Meet the Intern: Corey Ashley


Corey

My name is Corey and I am Diné (Navajo). I grew up on the Navajo reservation (rez) in a community called Sanders, also known as Nahata Dziil. I am currently a senior at Stanford University and a Stanford Social Entrepreneurial Students Association (SENSA) Fellow during summer 2018. As a SENSA Fellow, I am able to explore social entrepreneurship as a pathway of public service and social change.

I study Science, Technology, and Society (STS). It is a interdisciplinary major that allows me to think about the application, impact, and dynamics of technology within certain contexts. I plan to use STS to intersect my Diné indentity with tech, as well as increase Native representation in tech.

I got interested in tech in high school. This was the time that smartphone apps were getting big. Even though I was interested, there were no opportunities to stimulate my curiosity nearby. The high school I went to had no computer science classes and our community had no tech programming for youth. I was lucky to be able to participate in a summer opportunity at Arizona State University to get some programming experience, but there I found difficulty learning due to cultural barriers that were hard to navigate and understand as a Native high school student coming from the rez.

As I made my way through Stanford, the class pace and competitive social climate were not conducive to my interest in software engineering given my background. I failed introductory level computer science and math classes, and I had to decide if pursuing my interest in tech was right for me. But as I learned more about myself as an Indigenous person, I learned more about how to navigate Stanford through the lens of my identity and my own experience. My initial failure encouraged me to think about other ways I could still be a part of tech. This lead me to STS, through which I learned how to articulate what tech can do for Native people and what Native people can do for tech.

"Native youth don’t see themselves as software engineers, technologists, tech entrepreneurs, and leaders in the tech industry because they don’t see anyone holding these positions from their communities."

There is very little Native representation in the tech community right now because few Indigenous people get the opportunity to even be a part of it. Native youth don’t see themselves as software engineers, technologists, tech entrepreneurs, and leaders in the tech industry because they don’t see anyone holding these positions from their communities. There is a deeper conversation to be had about the systemic barriers that persist and complex issues that denigrate Indigenous communities and keep us from the path toward success in tech.

I am passionate about elevating the voice of the Native community. I understand that I am privileged to attend Stanford and to have the opportunity to pursue a career in tech, which is rare coming straight from the rez. I want to do work that makes it easier for rez kids like me to transcend the problematic cycles within our community and increase their opportunity be successful. There is a lot of apathy on the rez due to the everyday challenges of poverty, suicide, drug abuse, and alcoholism that engulfs Native youth. There is no major outlet to keep youth’s spirits positive throughout these challenges. On top of all of this, our identity as Diné people gets neglected when it’s come down to survival. I know I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors that fought for our people, I plan to continue on their path and support our vitality as Diné people.

Tech is a field that I want to get more Native people involved in as a means of mitigating the negative aspects of my community. I also want to use tech as way of empowering our identity as Diné people by Indigenizing tech to revitalize Diné culture and language and making a space for Natives in tech. Having more Natives in tech also creates a more robust and creative tech community. There is a reciprocation of knowledge and learning, where Natives can be learning and practicing the technical skills to help their community, while the tech community learns about contemporary struggles Indigenous people face, as well as the thriving aspects of Native communities today.

I wanted to work with Spendrise to gain experience working in tech and my main work will include a research project that will help Spendrise build an inclusive company culture. Spendrise’s purpose aligns with what I want to do, which is intersecting tech and social good. Spendrise does work to make people realize and exercise their collective power as consumers to make change. I want to dive into what makes social change work possible in tech, and transfer these knowledge and skills towards my own goals of empowering Native identity through tech.

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