Jehron Petty’s Nonprofit Inspires BIPOC Computer Science Students

Providing equal opportunity for Black and Latinx students

Jehron Petty is a mentor at heart, so when he saw an opportunity to help his fellow computer science classmates, he couldn't pass it up. 

Petty is the founder and CEO of ColorStack, a nonprofit that runs community building, academic support, and career development programs for Black and Latinx college computer science students across the country.

Jehron Petty speaking in a classroom.

ColorStack

ColorStack was born from Petty's desire to make sure more minority computer science students gain the support and tools they need to succeed in the field. 

"I was a computer science student, and I was doing well for myself, but I realized that I was sort of an anomaly in the ecosystem," Petty told Lifewire in a phone interview. "My peers who were Black and brown weren't doing as well in the classroom, so I focused on solving that problem."

Petty graduated from Cornell University about a year ago with a degree in computer science. Instead of paying it forward years down the line in his career, he said he was eager to put ColorStack in front of students today.

The nonprofit runs a three-week virtual career-building boot camp, hosts a 12-week computer science program, and manages a Slack community of students.

Quick Facts

  • Name: Jehron Petty
  • Age: 23
  • From: Saint Thomas
  • Favorite game(s) to play: Call of Duty via PC
  • Key quote or motto: "Pay it forward."

Passion for Growth 

Petty started his first business in high school at the age of 16. He fixed and customize iPhones, laptops, and iPads. He began building ColorStack through his Cornell community, but once his passion for the nonprofit grew, Petty decided to take that leap and expand his idea on a larger scale. 

Petty launched ColorStack solo in May 2020, but he built a full-time team of four employees and one intern after about a year. He was able to add some team members quickly after reeling in about $1 million in funding from corporate sponsors, grants, and other investors to support his venture.

Now, Petty said he's most focused on putting the budget toward building up ColorStack's operational team more to execute on the nonprofit's vision. One aspect of the organization that Petty is proud of is ColorStack's growing and thriving community of more than 1,000 computer science students.

"We're very privileged to already have the community of students we want to serve in our network," Petty said. "We kind of already know what works as far as programming strategies." 

"I was a computer science student, and I was doing well for myself, but I realized that I was sort of an anomaly in the ecosystem."

ColorStack's partnership with Triplebyte, announced in August of last year, really moved the company forward, Petty said. Triplebyte, a technical recruiting platform company, agreed to incubate ColorStack for two years, which includes providing operational funding. 

"Triplebyte believed in me, and in a few months, they gave me what I needed to start ColorStack full-time," Petty said. "That was our first win for sure."

To further his goals with ColorStack as a young founder and CEO, Petty is currently participating in the Blavity.org Growth Fellowship

"The program has exceeded my expectations in terms of helping me grow as a leader and helping me think of my business as an executive and not just a founder," he said. "Getting that advice from seasoned professionals has helped me, especially as a young founder, learn how to become a CEO."

Using Privilege to His Advantage

Petty says there have been challenges being a young and Black founder. Those challenges mainly correlate with people doubting his capabilities to lead, but he's overcome this by gaining partners who trust him in the tech ecosystem. 

Petty completed two internships with Google, one in engineering and the other in product management. He said having Google and Cornell on his resume alone has put him in front of specific opportunities and people he doesn't think he would have come across otherwise. 

A group of ColorStack students.

ColorStack

"I made it my mission in college to make sure I had the right credentials. Even though I don't believe in that system, I knew it would get me further in certain conversations."

Through ColorStack's various programming, Petty hopes students gain academic support, career guidance, job preparation, and new connections from monthly events. With the team growing, Petty is looking forward to adding some marketing and operational support to produce more programming next year. 

"We have functioning programs, so I'm focused on refining and strengthening those programs so we can scale in two to three years," Petty said.

Ultimately, Petty wants to expand ColorStack to as many minority students as possible. His dream is to be recognized with big names such as the National Society of Black Engineers and Black Girls Code. 

"We want to be a well aware brand," he said. "Longterm, it's all about taking what we've done, proving that it works elsewhere, and providing it to more students."

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