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America On Tech

Stories of Impact

A group of six diverse individuals, some holding laptops, sit and pose together in front of indoor plants, smiling at the camera.
Courtesy of America On Tech
America On Tech's mission is to prepare the next generation of technology leaders from underestimated communities

Given its success today—shaping the futures of over 5,000 young people, including 1,000 Brooklynites to date—you might not believe that America on Tech (AOT) was born from big dreams scrawled on the back of coffee shop napkins. Founded by Jessica Santana and Evin Robinson, the nonprofit strives to create equitable pathways for young people of color to thrive in degrees and careers in technology.

Growing up in East New York-Brownsville, Santana and Robinson both received New York City public school educations, making them intimately familiar with how lacking in resources the system is. After landing jobs in the tech industry and making three to four times their families’ household incomes, the pair wanted to bring the same opportunities to the communities in which they were born and raised.

“[Our careers] put a lot in perspective about the potential that exists in the industry for young people who are always on their phones,” Santana recalled. “We questioned whether or not they knew that they could be not just the consumers of technology, but the creators of it.”

Since 2014, America on Tech has developed thousands of young people’s digital skills so that they can compete fairly for jobs in the technology sector. Starting with a three-week summer introductory course, students (ages 16-24) are exposed to the basics of coding before making the decision to move on to a nine-month intensive program, which then concludes with a three-month internship.

85% of AOT alumni are either in tech jobs or enrolled in computer science/information systems programs in college

Santana boasts that 65% of participants continue onto the full-year program, and 85% of AOT alumni are either in tech jobs or enrolled in computer science/information systems programs in college.

Behind these impressive numbers are individual stories about students whose lives were changed because of America on Tech. Santana fondly remembers one Latina student whom she met while recruiting students in Williamsburg: the student had just gotten into programming, but her school didn’t have formal classes for her to further develop this skill. After going through AOT’s programs, this student eventually landed internships with AOL and Flocabulary and immediately after graduating college, landed a job at Olo.

“I think a lot about the school environment that she was in and how she had this growing interest in tech, but there was no one there to cultivate or nurture it,” Santana said. “We came into her life at a very specific time. To see her go through the trainings and ultimately be employed in the industry was a really big win.”

Three people work on laptops while another individual looks on, in a room with brick walls and glass partitions.
Courtesy of America on Tech
Students gain hands-on technical training experience through AOT's summer and year-long programs.

With almost a decade of success behind them, Santana notes that America On Tech wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of Brooklyn Org and other NYC philanthropies that invested in their work and understood their hyper-local vision.

“You need local foundations to really fund and support work that maybe does not appeal to large foundations, because they think that you’re too local,” she explained.

In 2020, Santana and Robinson focused on developing cohorts specifically within the East New York and Brownsville neighborhoods, where opportunities for Black and brown students remain scarce. “Brooklyn Org really helped us scale our work from the summer of 2020 to serve a tremendous amount of East New York-Brownsville students for years,” she said.

Brooklyn Org really helped us scale our work from the summer of 2020 to serve a tremendous amount of East New York-Brownsville students for years. Jessica Santana, Co-Founder and CEO

As Santana looks ahead to the next decade for AOT, her goals are far-reaching: she wants the organization’s programming to remain culturally relevant and student-focused; responsive to the ever changing landscape of the tech industry; and potentially even inform policy to push for systemic educational change.

Additionally, she wants to put a bigger emphasis on storytelling:  “We’re realizing that telling the story of the work is just as important as doing the work,” she explained.

“In a world where DEI and affirmative action are being attacked, [we want to make sure] that we’re upfront about who we are and being shameless about saying, ‘This is who we serve and this is why we serve them.’”

A group of five people sit closely together around a table, smiling and looking at a laptop screen.
Courtesy of America on Tech
AOT provides career readiness, internship and job placement program for current college students and alumni of their programs.

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