Three years ago, I joined Code2College as a Volunteer Instructor. I was one of the Founding Code2College Volunteers – a group of individuals that took the leap to volunteer with the organization when it was just a pilot with a handful of students. There were just three of us volunteering at Akins High School, with about 15 students in the after-school class. In total though, there were maybe about ten volunteers across the Instructor and Mentor groups serving 30 low-income, minority and/or female students in the entire program.
I believe in the mission of Code2College: to dramatically increase the number of minority and low-income high school students who enter and excel in STEM undergraduate majors and careers. I see myself in many of these students – I’m a black man who grew up in a single-parent household and helped raise my little sister while thinking of entering a STEM degree once I got to college. I understand the feeling of looking at your Computer Science classmates unable to immediately identify with any of them.
Kaci was one of the first students I taught. She immediately reminded me of my little sister: naturally bright, funny in personal conversation, and willing to learn. I, along with many other volunteers, helped Kaci increase her skills so much so that she was accepted into a software engineering intern position with Indeed.com as a junior in high school. Just a year later, she graduated from Akins High School and began her studies at Texas A&M University. And now two years later, she’s completed her freshman year and is about to start her third summer internship with Indeed.com. To know that I had a small role in her success is one of my greatest professional and personal accomplishments.
So it was with great excitement and honor that I got to witness first-hand the next generation of leaders coming from Central Texas at the 2019 Code2College Graduation Ceremony. It goes without saying, but we didn’t have this ceremony during my first a year as a volunteer so it was great to see a new class of diverse, local, and inspiring talent being recognized for their achievements. It was even more exciting to see the exponential growth of the program, from a handful of students a few years ago to a few hundred this year.
The graduation ceremony began with a Demo Day where some of the top students were selected to present their Code2College capstone projects. I was asked to serve as one of the Demo Day judges and graciously accepted. One student, John, gave us all context and clarity on the issue of identifying private universities that reward students the most based on their AP exam scores. Another student, Amanda, recently moved from an Android phone to an iPhone. She missed the scientific calculator app on her Android so she recreated one for her iPhone. Did I mention that these students were presenting to CTOs, Directors, and other high-level technical professionals? These presentations were absolutely inspiring.
Following Demo Day, all graduates, families, volunteer and corporate partners convened into the main space for the Graduation Ceremony. Kristie Gonzales, the President and General Manager of KVUE Media, the local ABC network affiliate, shared her personal and professional journey with the graduates – and it was a powerful one. Of all the wise words she shared with the students, the one that resonated the most was as simple as it was impactful: “lift as you climb.” I do hope that my own volunteering with Code2College and work with the students has inspired many of them to give back in some way in the future.
Towards the end of the ceremony, there was also a beautiful Awards Ceremony that took place. Several students received scholarships for either their performance at Demo Day or for the first annual scholarship competition held by Code2College, which Vrbo (a part of the Expedia Group family), my employer, sponsored this year. Thanks to the Black Affinity Group and Women In Tech groups at Vrbo, we were able to fund a $2,500 college scholarship for Adriana, a student at my (Code2College Volunteer) Alma Mater: Akins High School. Even better, Vrbo won the “Workshop of the Year” Award which was voted on by the students themselves!
There were no corporate-sponsored scholarships, brand new laptops for graduating seniors or graduation ceremonies that first year of volunteering. There were just a handful of volunteers with a common belief in the mission of Code2College and a willingness to help these diverse students break into STEM careers. It’s been amazing to see how the program has grown from a handful of volunteers and corporate sponsors to an expanded network of people and companies all over Central Texas. More importantly, it’s been my absolute privilege to be a small part of these students’ successes.