Coding leads refugee to college scholarship

'I never really saw people before who were doing those programs."



Bonito woke up early on Saturday mornings so he could get a ride to computer programming class, along with 30 other high school students over 2-3 shifts. Nancy Mwirotsi picked them up in a car that barely worked, and along the way, they joked that this car would take them to college.

Today, Bonito is a freshman at Iowa State University with a full-tuition scholarship. He is the first in his family to attend a four-year college. It started with those Saturday morning classes at pursuit of Innovation (Pi515), a United Way-funded program that teaches technology to refugee and underserved youth—a program Nancy founded.

In the basement of a church, instructors taught students how to make a basic command on a computer. The lessons evolved into building websites, computer games, and robots.

“I was excited because I saw people who looked like me who were programming things,” Bonito says. “I never really saw people before who were doing those programs, so I was like, ‘Huh, if they’re doing it, I can do it.’ ”

Bonito’s family came to the U.S. from a Tanzanian refugee camp when he was 9, and Bonito took English-language classes from third through eighth grades. His parents, who worked at a meatpacking plant to support their large family, emphasized the importance of education. But Bonito found school boring and didn’t see a future beyond playing soccer.

Pi515 changed all that. Bonito now studies management information systems and cyber security. Nancy is already pushing him to take the next step: apply for internships.

“Pi515 made learning fun,” says Bonito. “Through that experience, I developed an appreciation for education. It ignited that spark.”

Read more at www.unitedwaydm.org/stories/bonito.



Join the fight!

Building a strong community that takes care of everyone who lives here depends on your generous support.

Be In the Know

Sign up for our emails and stay informed about how we work with partners and supporters like you to strengthen our community.