Grand Circus Brings Accessible Tech Education to the Community

By Kayla Sosa | photography by Elyse Wild

Grand Circus Grand Rapids is exposing members of the community to coding and how it can be an accessible — and financially fruitful — career option. 

Grand Circus first opened in 2013 in Detroit with a vision to focus on education, community and entrepreneurship. Since then, they’ve trained 1,500 people, hosted more than 100 boot camps and worked with more than 300 companies across Michigan. They opened a second location in Grand Rapids in 2016.

Kelsey Perdue is the assistant campus director and boot camp program manager for Grand Circus Grand Rapids. 

“When Grand Circus was coming to town, I was attracted to them because one, they were a business, but they’re very mission-driven,” she said. “And, two, their mission is really to help people change their lives, to start a new career in tech.”

Careers in technology are in high-demand, and you don’t necessarily need a four-year degree to get a well-paying job. Grand Circus provides the education and resources to anyone who wants to learn through coding workshops and career services. Both the Detroit and Grand Rapids locations host free intro to coding workshops every other week. Boot camps are 12-24 weeks and vary depending on the technical skill or coding language. 

“I think it’s important for people to have an option other than the traditional four-year degree or two-year associate’s degree,” Celena Mancina, vice president of operations at Grand Circus Grand Rapids said. “Traditional colleges and universities are expensive, and a lot of times people can’t make that investment […] So, being able to do something that’s relatively quick and a low-money investment is a huge piece of accessibility.”

In her role, Perdue oversees various programs and meets with clients and community partners. As a coach, she teaches students soft skills and helps them with their career goals. 

“We know more diverse communities have better outcomes, so we want to make sure we’re training more women and people of color so that they can go into the workforce and make a difference.”

— Celena Mancina

“Technology impacts so many parts of our lives, and it’s going to continue to do so,” Perdue said. “Jobs are going to become more digitized, so it’s important that people know it’s a thing, it’s growing and have some familiarity with what it is.”

Exposure to technology and STEM career options is the priority for the staff at Grand Circus — especially exposing those career paths to women and people of color. 

“Technology is used to build so many products and systems around us,” Perdue explained. “And if you don’t have people with different life experiences and perspectives that’s part of the build out — the thinking through and building out of a product or a service — that product or service will not serve everybody the same way.”

The company is focused on all levels of diversity, including age, sexual orientation and ethnicity. 

“We believe the tech industry should be as diverse as our community,” Mancina said. “We know more diverse communities have better outcomes, so we want to make sure we’re training more women and people of color so that they can go into the workforce and make
a difference.”

Through a partnership with TechSystems, Grand Circus offers a scholarship for women called Develop Her. And in May, they hosted a mother and daughter coding workshop. 

“For women in particular, we are half of the workforce,” Perdue said. “We have valuable perspectives, we have valuable experiences to bring to any team. And so it’s truly a disservice to a company, a team, a product, a service to not have women at the table.”

Last year, Perdue said Grand Circus Grand Rapids reached nearly 500 people through their intro to coding workshops, with over half being from groups underrepresented in technology. 

“Give coding a try just to say that you’ve done it,” Perdue said. “We always have something going on and people can really get started anytime if they want to learn a little bit about coding.”

Scholarships are also available based on financial need and for those who identify as LGBTQ+. Visit grandcircus.co for more information.

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