Education / Jobs

Tech businesses show students the ropes

Pam Frederick

Miguel Sanchez, who runs Mass Ideation out of the BankNote Building, brainstorms with intern Santiago Peralta (right) and employee David Echevarria on an animation projecct. (Not pictured are interns Dario Oropeza and Derick Ramirez.)

New start-up matches young adults with mentors

As a student at City College, Guessan Effi knew she wanted to study mechanical engineering. She knew she wanted to create things, build things using her own ideas, her own plans. What she didn’t know is how that could ever happen.

“You don’t know how you are going to get from college to the real world,” said the 19-year-old. “I needed a bridge to see the other side – to see what I could actually do.”

Effi was picked from among a group of students working at The Point to participate in a new start-up being run out of the South Bronx Business Incubator called The Knowledge House. The program matches young adults with mentors in the technology field, hoping to create what the founder calls an “education-to-jobs network” in neighborhoods across the city. The organization’s first workshop was here in Hunts Point; this summer, Knowledge House will launch two six-month software development programs for 18-24-year-olds, one in Harlem and one out of the Hunts Point Library.

The goal, said founder Jerelyn Rodriguez, who is also the manager of the incubator in the BankNote Building on Lafayette Avenue, is to give young adults skills in things they are drawn to – like designing video games – and then transferring those to employable skills – like coding, building apps, assembling a portfolio. The added layer is the young adults are mentored by what Effi called “people who look like me.”

“It’s more parallel to my experience,” said Effi, who is black. “There is a lot of value in seeing people who look like you and seeing how they went about it. Especially if they did it from the ground up.”

As the owner of Mass Ideation, a company that builds complex digital graphics for brands such as Coke, Lufthansa and The Bronx Zoo, Miguel Sanchez knows how hard it can be to break through in the tech industry. And it’s even tougher, he says, if you come from the Bronx – as he did. “People would look at me when I came in for interviews and send me to the mailroom,” said Sanchez, who grew up around Yankee Stadium. “Just having the Bronx on your resume is a strike.”

In fact, while Sanchez runs his company out of the BankNote, he keeps a Manhattan office and a 212 phone number to assure potential clients. It was with that bias in mind that Sanchez got involved with Knowledge House from the start; he has now worked with more than 20 young adults who work as unpaid interns until they have the skills to be pulled onto real projects.

“How do you get experience when no one will give you experience?” asks Sanchez. “We want to have as much talent from the Bronx as possible. But we have to make it.”

On a recent weekday in a glass-walled conference room, Sanchez had two new interns and two seasoned ones gathered around the table discussing the idea of creating a signature aesthetic for the Bronx – a graphic style that would become emblematic of work made here in the borough. The style could be applied to books, to apps, to video games – essentially branding the borough “so they know who we are,” said Sanchez. The five spent at least an hour and a half brainstorming ideas; they would then break off to work on their own projects or shadow other staffers.

“He lets students have a hands-on approach to learn new things,” said Andrew London, the director of the animation program at Hostos Community College and the owner of a digital animation production company who feeds students to Sanchez. “He gives them a lot of freedom, and in some cases, they learn more from him than they can in a classroom.”

Rodriguez counts on Sanchez and others like him to sustain Knowledge House through these kinds of volunteer efforts. They help, she says, because they care, and they recognize themselves in these young adults.

Sanchez sees another angle.

“Time I spend with them is time I could be spending looking for work, but I think it will help me in the long run,” he said. “The more of these people I help, when they go on to big things, they will help me back. Eventually, people will want our brand.”


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