Creating a Technology Spark
Deena Pierott is being honored as a Champion of Change for her work to expand opportunities for young learners from communities historically underserved or underrepresented in tech fields.
Deena Pierott challenges the status quo. She champions change and influences the course of events around her. During her decades-long career in the public and private sector, Deena consistently sought ways to be inclusive, remove exclusionary barriers, and insist upon full stakeholder engagement. Deena is a doer. She takes action, living by Tagore’s philosophy: “You cannot cross the sea merely by staring at the water.” Recognition of her efforts by the White House as a Champion of Change is fitting and validates her creative efforts and dedication to meet the needs of her community while promoting equity, diversity and inclusion.
Deena learned early that information is a powerful tool and that there are far too many that don’t have access - you don’t know what you don’t know – and in marginalized communities, what you don’t know can leave you behind. Deena creates bridges between marginalized youth and information. She enables access to Information about the broader world and how those youth can fit into it and thrive.
The promise of technology today and the dramatic impact it’s had on how we communicate and interact drives Deena to see opportunities for change and means for impacting the lives and careers of marginalized youth. However, young people of color and those who have been marginalized in various ways are not engaging with those thriving, specialized fields as career choices. Most tech-related opportunities are reserved for students who have already demonstrated promise and interest. In 2011, Deena started iUrban Teen Tech as a tool to provide empowering and inspiring programming that would steer these youth – especially the ones who are left out, overlooked and disengaged - into the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Her intended demographic is African American and Latino males, who are at the highest risk of dropping out of school in the Portland Metro area where Deena has built her program.
Since that time, more than 700 young people have experienced iUrban’s innovative programming known as iUrban Teen Tech. iUrban includes interactive workshops at tech summits that explore current technology trends and that expose students to leading speakers within various technologies. iUrban also sets up bi-monthly tours with local companies, allowing students to witness first-hand how technology is used and how it affects their daily lives. Industry tours include producers of animated video games, athletic footwear, cyber security, energy and many more. IUrban’s teen-led think tank also designs tech-based solutions for local community concerns and issues. These are then presented to public officials and business leaders.
What makes iUrban Teen Tech extra special is its community. It takes a village to support a child, and the iUrban village relies on all those stakeholders who have an interest in the success of these youth. Parents are at the center of that village, participating in summits, volunteering as chaperones on industry tours, and reinforcing the learning and exposure that students receive back in the household. iUrban also has the support of an impressive collection of leading regional CIOs through its STEM Industry Advisory Council. And, finally, universities, where as partners hosting programs on their campuses, they are able to excite student aspirations of one day going to college. Of course, no successful program could happen without the support of sponsors and volunteers – they help make it all happen.
“I am proud of the way that iUrban Teen Tech has established a welcoming community that also provides a strong support network, not only for racially marginalized children, but also those in foster care and youth with disabilities. At one summit, for example, we had participation from two tables of deaf students and we provided interpreters. We allow all youth that want to learn into our programs. Of course, not all of the participants who go through iUrban end up wanting to pursue STEM-related careers, but at least they’re having access to mentorship, being exposed to tech-related career possibilities, and most importantly, being motivated to graduate from high school and consider college as an option. Soon, iUrban Teen Tech will be expanding various parts of its programming into cities in Washington, California and other states.”
The development of iUrban Teen Tech has not been easy and does not rest on a strong financial foundation. Most of its sponsors, though generous, provide in-kind donations rather than the financial support the program needs. Its success and future continue to be in the hands of one very strong and dedicated woman and the support of a very few, yet consistent, volunteers. As Deena blazes a new path for marginalized youth to follow, she recognizes the uniqueness of her programs, their exceptional inclusiveness, and the broad impact of their diversity. The social impact of iUrban Teen Tech helping “Deena’s Kids” is enormous.
iUrban Teen Tech is part of Deena’s umbrella vision with two other social ventures: Mosaic Blueprint, a recruiting source for companies searching for diverse candidates, and the Urban Entrepreneur Network.“Everything I do is related to and fosters equity, diversity and inclusion. That’s what it’s about for me - trying to open doors for others as I wish someone had done for me. That is my path. Serving my community is what fulfills and inspires me to be a Champion of Change.”
Deena Pierott is the Founder and Executive Director of the iUrban Teen Program.