Class of 2017
In his youth, Tomás Correa found himself involved with the justice system and enrolled at Hostos Community College after being incarcerated. Throughout his time at the College, he dedicated himself to advocating for justice-involved youth and working to address the mass incarceration crisis. He participated in community panels, discussing the need for better academic opportunities for justice-involved youth while working as a mentor to young people. Tomás has demonstrated that adversities are simply small obstacles on the path to success. He participated in a three-month coding course at Columbia University, which opened the door to his current career in programing. Tomás and his team created a mobile application called not911 that has been revolutionizing how citizens access emergency services. Tomás’s life serves as an inspiration to many whom have experienced setbacks. We invite you to learn more about his inspiring journey.
The following is an excerpt of an interview with Mr. Correa conducted by Alumni Relations Manager Félix Sánchez. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Q & A
What experiences at Hostos helped you to overcome your challenges and prepared you to be successful?
I am definitely proud to be a Hostos graduate. For me, it was much more than a school; it was a family and community. Since I had been incarcerated, Hostos was the first time I was able to go to school on a college campus. I was not tech savvy at all. Those were my real challenges – being afraid to ask for help for simple things, like how to send emails with attachments. There were many things I did not know how to do. Having close relationships with professors and staff really helped me build up my self-confidence and reactivate myself with society. Another thing that really changed my experience was the theater program at Hostos. The professors were very supportive. It helped me to become more social and overcome my fear of public speaking; it opened up new doors and made new avenues in my life.
Please discuss your career. What are you doing now, and how did you end up in your current position?
What I’m doing now definitely wasn’t a part of my plan. I really wanted to continue to a four-year college and major in philosophy, with a minor in theater. However, with COVID-19 and the related lockdowns, things were not looking too good. An opportunity to participate in a software development program arose at Columbia University, and I ended up taking the course. I always found the idea of software development interesting, so I thought that this would be an excellent skillset to learn, as the future is becoming more and more software dependent. I liked the idea of having this skill that can bring life to something.
I signed up for this course, thinking the worst thing that could happen is that I wouldn’t like it, but I might really like doing this. I learned Python, which is a coding language, and I ended up interning with an organization called Code Cooperative – recently renamed Emergent Works. Their mission is to get more black and brown people involved in the tech world, especially those who were formerly incarcerated, and to provide hands on training with senior developers. I started as an intern working with a senior developer, learning the coding as well as how to manage this whole project.
The project was to develop this app called not911. In an emergency situation, individuals need resources, and very often, the only way to know how to access them is by calling 911. Because a call to 911 will immediately involve law enforcement, many communities often feel that there is no safe solution to address an emergency. Communities need the resources without necessarily mobilizing law enforcement, so the question was, how can we do that? We came up with not911 as a resource to help residents contact existing emergency services that provide support in situations of violence, mental health and addiction crises, and other urgent needs without involving law enforcement.
Who are you inspired by?
I don't have just one person. I’m inspired by individuals who come from very humble beginnings and make a difference that affects others. That’s something that I aspire to do – to come from nothing and make something meaningful. I hope I can serve as an example to someone, that they can overcome whatever challenges they face, and that they are not alone.
What advice would you give a current student to help them be successful, especially in light of all the uncertainties they face this year?
I would say this: don't be afraid to fail, because sometimes that provides us with the information we need to push forward. At the end of the day, sometimes all you can do is reflect, get up and try again. Don't let failure stop you from being whoever you want to be in this life. There is always a way. You might not see it right now, but keep searching, because it will come.