How I’m Empowering Myself and My Nonprofit Through a New Skill Set
Some 5,000 students have been a part of the Grow with Google Scholarship — a US-focused program offering learning opportunities to a dedicated and diverse group of incredible individuals. Udacity invited students to share their experiences in their own words, and we were delighted to receive some truly powerful stories of transformation and success. Today, we’d like to share one of our favorites.
My room is illuminated only by the blue light emanating from the computer on my desk. It’s late, I’m tired, but I’m ready. My finger shakes as I hit the submit button, but it happens—I did it, I’m done: my application is finished.
Hi, my name’s Michael Jackson, yes, for real. I now know that many other Grow With Google Scholarship recipients felt the same way as I did while submitting our scholarship applications, and I also know that the decision to do so changed each of our lives.
The decision to apply for this scholarship was not a difficult one for me; as a computer science graduate, I was very familiar with Udacity’s mission and goal of democratizing education and making learning more accessible to all. However, when the opportunity to apply for the scholarship presented itself—giving me the chance to enroll in Udacity’s Front End Web Developer Nanodegree program free of charge—I knew I couldn’t pass it up.
I was born on April 9, 1994, at 32 weeks gestation with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy is caused by a bleed in the brain which affects all four limbs—making them spastic, or tight (no, I don’t do the moonwalk—I don’t do any kind of walk). Cerebral palsy can also affect speech and breathing, as in my case. Because of my disability and health, I have had over 80 surgeries and have spent much of my life in the hospital or at medical appointments.
I am also the co-founder of Greater Than Three. Greater Than Three is an upcoming 501(c)(3) nonprofit, offering a safe, moderated, online social networking community to connect, engage, and empower chronically ill adolescents aged 13–21.
“It was also my catalyst for applying for the scholarship. My goal was to gain the skills needed so that I would be able to personally have a hand in the development of Greater Than Three’s website.”
As I started my Nanodegree program, I quite honestly did not know what to expect; sure, I took one HTML and CSS course in college, but the syllabus for this course went beyond the scope of anything I’ve ever worked with (or even heard of!) and my thoughts went a little something like this:
- HTML and CSS? Sure, I know those at a basic level—but accessibility and responsive design? I wouldn’t know where to begin.
- Git? Cool, I am familiar with Git!
- React? Wait! What the heck is React?
Soon, my initial fears were mitigated as I dove into the lessons, most of which are accompanied by rich videos and descriptions of the topic at hand. I also found a second home in the Grow with Google Slack channels, where many fellow students—as well as awesome Project Coaches and Community Managers—spend their time helping one another, chatting about various technologies, and posting hilarious and motivational memes (hey, they’re very important to a successful education, I promise!).
I often get asked if this program is everything I expected it would be. My answer (shocking to some) is always the same: it is nothing like I expected and everything more. This has been the most challenging, frustrating, exciting, and fulfilling program I have ever taken in my life. It has been a rollercoaster.
“I still remember the thrill I felt upon the submission of my first project. I knew that I had completed something (no matter how simple it was in retrospect) that was uniquely and unapologetically mine.”
Sure, there were many hurdles to face throughout the program, such as technologies that took a bit of time to grasp (yeah, looking at you, React) or the dreaded case of information overload I often found myself in (more on that later). But thanks to the incredible resources and community provided by Udacity (and the power of Google-fu), I have been lucky enough to learn and build projects beyond what I could have ever have comprehended being able to do at the beginning.
Never The End
As I complete the program and get ready to cross that finish line, I often think back to the beginning of the program and reflect on how much I’ve learned since we started (I still remember being so frustrated by a simple HTML concept in the the early days). I’m proud of myself for being able to now pass props and manage state in React applications without wanting to defenestrate my computer (well, most of the time…).
The name “Grow with Google” and the phrase “My Udacity Journey” could not be more appropriate. The past nine months have been an incredible journey and I have no doubt that I have grown as a person because of it—not only in my technical abilities, but also in my interview skills, my ability to be a mentor, and my ability to make a change in the world.
“And I WILL make a change in the world. Like I planned, I will use the skills I gained through this scholarship to build Greater Than Three so that we can amplify the voices of adolescents living with disabilities and chronic illnesses (yes, mom, I’ll also start interviewing for front-end jobs, I know—I need one!).”
I want to give a big thank you to Udacity, Google, and my fellow Grow with Google scholars (especially my scholarship cohort, Super Sloths), for the support, guidance, humor, friendship, and opportunity you have given to me and to all of us.
Although the program is ending, this is not the end. There is never an end. Learning, creativity, growth, and change happen throughout our lives.
Together, we can make the world and the web more accessible for all.
Together, we can be Udacious.
(But first, I need a long nap!)
Michael, thank you so much for sharing your incredible experience with us! We’ll be publishing more of our favorite stories from the Grow with Google scholars shortly, so check back soon!