This week, Maydm celebrates it’s five year anniversary and as part of our looking back, we sat down with our Founder and Executive Director, Winnie Karanja, to talk about the early days, how things have changed and to learn more about some of the over 1,750 students we have served.
What led you to start Maydm?
Winnie: I had a conversation with a former elementary school principal, Dr. Grace Okoli and she mentioned she had reached out to a national nonprofit to teach her students how to code, but she never heard back, and that just hurt me. I was very astonished that the organization didn’t contact her and my immediate response was, “I’ll teach your students how to code.”
And then I decided to see if there was a local organization that was doing that work. When I looked, I realized that there was not an organization that addressed the needs of communities that are traditionally underrepresented in the field. The type of program that was needed didn’t exist and that’s when I started to really think about creating Maydm.
At first, it started with me putting together a few workshops for the students at her school and I knew that the technical skills were not enough. If we were actually going to make a difference and move the needle in this space, it needed to be a program that had these multiple components including mentorship and exposure to tech professionals and companies in our community.
How did Maydm look in the first few years?
Winnie: I would say in the first few years, Maydm was me and the college students that I hired to teach the program. It was a one-off or a few hour workshops. It was a space where students got to create and build for the first time and start to realize, “Wow, this isn’t as hard as I thought it was.” It was their first curated space for technical imagination, building and creating. It was very interactive, very fun and low-key. The workshops did not yet incorporate mentorship, exposure opportunities, or longer programs. I really wanted students to know they could do it. We were a small staff, so we each had our hands in everything. It required using our resources very wisely to work with students and show that this program and model had impact.
How has it changed?
Winnie: We started by doing workshops for a few hours each week in after school programs and limited hours in the summertime and have now transitioned to fully immersive programs that have year-round mentorship. And now we’re rolling out an internship program in 2021, along with new and more robust programs for middle and high school students. We’ve grown to a full-time team of four, with plans to add to that in 2021. And we have served over 1,750 students.
Is there one moment where you saw the mission of Maydm play out?
Winnie: I see the mission of Maydm play out so many different times. It’s the times in which I step into a class and we’re teaching kids how to code for the first time and they say, “Oh my gosh, I made my code work!” It’s been so amazing to see students grow and learn. One of our students, Scarlet, didn’t know how to code and hadn’t had any exposure to programming and then did our program in 2016. Her first coding experience was in a Maydm program and now she is studying Computer Science at Williams College.
It’s our student, Brandon, who learned how to code in Java last summer and now he’s in the STEM Academy at Madison College and was our first Maydm intern this summer. In his internship, he worked on an Android app, which gave him this tangible, unique experience he wouldn’t have outside of Maydm. That’s where I see our mission play out – in our students getting paid well above minimum wage in these internships. We’re now part of addressing economic injustice, getting students in the tech spaces and having companies rethink where talent and brilliance lies in our community. It’s not one moment, it’s the many moments I get to see play out.
Share one student story that sticks out in our 5 year history
Winnie: That’s so hard, because there are so many. But, the story of Giselle – and her cohort of 12 other elementary school girls who started in our program in 2017 – is one I cherish. Seeing her learn how to code and have these experiences in our programs for two years in a row and taking these experiences back to her family and sharing at her dining room table. And now her older brother and sister are both in our programs, as well. Now, Giselle and her siblings are all part of the Maydm community, all learning these skills, forging their trajectory into careers that have the potential to be life-changing. And the fact that all 3 kids within their family are involved and get excited – that’s a combination of parent commitment and student commitment. And just seeing her excitement for the next Maydm program is absolutely amazing. She was shy and intimidated by coding in the beginning, who isn’t, and seeing her now shine and ready to take on any challenge – it’s the best!
What does the next 5 years look like for Maydm?
Winnie: The next five years for Maydm look like growth and seeing more of our students enter the workforce and pursue college. It looks like launching and having a thriving internship program. It looks like Maydm being the leader in helping companies build their talent pipeline in the STEM fields. It’s about centering women and people of color in the conversation around STEM. It looks like prioritizing and ensuring that girls and students of color have access to these opportunities.
We are deeply grateful for each person who has played a role in the first five years of Maydm, and we look forward to watching where the next five years take us.