As the executive director and founder of Pass It On, Willie Sanders Jr. works to make sure people are not left behind when it comes to tech literacy, knowledge, and access.
The feeling of being left out is personal to him. Even though Willie’s mom bought him a home computer as a teen he still felt behind his peers when it came to technical knowledge.
“In college, I took my first computer classes and the instructor was teaching at a level above my knowledge,” he said. “The kids in the class had taken programming classes already and my school didn’t have that so I was left behind and it discouraged me so much that I dropped out of college.”
After leaving school, Willie started working with Byte Back DC. The non-profit provides inclusive tech training to adults. WIllie not only gained the skills he needed by he eventually began teaching tech through the program. The confidence he got through working with Byte Back inspire him to go back to school.
Now he’s a professor at University of Maryland Global Campus and Towson University, the very school he once dropped out of. Willie teaches classes in the school’s cybersecurity departments with a focus on cybersecurity and systems administration and networking.
Teaching at two universities wasn’t enough for Willie. He wanted to bring his skillset to more people and help those who didn’t have the opportunity to enroll in college.
“I wanted to start a program to help students who didn’t have the opportunity to get exposed to tech for various reasons,” he said. “In 2015 I was able to create Pass It On and we reach out to youth and adults. I’ve taught kids as young as 6 and the oldest student was in their early 80’s. Tech touches everything we do and everyone needs some exposure so they can develop and thrive in our world.”
His students range from people who are looking to begin a career in IT to people who take the courses as a form of enrichment. They are learning basic digital literacy skills so they can email with their grandchildren or use their mobile devices.
Pass It On has three focuses: Youth outreach, workforce development, and an IT internship and residency.
The youth outreach initiative involves partnering with other nonprofits to provide STEAM-related training. The classes Willie runs combines the arts with technology to appeal to more students. Programming includes graphic design classes and audio engineering workshops to teach kids to use software to create their own music.
Workforce development programming focuses on Comp TIA work, with Pass It On offering training in the 3 most popular programs for Comp TIA partner academies and have added an IT fundamentals course for students.
“The same programs I’m teaching at the university-level, I’ve brought to Pass It On so that’s a benefit my students get,” Willie said. “They get access to a university professor and that level of training as they go through our program.”
The crown jewel of Pass It On is the IT internship program. The non-profit does managed IT services for other nonprofits and small organizations who can’t afford full-scale IT services with interns shadowing employees.
Willie says it’s an opportunity for participants to get real-life experience for the things they learned about in books. Graduates of the internship program now hold positions at the Pentagon, various law firms in Washington DC and at an auditing firm.
By helping others, Willie says he gets as much, if not more, out of Pass It On’s programs as the students he helps.
“Being able to pass on this knowledge makes me a better IT professional because if I have all of this knowledge but can’t communicate it effectively what good am I?”
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