AN OPPORTUNITY MAKER: Evin Floyd Robinson, SEO Scholars Alumnus
In my new book, The Opportunity Makers, I chronicle not just the history of Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) but the stories of many young people who, with the help of SEO, have not only achieved success in college and their careers but have helped to create opportunities for others.
Evin Floyd Robinson is one of those young people. Thanks to SEO Scholars, an academic program that gets low-income students to and through college, Evin went from being a high school student in Brooklyn to graduating cum laude from Syracuse University. Today, he’s paying it forward in the true spirit of SEO. He co-founded his own non-profit organization, New York On Tech, which prepares the next generation of technology leaders emerging from New York City by creating pathways for underrepresented students to thrive in technology and innovation. The work of New York on Tech has been highlighted by CNN, Forbes, PBS, Univision, Huffington Post, BET, TechCrunch and Black Enterprise.
Here's an excerpt from The Opportunity Makers that describes how Evin’s journey from Brooklyn to the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list. All proceeds from the sales of The Opportunity Makers go to support SEO Scholars.
Evin grew up in East New York, one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighborhoods, with his mother and his younger brother. He was one of the students that SEO had recruited in 2004 from Science Skills High School in Brooklyn Heights. When Evin was in elementary school he had lots of big dreams about what he wanted to do with his life, but starting in middle school the grim realities of his neighborhood had, as he later put it, “started to make my dreams a lot smaller.” His mother took him and his brother on regular trips to other parts of the city, where he was able to see that there was another, more promising world outside of East New York. He aspired to go to college, but nobody at his school was encouraging him.
Evin found encouragement, and more, at SEO. He was quick to take advantage of the academic enrichment classes and other activities, such as the summer entrepreneurship program. In 2007, he and two friends won the business plan competition for an idea to create and market a line of inspirational jewelry for young women. Evin was not content with just winning an award for an idea. Over the course of next two years he successfully launched a company called “InspiRing” that translated that vision into reality.
Earning SEO’s Franklin H. Williams Scholarship, Evin entered Syracuse University in the fall of 2008. Like many freshman, his initial adjustment to the increased academic rigors of college life had its challenges but, thanks to the support of SEO staff, as well as that of the university’s Office of Supportive Services (OSS), by the second half of his freshman year he was excelling in his courses. Evin also began to give back. He joined the OSS’s advisory board, serving as its president for a year, and was one of the driving forces in creating an OSS mentorship program called “Developing Exceptional Academic Leadership” that helped encourage local middle school students to think about college as a viable option.
While at Syracuse, Evin participated in summer internship programs, first with HBO’s marketing department and later as a corporate finance intern at JP Morgan Chase. In 2011, he won a scholarship to spend his junior year at the City University of Hong Kong, where he completed an independent study project on business innovation in China and volunteered for mentorship programs for local youth. When he started at Syracuse, Evin had originally thought that he would pursue a career in corporate finance. But during his time in China, Evin’s vision and professional interests underwent an evolution in the direction of strategic consulting and technology. By the time he returned home, Evin’s research and reflection had convinced him to pursue a career in technology instead of finance. After graduating cum laude with honors with a dual BS in Economics and Communications/Rhetorical Studies in 2012, Evin turned down a job offer from JP Morgan Chase to enter the Master’s program in Information Management and Technology in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies funded by a fellowship from the Kauffman Foundation.
While at Syracuse, Evin met fellow East New Yorker Jessica Santana. They found that they not only grew up in the same neighborhood, but shared a similar life trajectory and vision for what they wanted to do in their careers and for others. Both were struck by how much New York City had changed in the years since they had gone away to school, in particular the large number of technology startups that had taken root in places like the Brooklyn. They were bothered by the fact that very few young people in their neighborhoods were aware of this emerging industry and the career opportunities it offered. Jessica and Evin created New York on Tech, which provides public high school students with the mentorship, tools and resources they need to pursue degrees and careers in technology-related fields and, by so doing, help cultivate a new tech-focused entrepreneurial ecosystem. Evin notes that New York on Tech aims to transform young people “from passive consumers to active creators of technology,” by increasing their preparation for career opportunities of which many young people are simply not aware.
All profits from The Opportunity Makers goes to support SEO Scholars