Giving Teens a Voice

Norman Brown - Hville

Former schoolteacher operates teen `think tank'
Facilitator helps youths express their opinions in electronic meetings

For The Huntsville (Alabama) Times
August 22, 2001

Madison's Brice Marsh would like to have a few hundred computers and several clones of himself. But he will settle for 20 laptops, a file server and a few peripherals to deliver his nonprofit Teen Think Tanks of America Inc. to teen-agers across the country.

The former schoolteacher, now 63, speaks the teen language when he explains how young people ``chill out'' and let their ideas flow in an electronic meeting. With GroupSystems WorkGroup Edition software by, he collects the best ideas of 20 participants per session, without any teen knowing who contributes which idea. This eliminates the intimidation factor often found among youths of various backgrounds and mental abilities.

Subjects of the teen sessions vary from school violence to technology. He recently led a meeting of Madison teens discussing - electronically - the need for a teen center or hangout, he said. A community action committee that meets periodically at Madison City Hall grew out of the brainstorming.

Other teen organizations, such as Madison County's New Millennium Youth Council, have evolved from his electronic meetings.

Marsh uses the same techniques daily with adults at his day job on Redstone Arsenal. At NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, he works for Computer Science Corp. on the Program Information Systems Mission Service contract. He helped introduce electronic meeting technology to CSC. He began leading brainstorming in sessions with flip charts in 1965 while
he was an IBM systems engineer. He moved up to computers about 1991.

Now he wants to spread the technology to teen-agers and ``give them a voice'' solving their own problems. Before he can meet the demand for his free services, he needs at least 20 linked computers he can take on the road as he does his CSC equipment for NASA.

``I have the contention that teen-agers have the heart power, muscle power and brain power to make a difference,'' Marsh said. ``We underestimate the intelligence of teen-agers by 1,000 percent.''

Since he formed Teen Think Tank in 1998, he has worked nights, weekends and vacation days with cofounder and computer programmer Rod Peeks of Birmingham to put on 25 sessions from California to Washington, D.C.

`I need to clone myself'

His initial sessions sought teen ideas on school violence. Numerous topics are candidates for the meeting format that provides results to participants the same day, rather than weeks later. Last year, of Arizona donated a $70,000 copy of WorkGroup software to [Teen] Think Tank[s].

``Now when I do a session, I have to spend 10 hours reconfiguring computers and loading the software onto a schools', or sponsoring company's, computers,'' he said. ``Then I have to remove the software and reset the computers as I found them.

``Because it takes so much time and there's only one of me, I've had to turn down 10 requests in the past two months. I need to clone myself as volunteers for the [Teen] Think Tank.''

With enough laptop computers, Marsh said, he can replicate the NASA electronic meeting setup and ship it, ready to run, to sites asking for Think Tank sessions. He said the Technology Student Association of Alabama has asked for sessions at each of
the organization's 89 chapters.

``I keep hoping that Bill Gates and MicroSoft Foundation will hear about us and come to the rescue,'' he said.

He said more adults need to learn the software and donate their time to help teen-agers. His day-job credentials indicate a shortage of electronic meeting coaches.

``I'm a certified professional facilitator,'' he said. ``There are only 83 of us in the world.''

Brainstorming results are published on the group's Web site at Contact Marsh at