Syracuse University Magazine

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Jessica Santana ’11, G’13 and Evin Robinson ’12, G’14 founded New York On Tech.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Santana



Creating Pathways to Tech Careers

Technology is one of the fastest growing job sectors in the U.S. Yet less than 10 percent of New York City high schools offer computer science or technology-related classes. That’s what inspired Jessica Santana ’11, G’13 and Evin Robinson ’12, G’14 to create New York On Tech, a nonprofit organization that provides pathways for underrepresented New York City high school students into the field of technology. 

Since 2014, the organization has provided opportunities to 130 students from more than 25 high schools in New York City. Students enroll as juniors or seniors and receive weekly classes from computer science/technology experts, as well as mentorship and professional internship opportunities. New York On Tech is working with a cohort of 125 high school students for the 2016-17 school year. 

Although Santana and Robinson—who were named to Forbes Magazine’s 2017 30 Under 30 list in education—had met casually at SU, it wasn’t until they both attended a summer Ernst & Young Leadership Conference in 2009 that they realized how much they had in common. “I went to take the A train back home to Brooklyn and she was taking the A train as well,” recalls Robinson, who earned a bachelor's degree in communication and rhetorical studies from the College of Visual and Performing Arts. “We started talking about school, life, ambitions, wanting to give back. Turns out we were getting off at the same stop. We had grown up in the same neighborhood, but never knew each other until college.”

A connection was forged. A couple years later, Santana had graduated and returned to campus after starting her career at Deloitte. She met up for coffee with Robinson, who was finishing his master’s degree in information management and technology at the School of Information Studies (iSchool), and within a couple of hours, they had the concept for what would become New York On Tech sketched out on a pile of Starbucks napkins. “When you go back to your neighborhood you realize you can really be a catalyst for change in marginalized spaces where companies are not recruiting from, where mentors are not living in,” Santana says. “That was our call to action.”

Although young, both were already accomplished professionals. Santana, who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Whitman School of Management and a master’s in information management and technology from the iSchool, had secured prestigious internships while an undergraduate and went on to work as a technology consultant at Deloitte and Accenture. Robinson was a seasoned student entrepreneur who’d garnered numerous accolades, including the Goldman Sachs Entrepreneur of the Year and the Kauffman Foundation Entrepreneurship Engagement Fellowship. 

For a time, both worked as technology consultants at Accenture in Manhattan, growing their nonprofit on the side. Then in 2015, Santana was accepted into the Camelback Ventures Social Innovation Fellowship program, which provided seed funding and other support to grow the enterprise. She left Accenture to focus on the nonprofit full time; Robinson remains at Accenture, but is also integrally involved in the overall operation. 

New York On Tech is supported by corporate partnerships that provide funding and professionals who teach classes at the corporate sites, as well as a board of 12 directors and advisors and more than 100 volunteers representing over 30 different companies.

The organization was born from Robinson and Santana’s strong desire to give back. Only two and a half years in, the duo can already see the impact they are making. “The transformation of the students is amazing,” Robinson says. “They’re learning how to do front-end and back-end web development. They’re producing websites and mobile applications and video games.”

For her part, Santana says she never would have guessed she’d be the founder of a nonprofit organization. “But I feel like I’m on this Earth to live a life of service,” she says. “People need to think about the impact they want to have and whether what they’re doing now is going to lead to that legacy. If you follow your heart, success is always going to find you.” —Renée Gearhart Levy



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 The Reverend Yolanda Norton ’04 (left) and the Reverend Laurie Garrett-Cobbina ’84



Seminary Colleagues

Although their Syracuse University experiences occurred decades apart, the Reverend Laurie Garrett-Cobbina ’84 and the Reverend Yolanda Norton ’04 have formed a close bond as colleagues at San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS)—one based on mutual appreciation, a shared passion for teaching, and a common faith in the power of education to create compassionate communities.

Neither had plans to enter the ministry when they came to SU, where Garrett-Cobbina majored in mathematics and Norton studied political science. For Garrett-Cobbina, Sunday services at Hendricks Chapel became her mainstay, and she began to hear the call to care for and inspire others. “My time at Syracuse taught me to think in expansive ways and gave me a subtle grounding about what kind of work I could do in my life,” she says.

For Norton, a conversion experience during the summer before her sophomore year motivated her to become active with the Hendricks Chapel Students Offering Services (SOS) group. She developed close relationships with former Hendricks Dean Thomas Wolfe G’02 and SOS director Francis McMillan Parks. Those experiences helped point her toward making a difference and helping people through ministry. “Very early on, I saw a marriage between the church and the work of justice,” she says.

Both women are now ordained ministers whose paths crossed last summer, when Norton joined the SFTS faculty. Last year marked Garrett-Cobbina’s 10th anniversary at SFTS, where in 2006 she became the institution’s first African American woman professor since its founding in 1871. She is the Shaw Family Chair for Clinical Pastoral Education, teaching a range of subjects related to pastoral care, sociocultural competency, and education. She leads her students in a deep consideration of the importance of education as a means for liberation and justice and in exploring how education creates communities of care and what it means to care. “There are so many suffering people,” says Garrett-Cobbina, an ordained Presbyterian minister who worked as a systems analyst before earning master of divinity and master of theology degrees at Princeton Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. “And even for many people in ministry, it’s taxing for them to be around the suffering. Yet, I feel like that’s exactly where we have to be, if we want to encounter God.”

Norton is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister and Old Testament scholar who holds master of divinity and master of theological studies degrees from Wesley Theological Seminary and is a Ph.D. candidate at Vanderbilt University. Following her graduation from Syracuse, she worked with the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., before making the transition from policy work to the ministry. As a professor, her work is concerned with how black women find space and place in the Old Testament, and with examining the prophetic word and its context in contemporary society. “One of the broader gifts of being in this space is that you have exposure to people who are not like you,” says Norton, who has extensive teaching experience and has served in numerous ministerial capacities. “My hope for our students is that they’ll take all they’ve learned here and be the change, have an impact.”     

For both women, the work they do is made even more meaningful thanks to each other’s presence. “I love having Yolanda here—as a scholar, a conversation partner, and a reality checker,” Garrett-Cobbina says. “And to go to a faculty meeting now and I’m no longer the only black woman in the room—that’s nice beyond words.” —Amy Speach