Russell Okung is no longer a member of the Seattle Seahawks, but that isn’t keeping the NFL lineman from growing his non-profit that helps expose at-risk youth to technology and give teenagers the tools and mentorship they need to succeed.
Okung helped launch the Greater Foundation earlier last year in Seattle as a way to both provide opportunity for students and cause real change in a U.S. technology industry that is lacking diversity.
This past March, Okung left the Seahawks after six years in Seattle and signed a five-year deal with the Denver Broncos, moving his career and life to The Mile High City.
But Okung told GeekWire that he is still committed to helping grow Greater in Seattle with Andrew McGee, his former football teammate at Oklahoma State who helps run the foundation.
“My involvement and commitment has not changed,” Okung said. “We remain steadfast and diligent about our work.”
Greater’s initial work this year started with coding workshops at places like the Seattle Urban Academy (SUA), a small school in Rainier Valley that helps high school students who have previously struggled academically or behaviorally and better prepares them for the next steps in life.
The work at SUA continues, but Greater is also expanding its reach. Earlier this month, the foundation announced a partnership with Seattle-based trade school Code Fellows for a new fellowship program that helps former college athletes transition into careers in the technology industry.
“We continue to believe coding is a big part of our future,” Okung said. “We’ve got people that dominated playing fields; now it’s time we take a shot at developing.”
Those who are selected to participate in the program will learn to code during an intensive 9-month course program at Code Fellows. They also have a chance to connect with mentors in the local tech industry, while giving back and mentoring Seattle youth themselves. The program is paid for via scholarship, with recipients also required to work as part-time program coordinators for Greater.
“The reason we chose to do the fellowship program is to create a transitional pipeline for the 99 percent of former athletes that never make the league and provide them the education, leadership development, and experience to use Greater as a launchpad into their careers,” said Okung, who is already active in the Denver startup scene. “We see the outcome being twofold. One, to leverage the voice of sports leaders to change what success looks like in the tech ecosystem while really moving the needle in diversity. And two, to provide an opportunity for the 99 percent of athletes who don’t make the league to pursue tech and entrepreneurship as a career path instead of the traditional route.”
Greater held a recruiting weekend earlier this month, inviting five potential fellowship candidates to Seattle for a few days of coding and networking. Okung was in town, sitting side-by-side with the former college athletes as they all learned how to code.
— GREATER (@greatermovement) June 14, 2016
One candidate will be picked as the first member of the new fellowship program, with others to be added later this year, McGee told GeekWire.
“Russell and I are setting the stage and building a bridge for these former athletes to onramp into technology careers,” McGee added. “We want more athletes to leverage this interaction of sports and technology to fix issues and get into our communities.”
In addition to the fellowship program, Greater has other plans in the works, including a Startup Weekend and an after-school Lego League for students in Seattle.
Okung, who is offering up his house in Seattle as a place for the Fellows to live and work, repeated that though he may be now playing for Denver, he is still focused on fulfilling his vision for Greater, which already has the support of numerous Seattle tech executives and local leaders.
“The Greater mission has always been committed, and will continue to be deliberate about leveraging the platform of the sport and tech sector to bring change in Seattle,” Okung said.