, credits her positive role in his life as the key motivation behind his passion for design, architecture and even robotics.


From left: Omar Haque, Savion Green, and Shalonda Tillman. All three were part of Fam 1st's inaugural architecture camp in 2014.

“Basically I didn’t want to listen. I thought I knew everything. I was running my own life, and didn't really care about anything until I met my teacher, Ms. Tillman,” Green explained. “She was the only person who encouraged me, and she brought me to this camp—which taught me responsibility, STEM, and made me decide to become a mechanical engineer.”

At only 14 years old, Green is in the eleventh grade and is taking college classes at Contra Costa College. He aspires to earn his Ph.D. in nanotechnology one day. Green’s interest in robotics comes from his hope to find a cure for cancer. He is currently working two different jobs, saving up to build his own robot in the near future, and ultimately hopes his creations will serve people in creative and useful ways. “I plan on starting my own company, selling my own robots, and just make life easier for people with this technology,” he explained.

For Tillman, encouraging Green and her other students to attend Fam 1st was about exposing them to something unknown and new that they wouldn’t get to experience otherwise. She explained that what she tried to instill in Green—and the rest of her pupils—was that no matter what you know, there’s always something new to learn.

“The first year we did this camp I didn’t know what would come of it, but I was always about exposing the students to new things,” Tillman said. “This turned out to be Savion’s thing and he just kept at it. It is full circle now to see him back teaching. It’s living proof of the importance of this camp.”


A student learns how to use AutoCAD during Fam 1st's Architecture Camp.

Omar Haque, an architect and volunteer with Fam 1st, first met Green three years ago as a first-time volunteer. Now in his fourth year of teaching at the camp, Haque noted how much he has grown and learned from inquisitive students like Green as a mentor and noted the impact it has made on his own profession.

“This camp is an amazing opportunity, not only for students to learn from professionals in the field, but also for us to learn about the community around us,” he explained. “I’ve really been able to hone my skills in explaining and communicating architecture to a young audience of students who have never been introduced to the concepts before. They may not realize it now, but this is a form of network building and exposure for these students unlike anything else.”