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Seahawks lineman Russell Okung exposes at-risk teens to technology with new non-profit GREATER

On the soccer area, Russell Okung is an enabler. The Seahawks offensive lineman is chargeable for ensuring his quarterback has sufficient time to discover an open receiver; he should additionally block opponents and filter sufficient area so his operating again can acquire yardage.

Off the sphere, Okung is doing the identical — however the folks he’s defending, guiding, and creating alternatives for are fairly a bit totally different.

Okung is the co-founder of GREATER, a new Seattle-based non-profit that goals to mentor at-risk youth and provides youngsters the instruments and mentorship they want to succeed.

A technique GREATER does that is by exposing younger adults to technology. This previous Tuesday, it held its second coding workshop on the Seattle Urban Academy (SUA), a small college in Rainier Valley that helps highschool college students who’ve beforehand struggled academically or behaviorally and higher prepares them for the subsequent steps in life.

GREATER invitations volunteers from Microsoft and Code Fellows who step away from their day-to-day jobs and spend time at SUA instructing the fundamentals of laptop science to a gaggle of 10 college students who’ve by no means discovered about the software program improvement course of.

Tuesday was simply the second coding workshop, however judging by the joy, focus, and fervour that the scholars confirmed, it’s clear that this publicity is already making a distinction.

Take TJ Mauigoa, for instance. Like Okung, the 16-year-old loves soccer. He’s an aspiring defensive deal with and hopes to play within the NFL some day. However he’s good sufficient to know that his athletic desires could by no means come to fruition.

Now the sophomore is studying about a complete different facet of technology and a possible new profession path.


“I didn’t actually look into coding earlier than, but it surely’s really fairly enjoyable,” Mauigoa mentioned. “All I knew was you’d get a smartphone and use Snapchat and Fb. I didn’t know about this deep stuff till now.”

In reality, Mauigoa already got here up with an app concept.

“It will assist folks discover job interviews,” he defined. “This may assist let you know when jobs can be found and you may apply on the app. You possibly can additionally discuss to the boss on the app by means of one thing like FaceTime.”

Or how about Peyton Rentz, one other 16-year-old who was breezing by means of the classes taught on Tuesday, leaping forward of classmates with a starvation to be taught extra about coding.

“It’s enjoyable,” Rentz mentioned. “You may inform the stuff what to do; you can also make your personal video games and apps. Earlier than, I simply downloaded these apps, however now I really know the way it’s made.”

Sharon Okamoto, government director and principal at Seattle City Academy (SUA), mentioned she’s already seeing a unique perspective amongst her college students.

“They’re seeing their picture of themselves begin to shift,” she mentioned. “They’re taking extra initiative. They’re main the way in which to class, preparing earlier than it even begins. I feel they’re seeing themselves develop a talent that may be transferable to a profession path.”

greaterfoundationOkung, born to Nigerian mother and father who immigrated to the U.S. simply earlier than his start, is aware of what these college students are going by means of. Lots of them are victims of gang violence and deal with a large number of distractions outdoors of those classroom doorways that make it tough to envision a 4-year school diploma or a well-paying job as even a risk.

However Okung desires to change that.

“I’m with these children and I see myself,” mentioned Okung, whose father was murdered whereas working at a gasoline station when he was 5 years outdated, leaving him to look after his mother and sister. “I simply so occurred to be the man that made it out, however everyone doesn’t have that luxurious. What occurs to everybody that may’t play a sport or who’s not concerned with leisure? You continue to want a livelihood, too.”

Okung, who stands at 6-foot-5 and weighs 310 kilos however could be very a lot a light big, sees potential with these at-risk college students who’ve struggled with college. Many have merely not been in the appropriate setting or had a mentor to present them a path towards success.

“It’s not due to a scarcity of capability, however somewhat a scarcity of entry,” mentioned the 28-year-old Houston native. “They deserve an opportunity they usually need an opportunity.”

To assist begin GREATER final yr, Okung teamed up with Andrew McGee, a former school teammate at Oklahoma State who’s the group’s government director. McGee mentioned one of many bigger targets for GREATER is to not solely present alternative for the scholars, but additionally trigger actual change in a U.S. technology industry that is lacking diversity.

“These college students have been appeared over and we try to appropriate that concern,” McGee mentioned. “The technology world is probably not filled with folks that seem like them, however that’s the battle we’re preventing.”

Added Okung: “These children perceive technology from a shopper standpoint, however not from an innovation standpoint. They need to do what the remainder of the tech world does — they need to change the world.”


Rick Duncan, a 15-year Microsoft veteran, helped lead the workshop on Tuesday, guiding the scholars by means of tutorials and classes on After spending greater than a decade at Microsoft, he is aware of that having staff from varied backgrounds who can share totally different viewpoints will assist firms develop higher technology.

“One among our core values at Microsoft is that we predict we will construct higher merchandise if we now have a various set of individuals engaged on it,” Duncan mentioned.

It was rewarding for Duncan to see the scholars on Tuesday not solely perceive what he was instructing, however excel. A few of them, like Rentz, have been flying by means of the workout routines and Duncan was compelled to make the curriculum more durable.

He famous that it’s essential to have extra children, significantly within the U.S., be uncovered to laptop science. Duncan defined that he interviewed 30 folks previously three months, lots of whom are graduates from locations like Stanford and MIT, and solely wished to rent three or 4.

“And most of those folks weren’t from the U.S.,” he added. “Now we have 300 million folks right here within the U.S., and if we would like to compete, we’d like to forged that web wider to actually seize folks. With GREATER, we can provide this out to of us that won’t have had the chance to be taught laptop science, and simply put a whole lot of bait on the market, see if it catches anybody, and assist these individuals who need to be taught.”

GREATER is tackling an advanced drawback, and having an actual impression will take lots of if not hundreds of hours. Somebody who understands this problem is Zithri Ahmed Saleem, a director at Seattle-based Technology Access Foundation, a 20-year-old group that runs a STEM-focused school and is partnering with GREATER to assist this system obtain its targets.

Saleem helps the mission that Okung and McGee are pushing ahead. However he desires them to understand how a lot endurance and perseverance is required to flip a hopeful intention into one thing that’s actually significant for the lives of at-risk and underserved children.

“Somebody like Russell, with the appropriate of us on the desk, may have a considerable impression,” Saleem mentioned. “But it surely’s simply potential till you make it actual.”

Beginning one thing like GREATER is a lot to tackle, particularly for somebody like Okung who’s within the midst of his NFL profession, recovering from an damage whereas trying to sign a new contract without an agent.

However the Professional Bowl lineman and Tremendous Bowl champion is assured that by partnering with organizations like Microsoft and Code Fellows — which brings in mentors to the workshops and affords scholarships to college students at SUA — his non-profit could cause systematic and institutional change over time.

“Soccer is my job and this can be very essential to me,” mentioned Okung, who earned a enterprise diploma at Oklahoma State and can be finding out for an MBA from the College of Miami. “I see my profession as a duty. A part of that duty is to perceive the platform I’ve been blessed with and managing my time so as to have the option to service all of my endeavors. I’m dedicated to seeing nice work being executed on all fronts. GREATER plans to do work higher than it’s ever been executed earlier than.”

GREATER is just not going to change the tech variety drawback in a single day, and even this yr. It’s taking a grassroots strategy and Okung mentioned the “large imaginative and prescient” gained’t come to fruition for at the least 15 years, when in the present day’s college students have created a profitable legacy for their very own youngsters. The plan is to construct a mannequin that may be replicated in additional colleges and that may attain extra college students throughout the nation.


However for now, as GREATER will get out locally and into these colleges, there’s already impression being made. Past studying JavaScript, growing their very own video games, and realizing {that a} profession in technology is an precise risk, it’s the in-person mentorship and course that Okung and McGee are offering that you may really feel contained in the classroom on Tuesday.

“Actual fast, guys,” Okung mentioned, standing on the entrance of sophistication and addressing the scholars. “If you’re devoted, you can also make it. I’m going to let you know (that) each week till you get uninterested in listening to it — I actually consider what you guys can do and I consider in your future. Congratulations, since you are nonetheless right here, you’re nonetheless prepared to go. So, hold staying at it, hold working. There’s a reward on the finish, as lengthy hold your thoughts to it and keep centered, keep decided. I’m pleased with you guys. Thanks for letting me be aside of this.”

Editor’s be aware: Russell Okung will probably be talking at GeekWire Startup Day, sharing classes from the soccer area that entrepreneurs can apply to their startups. Get your tickets to the Feb. 12 occasion in Bellevue here

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