by Matt Stephenson
Matt Stephenson is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Code2College, the beneficiary of Team Austin’s Foundation Scholarship. We interviewed Matt to learn a little more about his background, career, and to impart wisdom to our community.
Team Austin: What do you do?
Matt Stephenson: I’m the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Code2College. Code2College sources volunteer tech talent from companies like Facebook and Silicon Labs, partners with high schools where these volunteers teach students how to code and provide professional skills development, and ultimately places the top students into paid, technical roles during the summer.
We’re a staff of two, so right now I do everything from program administration, volunteer recruitment, stakeholder relationship management, fundraising, social media & marketing management, curriculum development, etc.
TA: Wow! A man of many disciplines. And what motivated/inspired you to start Code2College?
MS: I'm a black man who has been told that he is "good at Math" since the 2nd grade. Both of my parents worked in STEM industries. I have always excelled in Science and Math classes and worked in Investment Banking and later as a Math Teacher. I know from statistics and experience that my path is not the norm.
Students who have not been encouraged to participate or persist in STEM classes can become disenchanted and discount their own abilities. I've personally seen this as a classroom teacher at a Title I charter school and during my time as a nonprofit program manager. Youth who have never been exposed to STEM careers are also less likely to pursue them.
These experiences have made me determined to deliver access, exposure, and opportunity to those students who would benefit most from it. I have been working with this population of low-income, black and brown students for nearly a decade and am inspired daily by how hungry, enthusiastic and passionate they are about their futures.
TA: That’s incredible! Your “North Star” seems well-defined, but can you tell us a little more about how you got to this point?
MS: It definitely wasn’t a straight line, but I’ve always followed my passion. I started my career in investment banking because of my passion for math and money. I moved into the nonprofit space because of my passion for promoting career opportunities for underrepresented college students.
Through this work, I saw the incredible disparity between the number of students who had the potential to pursue these same in-demand careers, the few who ultimately persisted through college and the even smaller subset of those who entered these careers.
After starting my career in the private sector and spending the past decade in the education sector, I’m now working to bring together my familiarity with the needs and challenges of both to build an organization that creates opportunities for high-potential, low-opportunity/access students in our community.
TA: To your point, in pursuit of your passion, did you ever envision Code2College in your dreams?
MS: Not at all. My parents emigrated from Jamaica and worked incredibly hard in financial services to ensure that my sisters and I had everything we needed. Since college though, I’ve known that developing a background in coding was both beneficial and highly accessible. For years, I’ve been trying to understand how to bring these same skill sets and opportunities to students in need at a low cost.
In 2016, my co-founder and I launched Code2College with a volunteer-driven program model that we plan to scale statewide.
TA: Speaking of scalability, how do you connect with others in your industry?
MS: Warm Introductions. The hit rate significantly improves if you can be introduced, drop the name of a mutual contact or attend an event of mutual interest (and still get an introduction). Code2College is still building a track record and gaining exposure within the community, so I do my best to leverage my existing network to grow it further.
TA: Sound advice for all entrepreneurs to leverage their mutual connections! When you’re not working on Code2College, how do you spend your free time?
MS: On long drives, I listen to some of my favorite podcasts (‘Startup’, ‘The Pitch’, ‘Monday Morning Podcast’ and ‘The Read’). On weekends, I’m spending time reading with the kiddos and avoiding lawn care. When I can squeeze it in, I’m learning new technologies.
TA: Amazing work, Matt. We really appreciate your time and partnership with Team Austin and look forward to helping to scale your business!
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