Stevon Cook '08 Twitter avatar (@stevoncook)

Stevon Cook ’08 Twitter avatar (@stevoncook)

MissionBit is a San Francisco nonprofit that teaches computer programming and other computer science skills to public school students in San Francisco, in an effort to bridge the gap between schools and the booming technology industry centered in Silicon Valley. And it has a new CEO, Stevon Cook ’08, whose orientation is towards extending opportunities to the disadvantaged. As TechCrunch recently reported:

Cook has since re-organized MissionBit to bring more students of color into its classes. Today, 23 percent of its students are African American, 25 percent are Latino and 40 percent speak a language other than English at home. For nine out of 10 of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever written code before.

Cook may be familiar to Ephs from his bid for school board a year ago: Born and raised in public housing in San Francisco’s Bay View region, Cook struggled to find his way in a world set against him. He was educated in failing public schools, saw drugs and alcohol break apart families of friends and loved ones, and watched as many of his childhood peers lost hope for a better future.

“I didn’t necessarily plan on running for school board,” [Cook explained,] “but I knew that I wanted to do more to help schools. I decided that this was going to be my life’s work.”

By mid-July, Cook’s campaign had raised nearly $50,000, much of which came from classmates who had gotten the banking and consulting jobs that had once eluded him. “I talk to consultants who contribute to my campaign and they say, ‘I want you to use this money because I don’t feel like I’m really helping people.’” Those people secured jobs long before graduating, never worried about making rent payments or paying off credit cards, and are on a path towards financial success. Despite that, most are envious of Cook. He doesn’t have a 4.0 GPA or prestigious lines on his résumé. He’s dealt with failure and rejection. But, at the end of the day, he’s happy in his work and making a difference in his community.

In his new gig at MissionBit, Cook is arguably having a greater influence than he could have hoped to achieve through public office:

Cook is also re-organizing MissionBit to be more self-sustaining by having the schools and the district chip in funding for the classes. San Francisco Unified recently passed a resolution to expand computer science education to all grades from pre-school through 12th. But it will take several years given budgetary constraints; California is in the lower half of the rankings for statewide education spending per student. He has a three-year goal of teaching 10,000 students through workshops and courses in campuses and across the entire Bay Area region.

Next up, Cook is also building a six-month programming course for the city’s public housing residents in partnership with Hack Reactor.

“If you can give people the skills to stay in the city and take advantage of all it has to offer, they can escape that generational trap,” Cook said. “When young people get experiences like this, their whole perception of self and their sense of agency is changed. We need to build schools that achieve these things and that help people and their communities advance so they can work for whatever company they want to.”

“If we can give people better educational and work opportunities and give them possibilities to move up within companies, all of this is worth getting someone out of the projects,” Cook said of his upcoming public housing computer science program. “When you see all of the negative social and emotional risk factors associated with living in those units, you’ll see poorer educational outcomes and higher risks for health issues.”

Getting those educational opportunities means overcoming huge discrepancies in access that exist even in the wealthiest of cities like San Francisco. Last year, only 800 kids out of 17,000 high school students were enrolled in computer science classes.

Cook is looking for more funding to support his $400,000 annual budget and to grow the program. He also needs volunteer instructors. Interested? Find him through the Alumni Directory, or contact him at info@missionbit.com

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