Past TMF Highlight: Renaissance 21

Welcome to another part of the Technology Matching Fund & Digital Navigator Cohort Grant blog series! In this series, Seattle IT will be covering the Technology Matching Fund and Digital Network Cohort which is a project to build onto Seattle’s Digital Equity Statement and how qualifying non-profits can apply.

If you have been following this blog series, you are already aware of the impressive work being done across the City of Seattle by TMF grant recipients. This post spotlights Renaissance 21, a non-profit organization with a mission “To provide education, training, and resources to changemakers to develop their ideas into nonprofit programs.” To learn more about this organization, we spoke with co-founders Julian Saint Clair and Adrienne Pruszynski.

Specifically, the grant money received was used to support Renaissance 21’s lead program, Star Tech Global Academy. Star Tech Academy was created to improve diversity and equity in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) by educating underrepresented youth and giving them the tools to succeed in these fields. “Part of what we thought was one of the issues of the current pipeline (which creates digital divide and inequity) is not enough people discovering the cool things STEAM has to offer,” says Saint Clair. “I don’t know that people think about how you could be in forestry or in the music studio using technology and you have a career in STEAM.”

Their STEAM Discovery Project co-created workshops at all seven of the Teen Learning Hubs across Seattle with help from STEAM professionals in the community. At each workshop, underserved youth are introduced to STEAM pathways and careers, the journey of getting into a STEAM career, and challenges and how to overcome them. Providing everything from transportation to tech devices, the TMF grant has helped to ensure that Star Tech is free for students and a success overall. “We had a great turn out, especially given that we had limited building capacity because of COVID. So it was offered virtually and in person for the students that go to the Community Center for their learning environment during this remote school year,” says Pruszynski. “We only increased the number of students that showed up each workshop, and we had the majority of the students sign up to inquire about our mentoring program.”

An exit survey was given after each workshop that found 100% of students reported feeling more confident in pursuing STEAM careers, increased interest in STEAM, and more confident in overcoming barriers. Going forward, Renaissance 21 hopes to be a part of the research that finds and establishes best practices for motivating youth to pursue careers in STEAM. While their curriculum on how to educate youth about STEAM is evidence-based, there is not substantial research on how to make one-day programs, like the STEAM Discovery Project, most effective. Saint Clair elaborates that “we plan on writing at least a white paper, maybe an academic research paper, from our results” to help make other programs more effective.

As for digital equity work in the Seattle community, with their next grant Renaissance 21 hopes to start a program that operates on a four-week timeframe that specifically works to change attendees’ mindsets that STEAM careers are not just achievable, but the right path for them.
When asked about advice for future TMF applicants, Pruszynski highlights the importance of budgeting and ensuring that your budget tells the story of your program, including how funds will be used to work towards digital equity. Pruszynski emphasizes that “you want to be careful with the budgeting and make sure you put the right weight in the right places for highlighting the digital equity that you’re trying to make happen.”

Saint Clair brings up two important pieces of advice as well: having a good understanding of who the grant funders are and branding yourself well. “A big lesson learned is just having some conversations and introducing yourself. It helps you understand what the needs are for the grant and how to phrase things, because there’s different dialects, different language that gets used by different grant makers. That is important to learn in the process of getting to know your grant.” As for the branding piece: “At the end of the day the people evaluating your grant application are evaluating several others, and if you don’t have something that makes them say, ‘Oh, that’s interesting’ – that makes you memorable – then it’s going to be that much more difficult to stand out.”