A Tech School Blossoms in the Bronx

The Knowledge House's Jerelyn Rodriguez. Image: courtesy of The Knowledge House

A little over seven years ago Jerelyn Rodriguez had an idea. After spending a span of time as an educator and community organizer, she came up with an impactful way to merge the two experiences into a technical institution. 

“I started it because I was frustrated that in the education field advocates were pushing low income kids to only go to college,” says Rodriguez, the co-founder and CEO of The Knowledge House (TKH), a training academy aimed at closing the gaps in the education to employment divide for low-income learners. 

Rodriguez was triggered by the fact that educators were only amplifying a traditional path as a means to getting out of poverty. As a Bronx native, the Columbia grad knew first-hand that the college approach was not one size fits all. “So, I kind of shifted away from K through 12 education, and really started focusing on alternative pathways; understanding that, especially low-income kids, need multiple options, and no one has linear pathways when it comes to the populations that we serve.” 

At Rodriguez’s job prior to starting TKH, she met her co-founder, Joe Carrano who was educated in digital marketing but taught himself to code as a means of financially moving beyond his minimum wage job. It was his story that inspired the duo to partner and produce similar outcomes for different communities.  

In 2013, TKH held its first pilot program with 10 young adults. Rodriguez tapped into the network and knowledge she had established from working the campaign of Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, to make it happen. “Seeing her inspired me,” Rodriguez says of her former boss. “She was an entrepreneur herself, advocating for girls in tech.” 

Steadily approaching a decade in business, Rodriguez is now inspiring others. From a cohort of 10 to start, TKH has now grown to roughly 60 adult learners, across three cohorts. There is also a youth program that educates another 60 students who applied to the program and completed a multi-step process to be admitted. The two core programs, one youth-focused, one adult-focused, span over 12 months. For the youth, daily summer instruction transitions into monthly workshops that focus on college planning and career planning. For the adults, the program is more rigorous and inclusive of training for about 16 hours a week for nine months. 

Rodriguez assures that the amount of time put into the skills training is well worth it. Many people more than quadruple their salary after exiting, providing a life change for them and their families. “The average incoming salary for adult applicants is around $14K,” Rodriguez says. “When they land their first tech job we’re seeing a $75K minimum average salary.” This is after completing a program that is free to attend and provides stipends for participants throughout the process.

The training is made possible through robust fundraising. An estimated price tag for each student is roughly $5,000. To cover the 200 students TKH is hoping to take in next year, they’ve set a goal of raising $1.2 million in what is dubbed their Fellowship Campaign and Speaker Series. In a press release shared with EBONY, TKH stated that “the funds will supply fellows with a year of study and mentoring access to high-level technology professionals.” Goldman Sachs, Robin Hood Foundation, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian Life), and other partners have already committed to both professional mentoring and fiscal support to reach this ground-breaking goal.

Rodriguez sees the campaign as a good solution for companies that want to hire talent, but also want to connect their employees to volunteer opportunities, and want to invest in visual equity work. “After the murder of George Floyd, a lot of companies have made these commitments to diversify their workforce or invest in social justice,” says Rodriguez. “And so the campaign gives them a way to provide all of those things to our students.” 

TKH regularly brings in donations online where anyone can donate, but the Fellowship Campaign and Speaker Series attracts corporate sponsorships. With this multi-week event, that started on October 21 and takes place every Thursday through November 4, the organization gets key corporate leaders and philanthropic leaders to speak. This year’s focus is on building a movement from the Bronx. Rodriguez considers it an opportunity for TKH to engage in thought leadership and push the conversation on diversity in tech. 

The Knowledge House itself is 90 percent staffed by people of color to represent the communities that it serves. Rodriguez states that her program is the only tech training nonprofit in New York City that is led by a Black woman. “I have designed the program for the most marginalized groups, Black females,” explains Rodriguez. “And so that takes care of a lot of the other populations that have needs. That makes us unique and more effective than other organizations. That is important.”

To take part in an upcoming Fellowship Campaign Speaker Event, visit the series link provided below.

Thursday, October 28th, 5:30 pm EST 

16 Months Later: How Are Companies Protecting Black Lives? 

The Knowledge House will host a thought-provoking virtual panel with corporate and philanthropy leaders who are leading massive efforts to leverage corporate power for racial justice. Featured speakers are Richard Buery, CEO at Robin Hood Foundation; Maurice Jones, CEO at OneTen; and Greg Taylor, Executive Director at NBA Foundation. 

Thursday, November 4th, 5:30 pm EST 

Black Women Path-blazing in Innovation

The culminating event is a virtual panel between prominent Black women leaders rising within the innovation sector as DEI experts, engineers, founders, and investors. Featured speakers are Asahi Pompey, President of Goldman Sachs Foundation; Gabrielle Wyatt, Founder at The Highland Project; and Rachel Williams, Head of Recruitment and Diversity at X, an Alphabet company.

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