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Earlier this year, Lighthouse Labs committed $150,000 to our student scholarship program. Our modest goal: to reduce barriers for underrepresented groups in the tech industry.

We’re very proud of the impact the scholarship has made so far: we’ve awarded seven Women in Tech scholarships and two Breaking Barriers scholarships, amounting to $22,000 in awarded scholarship funds! Another nearly $40,000 in scholarships were awarded in partnership with First Nations Technology Council and other community partners.

Now we’re expanding the vision with the launch of a new and improved scholarship program. Our scholarships will continue to be merit-based and designed to benefit underrepresented groups in tech, but we’re refining our selection process to better enable self-identification for applicants. With 3-5 scholarships each month for the remainder of 2019, we want to make sure these scholarships get to the people who need them.

So, what have we learned so far?

At Lighthouse, we treat everything we do as a work in progress. We constantly seek feedback from stakeholders so we can improve on our initial approaches to deliver the best products and services to our community. This is the philosophy we applied to our curriculum update, and we’ve used the same ethos to guide us through changes to our scholarship program.

The initial goal of our scholarship program was to tackle underrepresentation in tech by removing financial barriers for some students, and encouraging them to act as role models to their communities through their careers in tech, empowering others to pursue similar career paths.

Six months ago, we approached the launch of this program with the knowledge that there was so much more to learn more about underrepresentation and our role in addressing it. While we did our research, we never considered ourselves experts on this complex topic, and we’ve tried to maintain a position where we listen more than we speak.

Something became clear to us in the first six months of the scholarship program: by offering our scholarships to specific categories of underrepresented groups, we were limiting the scope of the impact our program could achieve. Furthermore, we acknowledge that identity is complex, and that the categories we set forward didn’t necessarily capture the full picture of how applicants viewed themselves. It also didn’t account for the more nuanced experiences different applicants might have based on the intersection of different identities.

As a company, we regrouped to think more deeply about these questions. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that it shouldn’t just be up to Lighthouse to decide which groups are underrepresented and deserving of a scholarship; it is the students themselves who are best equipped to make that call.

Moving forward on scholarships

With all these thoughts in mind, we have updated our scholarship program to a self-identifying model. This means that rather than offering scholarships to select groups, we have created a broad scholarship available to anyone who identifies themselves as underrepresented in tech. We hope this will allow for a more inclusive scholarship program - one that allows for the complexities and intersections associated with identity and underrepresentation in the tech community.

We’ve also increased our number of scholarships to 3-5 recipients each month until the end of 2019. That means for each new full-time bootcamp cohort nationwide, there are multiple opportunities for someone to receive a scholarship for a career-changing code education.

That being said, a couple of things haven't changed: our scholarships remain merit based, and are awarded to applicants who intend to pay it forward after the program and promote equal opportunity in tech.

We’re very excited about the next phase of our scholarship program. We hope our new model will help to lower barriers, provide greater access to coding education for underrepresented groups in technology, and alter perceptions of what it means to be a developer.