Felicia Chan and Bahar Moussavi, laughing.

Felicia Chan (R), BSc’20, and Bahar Moussavi, Bsc’20 (now studying for a master’s in educational psychology and special education). Photography by Iris Chia.

The networking advocates

Felicia Chan, Bahar Moussavi, Mikhaela Torio

What does a diverse workplace look like?

Bahar Moussavi asked herself that question after a classmate told her she didn’t look like someone who studies computer science. The incident led to a conversation about diversity with her other classmates Felicia Chan and Mikhaela Torio, which led to a search for underrepresented groups in their cohort, which eventually inspired C.O.D.E.

The C.O.D.E. Initiative – Creating Opportunities and Defining Education – is a non-profit the trio launched in 2017 to address an invisible underrepresented group in the computer sciences: the neurodiverse. Initially focusing on autistic youth, C.O.D.E. has grown into a program of STEM workshops and coding classes tailored to kids who struggle with the traditional school system and need more personalized teaching.

“We saw a lot of potential for individuals who are neurodivergent, who didn't really have these opportunities before,” says Chan, who heads up C.O.D.E.’s marketing efforts. “But when we went looking for classes that have more inclusive environments for individuals with special needs, there was nothing like that in Canada for coding or STEM education.”

With no business training, the group advanced their project with guidance from e@UBC, an entrepreneurship mentoring program that helped them establish the network they would need to get off the ground.

Connecting with mentors and like-minded people was a game changer. “You can just hop on a coffee chat online to connect with mentors and people in the same field as you,” says Chan. “I think networking is a lot easier and more casual now, which makes the whole entrepreneur space a lot more welcoming. People say, I'm here to help you. Here's my expertise, I want to support you. It opens up a lot of doors.”

With 16 programs serving 850 students so far, the C.O.D.E. Initiative recently scored a significant grant from the BC Tech Association’s Digital Lift program, which will pay for 200 workshops for neurodiverse students to learn coding and break into the tech industry. The founders are hoping this is a stepping stone to a nationwide program.

Although all three founders still work full-time jobs, they believe today’s networking platforms provide them the opportunity to carve their own career paths by connecting with like minds. “Our goal is definitely to become full-time with this organization,” says Chan. “We want to continue growing by partnering with other organizations serving similar audiences, and then seeing what we can build together.”

Read Generation flex for more on Generation Z in the workplace.