Using technology to build a future

Markus Mitchell, who grew up in Grays Ferry, was interested in technology from a young age, partially due to the influence of his uncle.

After graduating high school, Markus Mitchell worked a lot of odd jobs. He worked for UPS, Chick-fil-A, and even worked as a security guard. His first job, he said, was being employed by a company that pulled and disposed of poison ivy all across the tri-state area. He’d wake up at 7 a.m. and sometimes not get home until 9 p.m. It was rough.

“I’d come home all itchy and dirty, and then I’d go home and wake up and do it all over again,” he said. At some point, he got sick and tired of working odd jobs and he knew he could do better.

“I know I’m not stupid,” he said. “I got to the point where I was working and working and I was getting tired and I was like ‘I can’t keep doing this.’ I’m feeling myself getting older and I had to make a move. So what was it going to be?”

Mitchell, who grew up in Grays Ferry, was interested in technology from a young age, partially due to the influence of his uncle, Earl Street, Jr. Because Mitchell’s dad was a soldier fighting in Iraq for a good portion of his young life, Street served as a father figure for Mitchell. Mitchell called Street, who has a master’s degree in electrical engineering, a “techie.”

“I’ll go over [to his house] and he’ll be doing anything from pulling a computer apart, or he’s in the walls working with the light switches and things like that,” Mitchell explained. “I remember making my first $20 doing a disk defrag on my mom’s friend’s computer when I was like 10 or 11 and I learned that from my uncle. And he told me if the computer’s running slow, this is the process for getting your computer back to running a little quicker.”

Through a series of fortunate events and contacts through friends, Mitchell eventually found out about the TechServ Scholars AmeriCorps Program, a technology program for young adults operated by JEVS Human Services, a nonprofit and Philadelphia-based organization that seeks to “strengthen communities by realizing their highest quality of life through the achievement of personal and vocational potential.”

TechServ Scholars build skills for careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and IT (Information Technology) fields, gain certifications and benefit from hands-on experiences guided by professional mentors.

Mitchell decided to give it a go.

“Get a year of experience for free and get paid and get a free TransPass? It’s a win-win,” he said. “Why not take the journey?”

In the mornings, Mitchell was assigned to work at Taller Puertorriqueño, an organization that uses art-education programs, socially-conscious art exhibitions, book readings and events to preserve Puerto Rican and Latino culture, to serve in a tech support capacity for the people who work there.

In the afternoons, Mitchell worked for the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation in a similar capacity. At both Taller and Parks and Rec, Mitchell gained hands-on experience solving IT issues for the other employees who work at the organizations.

At one point, Mitchell went on a two-week vacation, and when he came back, Taller’s education manager, Adele Rodriguez, complained her computer had spontaneously shut off twice while Mitchell was away.

“It’s probably a thermal compounding of the CPU,” Mitchell told Rodriguez. “And they’re looking at me like I’m talking a foreign language. I pull it apart and sure enough the paste on the top of the CPU is dissolved and that’s why it’s not working. So they bought the paste, I put it back on and she’s had no problems since. It’s minor stuff that people may think is a big deal, but it’s really ABC123.”

Manuel Berrios, administrative specialist and Mitchell’s direct superior at Taller, lamented the end of Mitchell’s stay at the organization, which came last week.

“What I really admire about him is his demeanor,” said Berrios. “He’s always available. There’s never a no. He’s always willing to help.”

Berrios said it was a “pleasure” to work with Mitchell.

“We’re really pleased to have had him here and he will be missed,” he said.

But as the door closes on Mitchell’s time with Taller and Parks and Rec, at least two more have opened. He was offered more opportunities at Philadelphia Parks and Rec and JEVS. He also submitted an application to Comcast, and could end up getting a job offer there. However, regardless of what comes of the Comcast situation, Mitchell is convinced he’s dead set on taking the opportunity with JEVS, a year-long apprenticeship program that will give him an opportunity to work in the IT field, build his resume, provide hands-on learning experiences and help him obtain valuable industry credentials.

“Markus demonstrated exemplary technical skills and professional development skills at TechServ,” said JEVS’ Program Manager Alia Sutton-Bey, who helped recruit Mitchell to JEVS’ apprenticeship program. “We do a check-in every month to see how the scholars are doing. Every time we would talk to the folks at Taller or PPR they had nothing but great things to say about how he takes care in the equipment and what he’s doing.”

Not bad for a soon-to-be 23-year-old who’s networking his way up the ladder and has yet to earn a college degree.

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