Jessica Sanon, MBA'18: One of the BOLD 9: Brandeis' annual list of up-and-coming recent alumni

June 23, 2022

Illustration of Jessica Sanon, MBA'18, by Tal Friedlander
Illustration by Tal Friedlander

When Jessica Sanon, MBA’18, shared her personal story and pitched her business plan at the annual Heller Startup Challenge, she had no idea how deeply it would resonate with others. As a child and adolescent, Sanon excelled in math — so much so that she decided to major in math in college — yet she found herself failing Calculus 1 as a first-year college student.

“I learned that many women — especially BIPOC women — going into STEM end up switching fields because they didn’t have the option to take calculus in high school and/or had limited access to BIPOC leaders in the field. I realized that I was not the only one,” she says.

After graduating college and working for a year in the Commonwealth Corps, a Massachusetts state-funded internship program, Sanon joined Heller’s Social Impact MBA program with an idea: to start a company that bridges the gap between STEM education and math proficiency for BIPOC girls and young women. After succeeding in several campus pitch competitions, she founded sySTEMic flow in 2017.

Sanon’s sySTEMic flow offers rigorous math courses and connects youths with professionals and career opportunities in STEM. The programs focus on “transitional gaps,” such as the leap from middle school to high school, or high school to postsecondary opportunities. So far, sySTEMic flow programs have partnered with universities and schools as well as with nonprofit organizations like the United Way and EforAll in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and they’re rapidly becoming a national platform.

The organization’s holistic model goes beyond the classroom, incorporating socio-emotional learning and exposure to various STEM careers. Two key features separate sySTEMic flow from other academic-prep programs: a laser focus on serving BIPOC girls, and an emphasis on confidence and participation rather than on grades and test scores.

“In our programs, we don’t focus on the letter grade; instead, we look at whether the student feels confident and if they understand the skill sets they’re gaining,” says Sanon. Participants report that sySTEMic flow programs reconfirmed their interest in STEM and gave them the confidence to participate more in class. “Those are success stories,” explains Sanon. “The ultimate goal of what we do is confidence-building. Everything else will follow.”

In spring 2022, Brandeis recognized Sanon on its annual BOLD 9 list, which honors up-and-coming recent alumni who are fostering change, thought leadership and social impact. “I’m really honored that I was selected,” Sanon says. “That means our work is making a difference, and that Brandeis also values the underlying mission of sySTEMic flow: equity, access and opportunity for BIPOC girls.”