December 5, 2023

For no charge, students at Urban Coders Guild attend evening classes twice per week, taught by seasoned professionals from Tulsa’s burgeoning technology industry.
(Photo provided by Urban Coders Guild)

TULSA – Some people discover their life’s passion sooner than others. And for Mikeal Vaughn, his passion surfaced at the age of 12, while he was sitting in his bedroom, messing with a barrowed computer.

That’s where the kid from northeast Tulsa taught himself the fundamentals of computer science, and that’s where he charted a course in life that carried him out of high school to a degree from the University of Maryland and into a tech career in Japan.

After spending 10 years in Tokyo, a city he considers the most wonderful place on Earth, Vaughn said he experienced a “burning bush moment” that led him home to establish a nonprofit dedicated to teaching computer science to young people from historically underserved communities in Tulsa.

Vaughn, founder and executive director of Urban Coders Guild, has been operating his nonprofit for five years, and he says 80% of his students are Black, brown, or Native American and a third of his students are girls.

Urban Coders Guild is based on the OSU-Tulsa campus and its programs are free to students. His curriculum comprises two-hour classes that students attend two evenings per week from September to May. The guild offers six-week summer programs and other activities when public schools are not in session.

Vaughn says classes are taught by a cadre of instructors with a variety of qualifications that include certifications, corporate experience, and advanced academic degrees in computer science. They teach web development, android app development, iOS app development and computer games development.

“We operate on a first-come, first-serve basis, and all are welcome,” he said. “We don’t turn anyone away as long as they agree to show up to class.”

Vaughn said he established the school with 20 students five years ago, and enrollment has been doubling every year since then. So far, more than 300 young people have participated in various classes and programs. A core of about 25 students started with the guild while they were in middle school and they’re still coming as they approach high school graduation.

Sondra Slade said her daughter, Sydney, is a sophomore at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa and has been studying coding at Urban Coders Guild for about a year.

“It’s awesome,” said Slade, whose son, Jomali, studies cybersecurity at Southeast Missouri State University. “I wish they would have been available when my son was in middle school and high school.”

Urban Coders helps young people break into the computer culture, Slade said. “I’m sorry more kids don’t know about it because it bridges a gap and that was needed,” she said.

Vaughn said the nonprofit is funded through a mix of sponsors and philanthropic organizations in Tulsa, such as the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Coretz Family Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Asemio.

“UCG is a phenomenal organization, and we’re proud to support Mikeal and his team’s work,” said Jessica England, director of strategy and partnerships at Asemio, a social enterprise that uses technology to affect communities in positive ways.

“As a social enterprise working in data and technology, we are motivated and proud to support programs like UCG, who are not only providing vital computer science and tech education but are also focusing their efforts on supporting communities that have not historically had access to the same opportunities,” England said.

“UCG is one part of the puzzle that’s creating the next generation of tech leaders.”

Vaughn said he was led to establish Urban Coders Guild by the desire to share his good fortune with young people who face challenges growing up in historically underserved communities. More than half the students Urban Coders Guild qualify for free and reduced lunches, which is a common measure of poverty.

He said he was fortunate to have his computer skills when he was young. They allowed him to afford the high cost of living in Tokyo for a decade.

He says his students many not want to live in Tokyo, but their computer skills will allow them to follow their own dreams. That may include college, but they don’t have to go to college for successful careers in technology. A growing number of technology companies are waving college degree requirement. Mainly, they’re looking for people with experience and credentials.

“These kids are like my children that I love and adore,” Vaughn said. “Technology is booming in Tulsa, and I want my kiddos to be part of that.”


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