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Partner Spotlight

Investing Time and Heart: How This 2U Community Partner Is Helping Diverse Students Thrive in Tech

Written by Adam Hill | Ellen Herrera on Nov 30, 2021

Related content: Corporate Social Responsibility, Strategic Partnerships

Proud Marcy Lab School graduate Devonte Duncan and family

Devonte Duncan discovered his knack for coding back in high school through a basic skills course. But it wasn’t until he found himself struggling to find his path in college and a former teacher introduced him to the Marcy Lab School, an innovative nonprofit college alternative, that Devonte saw a chance to pursue his passion. “I thought, either I take this leap of faith now or pass up an incredible opportunity,” he recalls. The leap paid off. Devonte is now a successful software engineer at WW International making a six-figure salary, a feat he never would have dreamed of only two years ago.

Located in Brooklyn, New York, Marcy Lab has been a community partner of 2U’s Brooklyn office since the school launched its first cohort in 2019. Widespread support from 2U and other companies has helped the school provide Devonte and many other young adults with a truly unique, exceptional, and completely free post-secondary education experience that prepares them for fulfilling careers in tech. All of Marcy Lab’s students are from low-income backgrounds, and many come from communities of color.

As the Brooklyn co-chairs for 2U’s Community Steering Committee, we were intent on finding a regional community partner that meets the passion and purpose of 2U’s mission. Marcy Lab’s vision to provide greater access to high-quality education pathways for diverse populations of learners could not be more natural in alignment. With the support of dedicated 2U volunteers, Marcy Lab continues to grow an exciting new generation of lifelong learners, offering them what Co-founder and Chief Program Officer Maya Bhattacharjee calls an “alternative to college that all of our students are seeking and deserve.”

Co-founder and Chief Program Officer Maya Bhattacharjee (top row, second from right) surrounded by fellows

“Investing Their Time and Their Hearts”: How 2U Volunteers Are Making a Difference

Marcy Lab offers an approach to learning that’s “student-centered in every interaction,” says Bhattacharjee. Each day begins with mindfulness meditation and gratitude journaling, and ends with the opportunity for fellows—otherwise known as students—to share their wins and challenges. This self-reflection bookends a curriculum built on two pillars: 1) technical courses that offer a deep dive into software engineering fundamentals ranging from programming to web design to data integration, and 2) leadership development that focuses on identity, diversity, and crucial workplace skills.

The dual focus on technical skills and personal growth ensures that fellows leave the program with a problem-solving mindset that makes them “fully equipped to enter the workforce,” says Bhattacharjee. “It’s an approach that would not be possible without 2U’s incredible volunteers. They’re investing their time and their hearts into us.”

One such volunteer she praises is Mike Cronin, a software engineer at 2U who holds office hours up to three nights a week to assist and guide Marcy Lab’s fellows. “Mike hangs out and video chats with our fellows to help them solve technical problems,” says Director of Partnerships Travis Fox. “He acts as an expert voice in the field, and a guidepost for their day-to-day skills development.”

“He’s a rock of the community,” adds Bhattacharjee. “So many human beings at 2U have given themselves to our work with such love, humility, and care. They’re really helping our fellows live out the Marcy Lab mission and launch financially rewarding, purpose-driven careers in tech.”

So many human beings at 2U have given themselves to our work with such love, humility, and care. They’re really helping our fellows live out the Marcy Lab mission and launch financially rewarding, purpose-driven careers in tech.
— Maya Bhattacharjee, Co-founder and Chief Program Officer, The Marcy Lab School

Career Success: Resources, Options, Freedom, and Time

After one year of rigorous training at Marcy Lab, many graduates have been known to land full-time software engineer roles with six-figure salaries. In fact, the median compensation for alumni 60 days after graduation is $103,500. “But career success is not just about money,” Bhattacharjee says. “It’s about being able to have freedom over your time, give back to your community, and grow in purposeful and meaningful careers.”

“For many of our fellows, success goes beyond a nice paycheck and job title,” adds Fox. “It's being able to secure housing for your mom or siblings, for example. It’s moving out of the neighborhood that you've been in for generations. It's being able to pay off debt from the three years of college you tried before coming to Marcy Lab, like Devonte.”

According to Marcy Lab’s mission statement, traditional college options often leave many young people—especially those from communities of color—with no degree and no path into a meaningful career. These students often wind up saddled with debt, or leaving higher education altogether. In turn, this gap in education contributes to racial and gender disparities in the tech workforce. Marcy Lab points out that Black and Hispanic workers comprise just 5.5% and 6.8% of computing jobs, respectively, with women filling just over a quarter of those jobs. For many students, tech jobs can seem unattainable—unless there’s a pathway forward.

The Marcy Lab School class of 2021

That, says Bhattacharjee, is why the goal for fellows like Devonte is not only to acquire the skills they need to be competitive in today’s digital economy—but also use the career success they find through Marcy Lab to pay it forward for others behind them. “We encourage our fellows to see themselves as change agents, with code as their tool of choice. Our fellows are inspired to use their algorithmic power to build apps and solutions for their communities and create more platforms that include as many diverse communities as possible, rather than exclude people,” she says.

Looking back, Devonte couldn’t be more grateful for his time at Marcy Lab. “It was amazing to be part of the program and get to build it from the ground up as part of the first class,” he says. “I haven’t quite figured out my destination, but I know I have the resources now to steer whatever that journey will be.”

At 2U, we’re proud to help Marcy Lab launch as many of these fulfilling learner journeys as possible—and we’re excited to work toward all that lies ahead, together.

Learn more about us.

At 2U, we’re on a mission—to eliminate the back row in higher education and help partners thrive in the digital age. To learn more about who we are and what we do, follow the links below.