Increasing computer science enrollment for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) students has to start with building community, and nonprofit ColorStack recognizes that.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported that of the 79,598 computer science degrees awarded in 2018, only 8.9 percent of them went to Black students, and more than 50 percent went to white students. The lack of diversity bleeds into the tech workforce as well. Less than 10 percent of Google’s national workforce identifies as Black or Latinx, while nearly half of Apple’s global team is white professionals.
These statistics are stark. That’s why Jehron Petty launched ColorStack, a nonprofit that runs community building, academic support, and career development programs for Black and Latinx college computer science students across the U.S.
ColorStack runs a three-week virtual career-building boot camp, hosts a 12-week computer science program, puts on a three-day computer science summit, and manages a Slack community of students. The 23-year-old CEO has always been passionate about mentoring, and he wanted to find a way to help out his fellow computer science peers. Petty said he was “sort of an anomaly in the ecosystem.” Hence, he came up with a solution to help increase the representation of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities in computer science.
“My peers who were Black and brown weren’t doing as well in the classroom. So, I focused on solving that problem,” Petty said in an interview with AfroTech.
Petty launched ColorStack alone in May 2020, but he has since grown his nonprofit’s team to four employees and an intern. He studied computer science at Cornell University before launching ColorStack, and he leaned on his peers and community to get his nonprofit off the ground. After seeing much success within the Cornell community, Petty decided to take ColorStack to a new level. In its first year and a half of business, the nonprofit has landed roughly $1 million in funding from private investors, corporate sponsors and grant programs.
Petty said his tech nonprofit has tripled computer and information technology enrollment of Black and Latinx students per class in three years across their participants and has a growing community of more than 1,000 computer science students.
Being a young Black tech founder comes with many challenges, and for Petty, the biggest one is people doubting his capabilities to lead efficiently. ColorStack’s CEO overcomes these challenges by making sure he attracts trusted partners, like Triplebyte, a technical recruiting platform company. In August 2020, Triplebyte entered a partnership with ColorStack and agreed to incubate and provide operational funding to the tech nonprofit for at least two years.
“The program has exceeded my expectations in terms of helping me grow as a leader and helping me think of my business as an executive and not just a founder,” he said. “Getting that advice from seasoned professionals has helped me [especially as a young founder] learn how to become a CEO.”
Another thing helping Petty excel as a young leader is his stacked resume. During his tenure at Cornell, the tech nonprofit CEO completed engineering and product management internship programs with Google. He turned down a full-time gig at Google to pursue building ColorStack. Petty said these accolades had granted him access to people and opportunities he otherwise wouldn’t have come across. Petty is also part of the 2021 Blavity.org Growth Fellowship class.
“Something I do very well is market myself,” Petty said in a Startup Cornell podcast episode.
While he is working to make ColorStack a well-known brand like Black Girls Code and the National Society of Black Engineers, he also hopes students will gain academic support, career guidance, job preparation, and new connections when they interact with ColorStack.
Over this next year, Petty is focusing on strengthening and scaling ColorStack’s programming.