learn / 2014

Opportunity Fund: Transformative Education & Opportunities in Technology for Underrepresented Groups

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by General Assembly Opportunity Fund

An innovative scholarship program from General Assembly to provide education and opportunity in technology for underrepresented groups

Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

An innovative scholarship program from General Assembly to provide education and opportunity in technology for underrepresented groups

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

The Opportunity Fund is supported by Benefactors, who contribute capital toward a Benefactor-branded scholarship fund for underrepresented groups of their choosing (women, minorities, veterans or other).

Individuals who meet General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive criteria are eligible to receive this scholarship and become Fellows for this 3-month immersive class that will transform them into employable software engineers.

Upon graduation, Fellows are required to volunteer 100+ hours mentoring youth with our partnering tech education Non Profit Organizations.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

The pilot Opportunity Fund program kicked off this June in New York, with 6 fellows receiving scholarships. Over 300 online applications were received, and 3 more fellows were recently selected in NY.

This November, General Assembly intends to expand into cities that have a high demand and need: LA and San Francisco.

Working with our group of Benefactors, we are securing scholarships for underrepresented groups in each of these new markets and will begin marketing this opportunity in middle of August to have the first group of students in our November classes.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

There is an unemployment problem in LA County, which has surpassed the national average since 2008. There also exists a diversity problem inside of this statistic, with many minorities making up a disproportionate amount of the unemployed.

Meanwhile, if we continue on our current course of state budget cuts, education, which received the lowest rating, will remain a significant impediment to human development in LA County. These two issues are highly related and are at the core of the Opportunity Fund’s mission.

General Assembly delivers best in-class education in technology, business and design - essential skills needed for the 21st century economy. Not only do we provide practical experienced based learning, we are creating a globally connected group of entrepreneurs and practitioners invested in each others success.

The Opportunity Fund, through General Assembly’s flagship Web Development Immersive (WDI) program, is aimed at getting minorities and underrepresented groups access to this network and opportunity so they too can participate in this future.

WDI is a proven job creator:

-Close to 100% of all job-seeking WDI students have received full-time employment within a few months of graduating -We have over 2,000 hiring partners - including Twitter, Facebook, Google -WDI has a paid Apprenticeship Program that supplements in-class learning with on-the job experiential training and mentorship

We have already started to leave a footprint in LA county: opening a campus in Spring of 2003, with 95% of job-seeking WDI graduates finding employment.

By 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings, but universities are predicted to produce only enough qualified graduates to fill about 30% of these positions.

Furthermore, over 1/3 of hiring employers reported difficulty finding suitable candidates.

The Opportunity Fund can Increase the talent pool of candidates in LA right now, and specifically reward underrepresented groups with a chance to participate in a more prosperous economic future. The existing partnerships in place with tech education Non Profits will ensure Opportunity Fund fellows give back what they have learnt to their respective communities.

This volunteer work Fellows give to youth after graduation will serve to inspire the next generation and create a strong collection of talent and entrepreneurial community that can shape LA in 2050 and well beyond.

Whom will your project benefit?

Here are a few statistics to demonstrate the problem:

-Only 24% of computer science and math employees are women -Women account for just 6% of CEOs at the top 100 tech companies, and 22% of engineers overall -Only 1 out of 10 STEM professionals are minority women -African Americans make up less than 3% of all scientists and engineers, Hispanics 4% and all other groups 3%

The reality however is that there is a shortage of employable talent at startups and technology companies: The current rate of unemployment for technology professionals is around 4% - half the jobless rate of the US.

There is clearly a misalignment of opportunity and skill set. The Opportunity Fund will benefit underrepresented groups in technology and get them into the workforce.

Specifically the Benefactors are currently working with have pledged to support Women, Veterans, Blacks and Hispanics. (We allow our Benefactors the ability to determine which group they wish to target and help.)

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We have existing partnerships confirmed as per below:


  1. Google - Supporting fellowships for Women in tech
  2. Paypal - Supporting fellowships for Women in tech
  3. NAS - Supporting fellowships for Blacks and Hispanics
  4. Microsoft - Supporting fellowships for Veterans
  5. HirePurpose - Supporting fellowships for Veterans

Non Profit Partners:

  1. CodeNow - http://codenow.org/
  2. ScriptEd - http://scripted.org/
  3. CoderDojo - http://coderdojo.com/
  4. Black Girls Code - www.blackgirlscode.com/
  5. All Star Code - www.allstarcode.org/

The collaboration between our Benefactors and Non Profits with the Opportunity Fund is essential. As part of the Opportunity Fund experience, our fellows need to be aware of and identify with the Benefactors purpose of providing the scholarship.

Additionally, it requires a commitment to volunteer 100+ hours with our Non Profit partners, to learn about their mission and document and share this experience with their community.

General Assembly will document and share this journey amongst its global network of entrepreneurs, alumni and community, as well as with the Benefactors, ensuring the outcomes and experiences touch everyone.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • Percentage of children enrolled in early education programs
  • Percentage of community college students completing a certificate, degree, or transfer-related program in six years
  • Youth unemployment and underemployment
  • Student education pipeline (an integrated network of pre-schools, K-12 institutions, and higher education systems that prepares students for seamless transitions between high school, higher education institutions, and the workforce) (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

  1. Percentage of children enrolled in early education programs:

The volunteer work Opportunity Fund Fellows will do with partnering tech education Non Profits is focused on youth in their communities. These programs are specifically designed to encourage youth to apply and engage in learning technology. A fellow will be able to demonstrate actual projects they have made in WDI and inspire and teach youth how technology can empower their futures.

  1. Percentage of community college students completing a certificate, degree, or transfer-related program in six years:

The Opportunity Fund offers 3 month immersive opportunity to learn how to code and graduate with the skills needed to be employed as a software engineer. Community college students unable to find opportunities in expensive or selective programs will be targeted by this initiative, purposely giving them a chance where one is currently lacking.

  1. Youth unemployment and underemployment:

Job seeking graduates from General Assembly’s WDI program have consistently found employment anywhere this course is taught (In the United States: LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, New York and Washington, DC.)

Specifically in LA we already have a measured success rate - having placed 95% of the graduates from this course.

There is no pre-requisite skill set that is needed - just an ambition to learn how to code and desire to work in technology. This program has the ability to take complete novices and turn them into junior software engineers in just 3 months.

  1. Student education pipeline (an integrated network of pre-schools, K-12 institutions, and higher education systems that prepares students for seamless transitions between high school, higher education institutions, and the workforce) (Dream Metric)

By working with tech education Non Profits, we are deliberately focusing on sharing the outcomes our Fellows will gain with their community and its youth. There are many Non Profits driving the mission of education and technology for our youth and The Opportunity Fund supports this network and encourages their involvement, ensuring kids can start learning and following their interest in this field from a very young age.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

  1. 100% of our Fellows finding employment after graduation
  2. Increased number of children mentored by our Fellows with our Non Profit partners
  3. Increased enrolment of children in local Non Profit youth technology programs
  4. Increased economic activity and output of our Benefactors, Non Profits and the cities in which our graduates live
  5. Increased supply of employable talent in technology companies
  6. Increased technology and tech related job offerings in the regions in which we operate
  7. A decrease in the underrepresentation of minorities in technology and in the income levels in LA county
  8. Increased partnerships with tech education Non Profits serving local youth
  9. A rise in income and education levels for minorities in LA County

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

  1. People want this - we’ve received overwhelming support from Benefactors and Non Profits about this initiative. Most importantly, the passion and enthusiasm we’ve garnered from our applicants is truly special. When you hear from people who have been unable to pursue their passion due to lack of opportunity - financial means or otherwise - you become aware of how great a chance this is to change someone’s life and the people around them. Our pilot received a large amount of applications and we believe this will grow even further with our expansion in LA and SF.

  2. Each community is different - We are working with different organizations and Non Profits to deliver this service and they all relate to this mission differently. Google identified strongly with increasing Women’s role in technology, while Microsoft had a desire to support Veterans. The point is there are many needs to be served, and we think we’ve built something that enables the flexibility to adapt to them as needed as we enter new markets.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

We received an overwhelming and higher than expected number of applications for our pilot test of the Opportunity Fund in New York this summer.

We were quickly able to secure Benefactor interest and funding required to offer the scholarships and secure the partnerships with education tech Non Profits. At the time of writing our first group of fellows are in their second month of this experience and are showing positive results and enthusiasm during this demanding 3 month program.

Our current fellows in NY have already been introduced to the Non Profit partners they will be working with and are excited to get started when they graduate this September.

General Assembly is headquartered in NY, however we offer this immersive class in 12 cities across 4 continents. Thanks to this pilot we have navigated the initial operational hurdles required to implement the program in NY and are ready to expand into other cities.

A big marketing push will be coming to LA and SF (our next Opportunity Fund markets) this August - and we believe we will be able to replicate the success we’ve experienced in NY and have an even smoother launch with some experience gained delivering this in NY.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

  1. Ensuring we have serious candidates:

Our pilot in NY received a significant amount of candidates, however there was some difficulty in finding serious candidates who had an interest in technology versus candidates who were more focused on receiving a subsidized opportunity. Our immersive program is intense and difficult, and a candidate needs to have a strong desire to learn how to code and work in technology. In order to ensure we get the best candidates, we will strive to make it more clear during our application process what is expected, and more clearly define what we are looking for form a candidate.

  1. Volunteering:

We take the Non Profit volunteer work very seriously, and require all Fellows to volunteer 100+ hours upon graduation by matching them with our Non Profit partners. When a candidate graduates however, they are invariably focused on finding a job - something we help them with through our Apprenticeship program. It is on us to ensure candidates are aware of the importance of volunteering after completing our course too, and how it can improve their chances of finding employment and what it can do for their local communities.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)