Jerelyn Rodriguez co-founded The Knowledge House to provide low-income youth with alternative pathways in the technology industry. The nonprofit supports students with coding and design skills, mentorship and job opportunities. (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member

After about five years of working in education, Jerelyn Rodriguez was frustrated. The New York native felt that low-income students were being told college was their only option if they wanted to have a career.

Knowing college isn’t for everyone, she became very focused on alternative pathways and learned that the tech industry is one of those options. Technology jobs provide a livable wage and economic mobility, and many do not require a degree. 

“Half of the technology jobs don’t really require a college degree,” said Rodriguez. “They require skills, a portfolio, and you need a network of folks to connect you to these opportunities.” 

Rodriguez and her peer Joe Carrano founded The Knowledge House in 2014 to do just this. The nonprofit provides underserved communities in the Bronx, New York with digital skills training in coding and design to empower and sustain a pipeline of technologists. 

The Knowledge House offers two programs for individuals interested in entering the tech sector. The Karim Kharbouch Coding Fellowship, co-founded by hip-hop artist French Montanna, provides youth from ages 16 to 24 with a 12-month coding and design curriculum. 

Students learn how to build a brand, create proper wireframes and learn the HTML and CSS coding languages. At the conclusion of the fellowship, students are matched with internship opportunities. 

The Innovation Fellowship serves individuals who are 18 and older and have a household income under $50,000 or receive government assistance. This 12-month fellowship has four different tracks, including data science with python; web development and design; cybersecurity and networking; and usability testing and user experience design. 

Throughout the program, students have the opportunity to receive paid internships, mentorship from industry professionals and incentive-based stipends. 

Graduates of the fellowships have gone on to work for Citibank, IBM’s Red Hat and ClassPass. 

“Our students come in with an average income of about $14,000 so we’re talking about tripling, sometimes quadrupling, their salaries, and it’s because of our program,” said Rodriguez. 

This year, The Knowledge House is expanding its programming to Newark, New Jersey; Atlanta, Georgia; and Los Angeles, California. It recently launched its 2021 Fellowship Campaign with a goal of $1.2 million to fund 200 new students. 

The campaign calls on companies to do three things. First, they sign up to hire students in full-time positions or internships. Second, they mobilize their employees to volunteer and mentor the students. Lastly, they provide funding for the fellowships. 

“We find that when a company does all of those things, we feel holistically supported,” said Rodriguez. “The organization is in good financial health, but our students also have access to industry people, resources and jobs.” 

The 2021 Fellowship Campaign will be supported with a hybrid speaker series where Fortune 500 CEOs and leaders of philanthropic organizations will discuss the future of work, preparing Black and Brown communities for COVID-19 recovery and how corporate companies are protecting Black lives. 

“When we focus on Black and Latinx youth, we are preparing them to enter these roles and diversify the tech industry,” said Rodriguez. 

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