As Cristina Garza sees it, Mission Economic Development Corporation (Mission EDC) is not your run of the mill economic development corporation. They focus on investing in their community and that’s exactly what Cristina has done — invested in her hometown of Mission, Texas. She’s arranged a partnership for Mouse Inc to train 100 teachers and 20 counselors in computer science. She’s prioritized opportunities for young women and nonbinary students by creating the CREW internship program, which includes summer coding camps and ongoing mentorship in business and professional skills.
Cristina has been the driving force and champion for each of these efforts. In our Q&A, we talked with her about these initiatives and Mission EDC’s impact on the community:
1) What does computer science mean to your organization?
To us, it means thinking of a different future for our community. Economic development corporations traditionally deal with bringing in large industry and industrial parks and are not normally invested in K–12 education. One of the things that makes us so special and so proud to work here is that we think of economic development as providing the opportunities we want to see for the next generation. Rather than bartering and offering discounts to other companies, we want to invest in ourselves and education to provide higher-paying wages. Computer science education is a way of getting there. It’s not just about providing a better financial state; computer science is important to allow kids to build confidence and reliance. It’s a skill to help you be more creative, to invent and to have confidence.
2) How did you become so involved in computer science?
I didn’t come from a computer science background. I approach this topic from the perspective of economic development. I took over our program to get kids involved in the Hour of Code. I asked how do we move past awareness and start introducing more systemic and high-level programming for kids to continue studying this area. It’s more about being someone who is from the area, who left and came back, and has been able to look from a birds-eye view for things to improve on to help the community become part of a more competitive education system. I just kept meeting amazing people in the field and having conversations about what they wanted to see. One of the most exciting parts of being with a company focused on fearless exploration is that a lot of these paths have led me to computer science.
3) What's your relationship to the person who nominated you? What does it mean to you that they nominated you?
Dan Schneider came to us through our partnership in NYC as a summer instructor for our CREW internship program. The program teaches women and gender non-conforming folks to learn the soft skills to survive and be leaders in the STEM field, particularly tech. The program is composed of four parts, including a coding camp. Dan came on board to run the coding camp focused on how we can build self-esteem in women of color through STEM.
I was very surprised, shocked and amazed that someone took time out of their day to do this. This is a very humbling experience. I’m at a loss for words.
4) What does being honored with this award mean to you?
I’m so shocked. It’s been a whirlwind. It means that our efforts are validated. We know we’re taking an unconventional approach to economic development, justice and improvement of our community. 85,000 people are in our area that continues to be vilified in national media, and for us to be fighting against it by aggressively investing in K-12 education, we’re telling the community they are valuable and have a chance, desire, and opportunity to succeed.
Having this award means we are being noticed and that other small communities can see these initiatives and can replicate. If we can do it, other communities can do it. We don’t need to do business the same way. There is a place for creativity and risk.