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May 2022

Ryana Burrell (DSI ‘20) @ Cultivate

There’s a lot of need for tech folks in the progressive political space, but a lot of people working in tech aren’t aware that there’s space for them in these fields–so what we end up seeing is a sort of ‘recycling’ of the same talent with little focus on diversity.

DSI alumni and, now, Global Guest Lecture instructor, Ryana Burrell (DSI ‘20) is finding ways to combine her expertise in systems design with her background in human resources, recruiting, and UX design to facilitate more equitable hiring practices in progressive spaces.

As the recruitment manager at Cultivate, Ryana has been juggling a number of projects and collaborations with agencies in the progressive political space. As the world shifts more and more into the digital realm, she and her company have found that there is a lack of communication between tech fields and progressive spaces. In order to remedy this disconnect, Cultivate designed and launched a fellowship comprised of workshops and materials to educate diverse talent in private-sector tech so that they are prepared to engage with progressive political ideology and tools required in the field.This project goes hand in hand with the organization’s job board system, which helps to match talent to organizations in need.

Ryana’s work at Cultivate and beyond also keeps a tight focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. She is collaborating with the largest online racial justice organization, Color of Change, to assist them in equitably hiring in-house technical staff, which is inherently unique in that Black-led organizations grapple with biases in technologies differently than other companies might. In order to help find talent that will best suit their mission of expanding racial justice, Ryana has stepped in to help re-write job descriptions and begin to develop systems that will ensure a fair recruitment process.

Though she has her hands full with an abundance of projects at work, Ryana is still making time to work on her personal interests and goals. As a recent grad, this includes finding ways to evolve her thesis project: Storied Lives, which “aims to create an intentional and transformative space where creative storytelling can lead to healing” among Black communities. Since graduation, Ryana has been strategizing a dinner series for Black women that will grant them time and space to share their stories with one another and build a strong sense of community. In addition to this side-project, Ryana is also working with faculty member Sloan Leo and their organization, FLOX Studio, to help refine the narrative, voice, and public presentation of the studio, which works in projects across the social sector. She has also stepped on as an Advisory Board member at Creative Reaction Lab, where she is helping to co-develop and implement CRXLAB’s strategic plan.

Given her abundance of interests and experiences, Ryana encourages that new DSIers remember that their own lived experiences are valid and important: “At DSI, we (rightly) spend a lot of time thinking about the experiences of the communities we’re designing with. And that’s super necessary! But I think it’s also important for us to turn inwards often–to really investigate our own experiences and how they shape the way we engage and respond to others.”

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