Anyone who knows Pi515 founder and Executive Director Nancy Mwirotsi has probably heard her talk about preparing youths for the workforce of the future.

The nonprofit is seeing growth as it gears up for its next year of programming, including expanded curricula and new full-time staff and college interns.

Mwirotsi said a “powerful” moment recently was seeing the two companies that are each hosting a tech mentorship class this fall preparing for the upcoming programs and putting their commitment to supporting the tech workforce into action.

Below, Mwirotsi shares about what she and Pi515 have been focused on recently.

What is Pi515 working on right now?
We are at an interesting time in history, where young people prefer TikTok over Google, but are they ready for the future of work?

Recruiting and hiring local talent continues to be a challenge for most tech companies. A recent survey shows that outsourcing for software development is expected to increase by 70% between 2022 and 2023. Simultaneously, another challenge presents itself: Preparing youth for the future of work. The landscape of the global workforce is projected to shift heavily into digitized means of working by 2030. Equipping youth with the necessary technical and professional skills they need to meet these challenges is critical for the growth of our community.

We are excited to begin our 2022-2023 programs in October, partnering with Principal Financial Group, John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group, and Sukup Manufacturing. Our tech mentorship classes are co-designed by students, employers and college interns. These classes provide stackable technical and soft skills to get high school students into competitive tech jobs. Employers are seeking 21st-century skills like communication, critical thinking and intercultural fluency. Our classes impart these skills on students. We want learners to see value and feel valued in being in the tech industry in Iowa. We want them to know that the skills they learn will take them a long way. Iowa has great opportunities and companies that need them.

We have been inspired by this process to expand our mentorship classes to college students. This year, we will introduce upskilling workshops that provide critical professional development, including resume writing, interview preparation, passing technical interviews, and building a professional presence on LinkedIn.

Pi515 hires high school students to facilitate middle school programs. Our fall and spring Meta Engineer for the Week program will be held at Des Moines Public Schools’ middle schools. Over 60 students have already indicated interest in enrolling, and we’re still recruiting.

There will also be new and exciting curriculums for our Girls Entrepreneurship Summit and SMART cities summer innovation classes. These problem-based learning workshops give students opportunities to create solutions to real-world problems while learning valuable skills such as investing, pitching a business idea and confidence-building.

This year is looking to be one of solid growth for our organization.

What are your top takeaways from Pi515’s 2021 annual report?
The education and resource gaps that keep underserved youth in poverty are still present in Des Moines. The makeup of the tech workforce in the state still reflects a disproportionate lack of female, Black and Latino employees. Systemic barriers include lack of free, accessible and educational opportunities for youth and lack of support for high school students as they prepare for college and careers.

During the 2021-2022 programming cycle, we directly served over 150 students and impacted over 450 families across the state. Our impact and the resources we offer students and families closed the income gaps and overcome the cycle of poverty. Every high school student enrolled in our programs graduated and began college in fall 2022. Our students this year went to Duke University School of Medicine, Princeton, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Georgia Tech and universities in Iowa. This year we also noticed that multiple students are studying dentistry and medicine.

We have also begun analyzing the lasting effects of our programs on former students’ economic success. One former student who came to Des Moines as a refugee did not envision themselves attending college after graduating high school. Now, two years out of undergrad, they earn six figures annually as a software engineer. The knowledge, resources and skills that high school students learn through our programs have a lasting impact on their educational and career trajectories.

Every program offered was completely free to students and families. A six-month, high school Tech Mentorship class costs Pi515 $35,000 to plan, implement and execute. At the end of the six months, students not only get valuable skills but also get a laptop to keep. It is not cheap, but given the success we see in our students, we know that this is a significant economic investment in our community.

How is Pi515 allocating its funds from the $200,000 Goldman Sachs Black Women Impact grant?
Although Pi515 has always made a significant impact, until recently we struggled to meaningfully expand our reach. A consistent lack of financial investment kept our operational capacity low. The Goldman Sachs Black Women Impact Grant and an anonymous grantor have given Pi515 a combined $500,000 in multiyear funding. For the first time in the organization’s eight years of operation, Pi515 has a full-time staff aside from the executive director.

The funds recently received from the Goldman Sachs One Million Black Women Impact grant is being used to:

  • Create new interactive curricula for students.
  • Build a core team of dedicated professionals who embody the mission and vision of Pi515. A strong team that believes in the power of Pi515 to change the lives of the city’s youth is critical to its vitality and longevity. Full-time staff is also necessary to meet the challenges accompanying efforts to expand our impact.
  • Solve a clear and as-yet unaddressed need in the city. Currently, Des Moines does not provide youth with equitable opportunities to learn, innovate and experiment with technology. Our hope is to one day have a youth innovation center that empowers students to explore their interests in technology and embrace failure as integral to the learning process. The learning center would connect students with mentors and leaders that provide youth with resources and opportunities to further their personal, academic and professional success.

What are you learning from being in the MIT REAP group so far?
It has been fascinating to learn how much we know and don’t know. Des Moines and Ames are close together, but each city possesses a unique ecosystem. One point of agreement is that a connected, innovative ecosystem thrives through intentional connection and collaboration fostered among key stakeholders. Our key goal is to engage all the possible stakeholders in the next few months and find ways to help re-energize our ecosystem.

I am particularly interested in the talent pipeline, youth innovation, the gaps between employers and the future workforce, and how we help businesses scale and support entrepreneurship. Also on how we close gaps such as access to funding for entrepreneurship. This unique opportunity allows us to build a robust, unified, inclusive and thriving innovation ecosystem right here in Iowa.

What is the most interesting thing you have heard or read recently?
“We are at the crossroads of technology and the future of humanity. We’re all shifting our thinking, changing the way we view, experience, and contribute to the world. To be better humans and take better care of our planet. To be the voice of humanity. We can work together to create a future where humanity will be our bravest and most enduring tech trend.” – Judy Slatyer.