Tag: Healthcare & Education

Raye Jones Avery: Vocalist, Educator and Arts Advocate

EducationAn Advocate for the Arts

Wilmington resident Raye Jones Avery is a dynamic creator who sparks change.

As a child, Raye Jones Avery was interested in the arts. And no wonder. Avery was one of six children, and her mother, an educator, encouraged them to amuse themselves with creative play. “We did a lot of singing and came up with our own choreography,” recalls Avery, whose family moved from Philadelphia to Wilmington when she was 6.

Today, the arts are a career and a passion for Avery, who still lives in the city. Her business,
High Intensity Productions, focuses on content for cultural programming. She does not lack experience. For nearly 30 years, Avery was the executive director of the Christina Cultural Arts Center in Wilmington. She’s been a curator, educator, activist and mentor. She’s also a recording artist.

And she’s seen the arts flourish in her hometown.

An Artist with a Cause

Avery’s family moved to Delaware for work. Her father, Valley Rice, spent the bulk of his career teaching mathematics at Bancroft Junior High School. Her mother, Lillian, an early educator, also worked in city schools.

Between teaching and tending to the family, the couple was busy. What’s more, two of Avery’s siblings were born with a genetic disorder. “They were severely ill, and I became a caretaker at a very young age,” says Avery, the second-oldest child.

The family lived in an East Wilmington community full of residents with an entrepreneurial spirit. Her father, for one, took plumbing and furnace jobs on the side. But he always found time for books. “He was a voracious reader,” Avery says. “I got my appetite for literature from him.”

Indeed, the book buff studied English literature at the University of Delaware and earned an interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree in English and sociology. She began her career in education advocacy at the Parent Resource Center led by Councilman Jea P. Street, Sr.

She also worked for Planned Parenthood and earned a master’s in health services administration from West Chester University. Working at the United Way of Delaware offered a broader perspective of the area’s nonprofit world for Avery, who led the first statewide needs assessment.

However, she never lost her love for the arts. The mother of two took dance and music classes at the Christina Cultural Arts Center. When a leadership position opened, she expressed her interest.

A Collaborative Community

Avery was with the nonprofit cultural arts organization for so long that many people think she founded it. But, in fact, the Women’s Club of Trinity Episcopal Church started the group in 1945 to provide activities for immigrant Polish and Swedish families.

In 1969, led by visual artist educator Percy Ricks, CCAC became a community-based arts center emphasizing African American cultural heritage. The organization purchased and renovated a Market Street building in 1993, and today, thousands benefit from CCAC’s services each year.

In 2001, Avery helped start the Kuumba Academy Charter School, which serves children from kindergarten through eighth grade. The school, created through a partnership with CCAC, unites the arts, academics, technology and families. The academy has received national acclaim, including a congratulatory 20th-anniversary message from Raymond Lewis, a former NFL player with the Baltimore Ravens.

Programs at CCAC, Kuumba Academy and other organizations have helped boost the arts in Wilmington, Avery says. “We have some great arts organizations — when people come here from other places; they say it’s remarkable.”

Artists are storytellers, she says. They build social cohesion and are economic drivers in a community. She’s encouraged by the support for local artists from larger entities, such as the Delaware Art Museum, The Delaware Contemporary and City Theater Company. In addition, Avery encourages more support for The Creative Vision Factory, a drop-in center for residents with behavioral health needs.

In 2021, the Delaware Art Museum commissioned Dara Stevens Meredith to choreograph “a bold new work,” “The Bridge of our Roots,” which explores the lived conditions of African American women, Avery says.

The film presentation was recorded in front of “Southern Souvenir No. II,” a powerful painting by Eldzier Cortor.

“Supporters encouraged a live presentation of the moving dance suite,” says Avery, who handled audience development and fundraising for the project. The dancers performed in front of sold-out crowds at the Delaware Theatre Company and the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in Philadelphia.

Next, Avery hopes to raise funds so Meredith and multigenerational dancers can tour Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). But first, Avery says, she will join Meredith for her 40th birthday in Egypt this summer, a gift from Kuumba Academy founders.

Catalyst for Change

From Avery’s Quaker Hill neighborhood, she can walk to many arts venues, including the Delaware Contemporary and the Delaware Theatre Company on the Wilmington Riverfront.

She currently volunteers on year-round programming related to one of the city’s most popular events, the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. The annual concert series honors the virtuoso Wilmington-born jazz trumpeter who died at age 25 in a car accident. The recent year-round concerts have been in-person and virtual.

Avery has also been on the road. At the suggestion of friend and collaborator E. Shawn Qaissaunee, a Wilmington jazz artist, she applied for and received the Robert Johnson Endowment Fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst, VA. Her project combines creative fictional writing with a companion CD.

The artist has already recorded two CDs, primarily in the jazz genre, which include rearranged standards and originals that merge the spoken word with music. Expect more. Avery is taking piano lessons at CCAC with Stacey Harcum to help her compose.

No doubt, Raye Jones Avery will achieve her goals — with a little bit of help from her creative friends and community. The best thing about Delaware, she says, is the “deep camaraderie and kinship.”

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Creating Opportunities, Connection and Community in Delaware

The strongest communities are the ones that can come together to uplift others, and Logan Herring of WRK Group has learned and lived that lesson since coming to Delaware. Serving as the CEO of WRK Group, Herring uses his compassion and drive to support people who, throughout time, have experienced numerous barriers to success due to institutionalized racism. Even before founding WRK Group, Herring worked at various organizations dedicated to assisting those vulnerable populations within communities, showing just how much he truly cares about his fellow neighbors. In January 2021, Herring was named one of the most influential Delawareans due to his efforts to improve the lives of those within his community.

WRK Group consists of three separate projects: REACH Riverside, the Warehouse, and the Kingswood Community Center, each of which has a specific attention. REACH Riverside looks to transform the Riverside Neighborhood by improving the housing, community health, and education. The Warehouse is a center for teens that focuses on recreation, education, arts, career, and health to help them become their most successful selves. Finally, the Kingswood Community Center is looking to be revitalized and turned into a state-of-the-art center with an early learning center that provides children with the education they need. All the organizations within WRK Group give to the community, but Herring notes that particularly with REACH, they are putting forth more effort to listen to those in the community and catering to their specific needs with their help. 

“I’m Logan Herring, CEO of the WRK Group, the Warehouse REACH Riverside in Kingswood Community Center. We’re looking to do 600 units of mixed income housing, in Riverside neighborhood, build a state of the art Kingswood Community Center with an enhanced and expanded early learning Academy. And then the last piece of the puzzle is the warehouse where we’re seated right now, which is a 43,000 square foot facility that has a coworking space and collaborative effort of teen serving organizations. 

Obviously, everyone is a little bit more conscious of the historic, systemic, structural oppressions, the policies and procedures that have kept people that look like me back for far too long. And what we wanted to do was position ourselves, position our community, where we’re leading in front, where we’re stepping out and giving our youth an opportunity to be heard, to feel empowered. So that’s what we’re doing with this facility. 

That’s what we’re doing with the REACH Riverside revitalization effort. We put the community first, we put the community’s needs first and we listen. And we don’t just listen, we bring them into the fold and allow them to, work with us on the solutions. 

Delaware has extreme advantages within this purpose built communities model. Everyone here is so close knit and we’re able to mobilize so quickly. So, it’s nothing for us to have the governor, the County executive, the mayor, our state senators, our legislative delegation and Lisa Blunt Rochester here, all at the same time or in and out of the building whenever we need them. And they’re just a phone call away. 

It’s exciting to raise a family in Delaware and I hope more people come to Delaware and they can see that as well. It only takes a couple of years to get acclimated, then it’s like, once you’re here for a couple of years, you are automatically a Delawarean ’cause you know everyone already. I’m just really happy to be able to have my son here and for him to have so much love around him, whether it’s family, friends, or people I’ve come to know along the way.”

The Community In Delaware Can Feel Like Home to Anyone

Without the productive and close community in Delaware, these goals would be much harder to achieve. However, because the people care and want to give their all to their community, it makes getting things done easier; Herring even says how quickly they can get high-ranking government officials in their buildings to make change happen fast. Because of this tight community, Herring is extremely excited to be raising his family in Delaware. The people make the state what it is, creating a welcoming community that can feel like home to anyone. From community initiatives that put the people in focus to supportive individuals who push for change, Delawareans show that there’s real heart in everything they do.

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Young Professionals Choose Delaware

Not many people are lucky enough to say that where they live has all the ideal factors, but when it comes to the citizens of Delaware, they can proudly boast about a place that is perfect for all aspects of life. Delaware has been experiencing an influx of young professionals who choose to live somewhere they know will provide them with job opportunities along with a welcoming community.

Over the years, while the size of the state has remained the same, the business and residential communities have grown. Residents of Delaware feel connected to each other, and this allows them to make meaningful connections. As interviewee Jason James points out, more people seek out diversity when it comes to their work and home lives. The younger workforce wants to become involved with people unlike themselves—they want to engage with others so that they can learn and become more in tune with their communities.

Because of these reasons, young professionals choose Delaware as it is a state whose diversity is growing each and every year. The range of diversity allows people to pursue a variety of interests, showing that Delaware is truly a place where anyone can come and thrive.

Kyle Gay: Delaware is a place to live, work, and play, for millennials and for people of all ages.

Kyle Barkins: Really easy to meet people here. I think it’s very easy to establish strong relationships. And it’s easy to get things done.

Charles Vincent: If you can’t get ahold of the person, you have somebody who can, and you’re able to just get things done faster. Instead of talking out stuff, we’re able to do stuff.

Nicole Magnusson: I love the community in Delaware. It’s small enough to know your neighbors, but also big enough to explore and learn new things, and find new places to eat, and shop, and have fun.

Jason James: This generation that’s coming up is really interested in living and working in diverse spaces. Research studies support that over and over again, when millennials are asked, what attracts them to being in a certain place, it is diversity. It’s multiple people, multiple people with different backgrounds, and multiple things to get involved in. So this is really an opportune area for millennials to really move into and work in.

Daniel Walker: We’re flexible as a small state, so we’re able to find what interests a person, and really capitalize on that. And I think that’s what makes the networking so great.

Kyle Gay: We chose Wilmington because we knew that this was a great opportunity for us; both in our careers and finance, and in law, and for the family that we wanted to have, and we finally do have now. It’s a great place to raise children. A great opportunity for people and families to be ingrained into the community.

Jennifer Saienni: And you don’t have to wait years to see the difference of what your work is doing. You are able to come to Wilmington, come to Delaware, and make an impact!

Young Professionals Living the Good Life in Delaware

Young professionals like these agree that Delaware is an ideal location for work and life. You can find great fulfillment and success in your career through the ever-growing job market. More businesses are discovering that Delaware is a great state to locate in, and this allows for job opportunities of all kinds.

And work isn’t the only positive Delaware has to boast. From restaurants to shops to parks to beaches, Delaware has everything that makes a home state worthwhile. Residents of the state take advantage of its many amenities while also making meaningful connections with their fellow neighbors. The community of Delaware, in both the business and residential life sense, provides endless support for all those looking to make the First State their home.

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Dr. Milton Muldrow

Dr. Milton Muldrow

Dr. Milton Muldrow loves Delaware

Dr. Milton Muldrow

Wilmington University Chair of Science & Delaware NASA Space Grant Associate Director

Dr. Milton Muldrow was first introduced to NASA’s Space Grant Project when he was named chair of Wilmington University’s Science program six years ago. As he and his team developed science programs for WilmU, “Delaware’s Place for Earth and Space Science,” his goal was to align the university with the nationwide project through the Delaware Space Grant Consortium.

“The Space Grant’s mission is to produce the workforce of the future for NASA,” said Muldrow. “They do this through research engagement for college students, internships and fellowship programs.”

Several WilmU students who have participated in the Space Grant Consortium have gone on to make an impact in the scientific community. “We got involved to get more resources for our students,” Muldrow said. “Now, those students are doing amazing things.”

Through Muldrow’s leadership, research and involvement with NASA, science is now a top priority at WilmU. Just as important, students are continuing into various professions in science, environmental science, engineering and other related fields.

Three years after Muldrow joined WilmU’s faculty, the university had the state’s second-highest enrollment — 94 students — in an undergraduate Environmental Science program, a credit to Muldrow and his team’s efforts to open the science field to students who may not otherwise have had the opportunity.

At WilmU’s Brandywine location in North Wilmington, “we designed new, state-of-the-art laboratories,” said Muldrow. “We also gained funding from the NASA Space Grant to examine genomic engineering of corals and steered Wilmington University toward the science. This has changed the STEM landscape for Delaware as all new programs have succeeded in attracting Delaware students.” WilmU also has launched a bachelor’s degree program in Biology, which Muldrow chairs.

Before coming to Wilmington University, Muldrow worked as a biologist and program analyst for the National Science Foundation (NSF), where he helped write its first reports on climate change. His duties included making funding recommendations for research experiences for undergraduate grants, leading NSF-supported research projects in Florida involving marine invertebrate population studies and producing a climate change brochure.

Muldrow earned his Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Public Policy at George Mason University in Virginia; his Master of Science degree at the University of Missouri – St. Louis; and his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology/Environmental Science from Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania. He came to Delaware by way of Baltimore, Maryland.

“After graduate school, I did a lot of work for the federal government and National Science Foundation,” he said. “But I really wanted to get back to academia. That was always my final goal.”

While looking for opportunities in the education field, he discovered that WilmU had an open position that was perfect for him. “It was such an amazing opportunity to have some influence on a department and create new programs,” he said.

Location was a big part of the position’s appeal. “Delaware is great,” said Muldrow. “Professionally, I find it’s easy to access all types of people throughout the power structure. It’s easy to make partnerships. Delaware is a state that works together, and that’s amazing to see. You don’t find that everywhere. It’s been a great place to launch a scientific career largely because of that.”

Muldrow has delivered two TEDx Talks, including one that hit the top five in the environmental science topic. He also is recording several episodes of “The Great Courses,” a series of recorded courses available on Audible and other platforms.

“I have been working on a series for synthetic biology, which includes discussions about the modern marvels of the genetics revolution, synthetic biology and space, CRISPR and gene editing, de-extinction and xenobiology, among many other topics involving synthetic biology,” he said.

Outside his academic commitments, Muldrow is married and has four children. His family enjoys sports, traveling and visiting Delaware landmarks. “We are a pretty big sports family,” he said. This includes watching sports, both on television and in person, and participating in their favorite games. Muldrow’s two oldest sons play football, and his 11-year-old is interested in running track this year in middle school. “Both watching the game and attending in person, sports is a great way to spend quality time together,” he said.

A favorite place for the Muldrow family to visit is the Delaware Museum of National History. “My kids love the see-through floor section where they can walk on top of a coral reef,” Muldrow said. “They also love the trails outside. We’ve been going there for many years, since they were very small, and it’s a great place to spend the day together as a family.”

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Dr. Dan Young

Serial Entrepreneur and

Dr. Dan Young loves Delaware

Dr. Dan Young

Bringing an Academic Legacy into the Future

Dan Young has no shortage of ideas. The serial entrepreneur typically has many initiatives in play. Currently, he is the organizer of TEDxWilmington, the chapter director of StartUp Grind Wilmington and founder of Maverick Class, an edutainment company. His calendar is filled with volunteer activities.

More recently, the Delaware native is receiving accolades for his work at Goldey-Beacom College. In 2018, he became the founding director of the school’s Doctor of Business Administration Program. Students from the first cohort graduate in 2021.

Young, who holds advanced degrees in marketing, took an entrepreneurial approach to the curriculum.

“I looked at the full landscape of doctoral business programs to figure out what we could do that no one else was doing,” he explains. He concluded that the program should be built on the premise that students can help solve business problems in the community.

The doctoral students have tackled projects for the Delaware Department of Labor, American Airlines, the office of the New Castle County [Delaware] Executive, Theatre N in Wilmington and The Mill, a coworking space.

Young is also an assistant professor in the program. But it’s not his first foray into academia. He has education in his blood.

  • ambassor profile Dr. Dan Young

  • ambassor profile Dr. Dan Young

Upholding a Family Legacy

Young’s grandfather — who went to Howard University and the University of Pennsylvania — was the first Black school principal in Delaware. His father, William Young, received a scholarship to Harvard University and became the head of human resources at Wilmington Trust Bank. Young’s mother spent nearly four decades in education, primarily working as a vocational-technical school career counselor.

“I always think of my family as the ultimate Delaware success story,” says Young, whose great-grandfather was a foreman on the Pennsylvania Railroad. 

The Concord High School graduate, who played varsity football and ran indoor track, was accepted at both the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware. He ultimately chose to attend UD on a full scholarship.

Because Young admired his marketing professor, Stewart Shapiro, Young remained at UD for his master’s degree and worked alongside Shapiro. Five years later, when he was a financial planner, he went to Temple University for a Ph.D. in social and behavioral marketing.

“I like to be busy,” he says. 

Delaware’s Academic Spirit

Over the years, Young has taught at Wilmington University and in the Horn Program of Entrepreneurship at the University of Delaware. He’s held his TEDxDover events at Delaware State University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), and he has colleagues at Delaware Technical Community College.

“And we have incredible access to our lawmakers, CEOs and the media,” he says. “We can make incredible inroads in terms of communicating between all the stakeholders in business and the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

“It’s incredibly easy to work with all of them because of the close proximity of those colleges and universities,” he says, noting the schools’ missions and demographics form a talent pool of diversity.

Goldey-Beacom has a reputation as a premier accounting and finance business school. Delaware’s location near major cities makes it easy for the students to visit companies in the Greater Philadelphia area, review best practices and come back to campus.

Part of the students’ mission is to market their “clients” to potential investors. The region also boasts a remarkable number of angel investors, Young notes.

From a personal standpoint, Delaware allows him to pursue his passions easily. Technical.ly Delaware named him their Culture Builder of the Year for 2020 and Delaware Business Times chose him as a Finalist for its 2020 Small Business Advocate of the Year. His personal goal is to recruit, train, mentor and place 100 new Black business professors in Delaware colleges and universities by 2025.

Young, who feels blessed for his opportunities, is not about to slow down. The Delaware success story is fond of quoting the Biblical passage from Luke 12:48: “To whom much is given, much will be required.”

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Alonna Berry

Founder, The Bryan Stevenson School of Excellence

Alonna Berry loves Delaware

Alonna Berry

MILTON – Alonna Berry comes from a long line of Delawareans from rural Sussex and Kent counties – many of them educators – and says Delaware is near and dear to her heart.

That is why it probably comes as no surprise where the idea for The Bryan Stevenson School of Excellence (BASSE) came from.

“It started from a kitchen-table conversation about three and a half years ago,” said Berry, the school’s founder who’s leading a team of volunteers that hopes to open the Georgetown charter school in Fall 2022. “Most of us are educators and we started talking about a service/learning high school in Sussex County centered on Bryan’s concept of the power of proximity.”

Berry is a first cousin to Milton native Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer, social justice activist, and founder/executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. His story was the focus of the 2019 movie Just Mercy.

Stevenson regularly talks to audiences about finding ways to get “proximate” to the poor and vulnerable to solve social problems.

“Many of us have been taught that if there’s a bad part of town, you don’t put your business there,” Stevenson told a crowd at Fortune magazine’s CEO Initiative conference in June 2018. “But I am persuaded that we need to do the opposite. We need to engage and invest and position ourselves in the places where there is despair.”

Berry says her journey started with her “deep connection to the power of education. One of my great aunts on my father’s side was the first woman of color in the Smyrna School District and went from being a secretary to superintendent. Another taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Kent County when schools were still segregated.

Entering college, Berry’s dream was to be a judge because she saw the intersections between law and education as critical to the well-being of the community.

Berry said that what makes Delaware great “is its [small] size and access. You can have an impact here in transforming the way we think about education.”

As a student at Syracuse University, Berry majored in Writing and Rhetoric, which gave her the opportunity to tutor inmates at the Auburn (NY) maximum security prison for their GED degrees once a week.

“I would sit across the table from men who were old enough to be my grandfather who couldn’t read or do basic arithmetic,” she said. “That’s what brought them into the criminal justice system, and it drove me to think about the impact of law through the lens of education.”

After college, she joined Teach for America in Jacksonville, Florida, where she taught 9th grade English to students at the time of the

shootings of Treyvon Martin and Jordan Davis, who was killed at a gas station right across the street from where she lived.

“My students were directly impacted by the events in Jacksonville at the time; many of them knew Jordan Davis. I couldn’t ignore these things in my classroom; we had to address it. All that is part of the reason I came back to Delaware, which is near and dear to my heart. The same images with race and bias were still prevalent here, and my nephew was just entering the education system.”

While with Teach for America, Berry participated in the organization’s Rural School Leadership Academy, a yearlong fellowship for aspiring and current school leaders that looks at innovative schools beginning with a reservation in New Mexico.

“I learned from that experience that rural schools are less talked about, less researched, and less funded,” she said. “If we wanted to impact Sussex County, we thought we should do it from the heart of the county – and that’s Georgetown.”

Berry says the academy taught her that “you can’t do this alone. We need a relationship with the community to have the impact we want. We need to bring in all the stakeholders.”

Since returning to Delaware, Berry has taught at William Henry Middle School in the Capitol School District; worked for the State Department of Education in the Teaching and Learning Branch; and Teach for America Delaware, supporting leadership development, classroom training, and teacher coaching. Beyond that, she is very active in a number of local nonprofits including the Delaware Center for Justice, the Youth Philanthropy Board of Sussex County, and Delaware Guidance Services.

Berry, who earned her master’s in Management and Organizational Leadership from Wilmington University and is pursuing her doctorate in Organizational Learning and Innovation from WilmU, said the new school in Georgetown will focus on “service-learning.”

“Through service-learning, we can partner with local community organizations and nonprofits to create spaces so students can see for themselves what’s going on around them and that they can have the impact to change that, Berry said, adding that Stevenson has given the team “his blessing and support but sees this as our project. We’re inspired by his life and mission.”

Berry said the idea to integrate service-learning was the volunteer team’s “a-ha moment.”

“It’s not the school’s role to tell students how to do X and Y; it’s to expose them to opportunities,” she said.

Berry said she was also inspired by a TED talk given by pediatrician and California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris about seeing multiple children showing up at her office with similar symptoms. Rather than just writing them a script and sending them home, she decided to go into the community and figure out what makes them sick.

Berry says local businesses and nonprofits are starting to come aboard. Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach and the Lewes Library are sponsoring a reading in September where 25% of sales will go to the school. The Milton Historical Society has a Bryan Stevenson exhibit that could raise awareness of the school, says Berry, who recently became the society’s interim executive director.

“I think the pandemic has actually helped to accelerate our work in a lot of ways, Berry said. “Other schools never planned for the scenario like the one we’re in today. We’re asking ourselves whether we have the ability to be 1:1 with students and give them devices to use to learn and to see how other schools and districts are providing broadband. We’re building those scenarios now on the front end.”

Berry said that what makes Delaware great “is its [small] size and access. You can have an impact here in transforming the way we think about education. Charter schools can be controversial, but they started as an opportunity for communities to innovate. That’s what BASSE is doing. We’re not trying to be big. We’re trying to build a community-based partnership and co-create what education looks like. If we’re successful, perhaps other schools will think about it for their kids.”

BASSE will start with grades 9 and 10, with 100 students per grade, and have 350 to 400 students in four grades by Year 3. The school will be open to all Sussex County students, but Berry expects that most will come from the Georgetown area within the Indian River School District. She does concede that organizers have not yet had a conversation with district officials.

“Education is and should be for the community – parents and family members, small business owners, clergy, — if we do a good job of educating our students, a rising tide will lift all ships,” she said.

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Stephanie Eldridge

CEO, Code Differently

Stephanie Eldridge loves Delaware

Stephanie Eldridge

Just two years ago, CEO Stephanie Eldridge and CIO Tariq Hook launched the learning center Code Differently, and their impact since cannot be overstated. Delaware Prosperity Partnership caught up with Eldridge remotely as she and their team are driving their business remotely with no loss in impact.

Code Differently aims to increase diversity and technology directly into the workplace. Students are primarily in college as computer science or engineering majors. The makeup of Code Differently’s classes are 98% black and latino, and within that 40% female. Women represent 25% of the technology base, but black females represent only 3% and hispanic females 1%.

“Diversity and inclusion have not only been a part of our mission from the beginning, it’s frankly been a part of our lives,” Eldridge says. Eldridge grew up in Aliquippa, a small town in Western Pennsylvania that she describes as “a tech desert.” Aliquippa is a blue-collar town that was once booming with steel mills. Once the steel mills declined, the economy declined and the educational system started breaking down. Her time in Aliquippa became the foundation that motivated her into creating a different possibility.

Eldridge attended Morgan State University, an Historically Black College and University (HBCU), who at the time were graduating the most black engineers in the nation. “Both Tariq and I worked as engineers in the industry in Delaware. I was at JP Morgan Chase at the Delaware Tech Center and Tariq was at Zip Code Wilmington.”

Eldridge arrived in Delaware based on geographic convenience. “My boyfriend at the time, now my husband, was living in Philadelphia and I was working in the Baltimore/D.C. area, and we decided Delaware was the perfect mid-point.”

Code Differently is now on the Wilmington Riverfront, in the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce building’s Emerging Enterprise Center. “The great thing about Wilmington is, if you need to catch a train, you are right there downtown. You can be in Philly, Baltimore, D.C. and New York faster than you could drive.”

In Code Differently’s 2020 cohort, there are 43 students, of which ten are from Delaware State University. “Our intention was to have all 43 students here in Delaware for the summer to see all of the great things about Wilmington and Delaware itself.” Unfortunately COVID made this impossible.

Seven of the 23 Code Differently’s students from last year ended up relocating to Delaware after recognizing the opportunities and resources here. “We are great creators of technology here in Delaware, but we’re also great importers of technology.”

Seven of the 23 Code Differently’s students from last year ended up relocating to Delaware after recognizing the opportunities and resources here. “We are great creators of technology here in Delaware, but we’re also great importers of technology.”

Eldridge is reminded constantly about the benefits Delaware has provided for their business. “I don’t know another location where you are one person, one degree of separation, away from any need. When we look outside of our windows we see the backdrop of the companies that we serve most,” Eldridge says. “When I look to the left, I see JP Morgan Chase and Capital One building that helps support our HBCU program, HBCU CSC, who also support our high school students. It is really helpful that the decision makers from these companies are actually located in Delaware.”

The most powerful piece of Code Differently is their network. “We are able to provide people who are already in HBCU industry, and that network has increased tenfold over the last year. So you have this family of corporations willing to help guide each student in ways that were not traditionally available.”

The amount of small businesses that are downtown has also been a win-win. “It gives us a vision for where people started and where they can go, the importance of supporting people in your network.”

Why ‘Differently’? Having been challenged in fitting people into boxes where they may not fit, Code Different decided to build programs that remove these barriers. 80% of the people in Code Differently programs are working 30 hours or more each week while they are in college. The consequences of that are often lower GPAs and less access to the technology needed to excel in those classes.

“Imagine you are a computer science major, COVID hits and you are at home, and now you have no access to the computer lab in your university. We try to remove those barriers. We provide a stipend so they don’t have to work, we provide them with equipment and internet access, and we focus on their professional development,” Eldridge says. The majority of students at Code Differently are first-generation college students. Most of them “come from families that don’t have the life experience for coaching on how to operate in corporate America.”

Code Differently looks are themselves holistically within the tech field. “We don’t want to be all things to all people. If there are programs already out there that we could partner with, we do.”

For example, Code Differently partnered with the New Castle County Summer Youth Program. They came up with the idea that, instead of just having the students work in the brick and mortar location, they could create a software development shop that could teach high school students how to create websites and mobile apps as a work-based learning experience.

“There are very few internships and apprenticeship opportunities for high school students in tech. So right now we have 40 students working with us, virtually now, from 12-5 p.m. every day. And we are able to work with our partner companies — the JP Morgan Chases, Barclaycards, and CSCs we have in our network provide real projects for our kids so they are getting real work experience. And by bringing in real engineers and developers to talk to the students, real relationships and experiences are occurring organically at the high school level.”

In addition to corporate partnerships, the Department of Labor, New Castle County school districts and Rodel Foundation are contributors to this effort. “It’s a great example of a private/public partnership that benefits the future career choices and development of teens.”  

The results speak for themselves, and Code Differently has begun shifting the statistics that go back to the beginning of technology. “Out of the last group of high school students that have since graduated, every one of them are going on to high learning and 80% going into computer science or IT. And this becomes a pipeline for colleges that we partner with, like Delaware State University, who are now providing us with mentors in our program.”

When asked what single change she would like to see in the Delaware School system, Eldridge does not hesitate. “Embed technology in any subject that is taught in a school district. If you want to be an investment banker, you need to know how to write scripts to analyze data; if you want to open a restaurant, having an understanding of what goes into your ordering app or reservation system especially in situations like the one we are in, is essential.”

“Technology should be embedded into everyday life. It is an accessory to everything we do. If COVID has taught us anything, it is that the way we continue to run society is through technology.”

Eldridge believes the biggest misconception about technology is that it is too hard. Anything with great reward takes some work. A lot of people feel defeated when they hear the word coding, so sometimes we don’t use it. “Come help us build a game using technology.”

“In the black community, the biggest misconception is ‘I can’t do it’ which has its reasons. There are not enough people in the industry that look like Tariq and me, to give them the confidence that they could possibly do it.”

Using Delaware, its location, resources and community as a springboard, Code Differently is changing the face of technology with velocity and passion. The mantra she likes to share about Delaware is, ‘We get things done here.’”

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Alexis Huttie

Second Grade Teacher, Spanish Emersion Program

Alexis Huttie loves Delaware

Alexis Huttie

Second grade proved to be a pivotal grade for Alexis Huttie. When she was in second grade, she ended up taking “a year of growth”. And then she would find herself experiencing that grade many times over but in a very different way.

Huttie’s return to 2nd grade would become the seed that inspired her to become a teacher. “I wasn’t the strongest reader, and I wasn’t the most confident student in the world. Taking that year off was a difficult decision that my parents, who are both teachers, allowed me to make.” Huttie worked to repeat a lot of the skills she had struggled with to become a more independent learner.

She excelled in school from thereon. She graduated from Dover High School and received a full scholarship to Delaware State University through the Scholar Teach Educators Program (STEP) to pursue a degree in Education.

In her senior year at Dover High, Huttie did an internship at Fairview Elementary school with Susan Adams, her old kindergarten teacher. The first day of her internship was September 11, 2001. “Seeing how much of a difference the educators made that day solidified that this is what I want to do.”

Huttie returned to teaching with a position at South Dover Elementary School. At 600 students, South Dover has one of the largest and most diverse elementary student populations in the state. After six years at South Dover, Huttie was nominated for Capital School District Teacher of the year in 2018 and won. “It was one of my most humbling experiences ever. I am my biggest critic.”

“I believe that school should be a memorable and meaningful experience. It’s not just about the numbers or shoving knowledge into the students’ brains. It is about understanding the whole child. So I often wear some kind of crazy costume or Wonder Woman outfit — my alter ego. Everything in my classroom is superheroes.”

Huttie is currently teaching the English side of the second-grade Spanish Immersion program. “My two children are in the program and now they are more fluent in Spanish than I am!” Looking forward, Huttie is interested in developing her own education even further. “Ultimately I want to teach teachers to be good teachers. There really isn’t anyone who can prepare you unless they have actually been in the trenches.”

With a constantly evolving curriculum, more interactions with the community are proving to be helpful. “We’ve recently had them at the Hispanic Festival at Holy Cross, we have a district fiesta where they sing and dance and recite poems to show their skills. We do a field trip to local restaurants where the students interact with the staff and each other entirely in Spanish.”

“Delaware had and continues to have everything I need to be successful and flourish in my profession including competitive salaries for educators and opportunities for continued education.”

Collaborations and relationships with local colleges and businesses have been key in helping the program extend beyond what is typical for a school district. The BRINC consortium (a collaboration between Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vocational Technical, and Colonial School Districts) is working to integrate the Blended Learning Initiative throughout the combined districts.

“We do a lot of work with the United Way, they give books out to the students every month. We have partnerships with Wesley College, Delaware State University, Wilmington University. Anytime we need volunteers for activities that we are doing they are more than willing to send students, football and basketball players, which is a great experience for our students.”

Huttie has worked with Shore United Bank’s local outreach nights which provide materials and raffle baskets for the students. “Last year they bought us school supplies and bought us gift cards to be sued for additional school needs.”


When asked about her connection to the state, Huttie was clear. “For college, I chose Delaware State University to take advantage of the STEP program. From being in this program, and being in my hometown, I was able to network and create partnerships that I still have and value today. I knew what I wanted to do for my career. I wanted to make a difference as so many educators, including my mom, had made for me. My path was clear. Honestly there was no other option. Delaware had and continues to have everything I need to be successful and flourish in my profession including competitive salaries for educators and opportunities for continued education.”

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Stephen Sye

CEO, Futures First Gaming

Stephen Sye loves Delaware

Stephen Sye

Gaming Their Way to Prosperity

Futures First Gaming looks to create Esports industry pipeline in Delaware

If Stephen Sye, CEO of Futures First Gaming, has his way, his company will have planted the seed that germinates the entire Delmarva region Esports industry. Esports, or electronic sports, is a style of competitive sports played through the medium of video games – particularly multiplayer games played by professionals as individuals or part of a team.

“We’re a STEM.org Accredited™ Esports and educational organization focused on growing and cultivating the Esports community and industry in the region,” said Sye. “With the exception of the University of Delaware, the state itself has only a small underground scene right now as it relates to gaming culture – especially in comparison to other places like Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and New York City.”

The organization, which launched in February, is taking several approaches to its mission simultaneously. Futures First Gaming’s business model rests on four pillars, said Sye. The first is to advocate growth in the state’s existing Esports industry; the second is personally host competitive and recreational events to create opportunities for involvement; the third is to hold educational programs focusing on workforce development and the fourth pillar is to work with schools and universities to launch their own Esports teams to engage in tournaments.

Though their goals are ambitious, Sye believes now, more than ever, is the time for this effort. Gaming has long suffered from a perception problem – but that’s on the cusp of changing in a big way, he says.

“For a long time a good portion of the population has felt that playing video games is a waste of time, but this industry is growing by leaps and bounds and the opportunities for lucrative careers and entrepreneurship are growing every year,” said Sye. “Look at it this way; there was a League of Legends Championship in 2018 that had more than 200 million viewers tune in. That was more viewership than the Super Bowl, NBA finals and Major League baseball game seven had that year combined. There are gaming events in this space that are selling out venues like the Staples Center in 12 minutes.”

Perhaps a function of changing tastes, it’s been long predicted that Esports will supplant traditional sports in popularity. Sye says that ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the time window this was expected to happen has shortened.

“Viewership of Esports was already expected to eclipse that of traditional sports by 2022 – but now with COVID limiting audiences and introducing a lot of unknowns in terms of schedule, Esports has a huge advantage,” he said. “Esports is projected to be a $300 billion global industry by 2025. That’s huge. And, it comes with an enormous amount of opportunity and career pathways.”

Gaming Camp

Hoping to nurture the next generation’s desire to enter the Esports industry, Sye says the company held its inaugural Futures First Camp this past summer.

“Looking at the landscape, 83% of black teens game, but only about 9% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professionals are black.”

“It was a virtual summer camp this year, but it was 100 hours total,” said Sye. “Our Futures First Program focuses on Esports, coding, gaming, and entrepreneurship. Over four weeks, our team worked with students from 8th to 12th grade for five hours per day. Two hours were devoted to coding and game design – with the help of our partners Coderrific Academy and Code Differently. Then there’s one-hour for entrepreneurship where we cover things like starting a business, marketing, promoting, starting a website, Esport monetization and live streaming. Then the last two hours is basically gameplay. Gamers worked on communication, teamwork, strategy, and gaming skills development.”

There were 10 graduating students in the first class over the summer. Sye says it was a great proof of concept. The class’s final project was evidence of that.

“Over the last two weeks, the campers were tasked with a hands-on collaborative project to produce and host their own online Esports event,” he said. “They hosted a Brawlhalla tournament. They ended up having great participation and the event was flawless – it was an awesome learning experience.”

Futures First Gaming will be bringing the program back next summer and will shoot for an even larger class, but Sye hopes to push the program as a regular course in local high and middle schools to expose students to the available career paths.

“We’ll really be able to educate students on the possibilities if we can meet them where they are – we have commitment from two Delaware school districts pending funding and have had conversations about our program with Departments of Education in several states,” he said.

Equal Opportunity

Although not an exclusive organization, a fundamental goal of Futures First Gaming is to help expose minority students to the prospect of a career in the gaming industry, notes Sye.

“Looking at the landscape, 83% of black teens game, but only about 9% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professionals are black,” said Sye. “We really want to change that. We feel that the discrepancy exists because of lack of awareness and opportunity. Our program works to correct this by reaching out to students through their interest in gaming, but teaching them about the business side in the process. That way they can imagine a future where they make a living doing what they love. In our concept of STEM, E stands for entrepreneurship.”

To support this goal, Futures First Gaming has started to reach out to HBCUs (Historically black colleges and universities) to assist them in launching their own competitive Esports teams. Sye is a strong believer that the opportunities in the Esports industry will continue to proliferate and offer opportunity to people of all kinds of backgrounds and interests.

“There really is a spiderweb of careers cropping up to support gaming,” he said. “For example, last year’s Fortnite world cup winner, a 16-year-old named Kyle Giersdorf, won $3 million. He’s a millionaire now. He’s going to need an Esports specific attorney. There are gaming company’s that want to create game characters with his likeness and image, so he needs to negotiate that. He’ll need an accountant. He’ll even need a personal trainer to work on stamina and hand-eye coordination. The web of opportunity keeps spreading. When students come to us, we can work on where their interests lie and steer them toward a great career opportunity.”

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