Jessica Santana is one of the co-founders of New York On Tech (NYOT), a nonprofit organization on a mission to prepare the next generation of technology leaders emerging from New York City. NYOT provides students with access to the development, mentoring, networking, and professional experiences that prepare them for degrees and careers in technology.
Prior to NYOT, Santana worked as a technology consultant for global brands such as JPMorgan Chase, Accenture, and Deloitte. She has been named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and the NYN 40 Under 40 Rising Stars list. She is a Ashoka Emerging Innovator, Pahara Institute Next-Gen Leader, World Economic Forum Global Shaper, and Entrepreneur in Residence at General Assembly. Santana has presented and spoken to over 50 different audiences at venues such as SXSW Edu, TechCrunch, Google for Entrepreneurs, the White House, Thomson Reuters, and Bloomberg. She graduated with undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting and information technology from Syracuse University.
How did your education and previous professional experience shape your current work at NYOT?
I am a proud product of NYC public schools and the first person in my family to graduate from college and grad school and obtain a career in technology. Having that personal trajectory has really informed NYOT’s program design and outcomes for its young people. I was once the student I now serve, and as a user who has become part of creating opportunities for others, this has allowed me to think critically about how we create culturally relevant curricula, engage parent and community voices in our work, and help provide resources to schools that do not have the capacity for their own programs. It has also helped us think about our work as more than just creating a pipeline of talent, but as an organization that is fighting for economic justice for young people in underserved communities.
How do you hope your work at NYOT will change the way students learn?
NYOT wants to position students to think of themselves as the creators and designers of technology, not just the consumers. While Gen-Z may seem to be on the phone for hours every day, they are not necessarily being positioned for opportunities in innovation.
Over the next 10 years, more than 500 thousand jobs will be added to the U.S. technology economy, and we have the opportunity to really help shape our nation’s talent strategy. Our goal is that when students think about their interactions with technology, they will have the skills to critique it in ways that lead to the creation of bigger innovations with the tools and assets they have acquired in our programs.
We believe that if we can shift how students learn and think about technology, they will eventually invent solutions that solve issues for the communities they are from in ways that are authentic and get to the root of systemic problems. I will also mention that we think about our work as creating a culture of social change agents; when students leave our programs, our hope is that they have learned that they should be coming back into our classrooms as peer mentors and champions for the next generation.
What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
A few things we have learned through our work with NYOT is that students are starting to take their education and careers into their own hands, not just relying on their schools to prepare them for their futures. A few broad trends we are seeing include online and mobile learning, a movement toward skills-based and project-based curricula, and a strong desire to pursue real work experiences prior to entering collegiate programs.
This generation is very savvy, knows how to navigate the world wide web, and as a result takes the initiative to either self-teach or enroll in programs that help them toward their futures. However, I will mention that not all opportunities for them are created equal across marginalized identities, but I believe there is a strong desire from them to be entrepreneurial, creative, and immersed in technology in ways that position them for competitive opportunities.
Apart from your work at NYOT, what else are you working on?
My work with NYOT keeps me pretty busy throughout the year, so I try not to commit to many things outside of our mission. With that being said, I still have a few projects and commitments that I am working on. I am co-creator of Innovators & Disruptors, an annual awards show and event celebrating the achievements of diverse people working across the field of technology. I also recently became a contributor to Women@Forbes, participate in speaking engagements, sit on the board of a nonprofit organization called PowerMyLearning, and frequently volunteer with my university and other programs that I am an alum of.
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Image: Courtesy Jessica Santana