March 8, 2021

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Skillful Technology Connoisseurs

Austin’s Code2College trains those often left out of the tech sector

Matthew Stephenson focuses on launching and supporting high school students, mostly low-income, Black and Latino students, into college STEM programs. His Code2College budget has grown from zero to $5 million in just four years.

When I first interviewed Matt Stephenson in 2017, he posed a novel strategy for solving a puzzle that was on everybody’s minds: How to recruit more African American, Hispanic and low-income students, especially girls, into the world of digital technology, and beyond that, into the spheres of science, math and engineering.

Stephenson had recently founded Code2College, an Austin nonprofit that trains young people in low-income schools to enter STEM fields by learning computer coding — as well as the larger contours of the high tech world — from volunteer experts already in the business.

Code2College started with 30 Austin students from Akins High School and the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. Of those working after school with volunteer coaches, 70 percent were girls, 80 percent African American or Hispanic.

Less than four years later, Code2College has expanded its comprehensive programming to other schools in the Austin district, as well as to the Del Valle, Pflugerville, Round Rock and Manor districts, plus the Harmony Public Schools. The program has also leaped beyond the immediate region to San Antonio, Houston, Philadelphia and another seven scattered national districts.

In less than four years, Matthew Stephenson has delivered Code2College's professional development programs to 1,300 students. He expects his team to reach another 1,000 in the next fiscal year.

What was just an Austin seedling in 2017 with one employee — Stephenson — will be in the next fiscal year a $5 million nonprofit with seven employees and 600 volunteers to date, including mentors working from Mexico, India, Australia and the United Kingdom.

“We’ve helped roughly 1,300 students over the course of just our first four years,” Stephenson said in January. “This year we expect to help another 1,000. We’re in a hiring frenzy, too, and need to bring on 20 more employees before the end of the calendar year.”

The rewards are personal, too.

“What’s particularly exciting right now is to see our first alumnus graduate from college,” he said. “Adrian graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in cybersecurity and computer science with a minor in math. He came out of Akins High School, our very first partner.”