Atomic Object Offers Fellowships to Washtenaw County BIPOC Students

Who is the funder?

For the second year, Atomic Object  is offering the $10,000 Baker and Cook Fellowship for selected graduating Washtenaw County BIPOC students with a strong interest in tech, such as computer science.

Atomic Object is a software firm celebrating the 10th anniversary of their Ann Arbor location in September. This office was started up with a staff of eight and has since grown over 400% to team of 35.

Founded in Grand Rapids, the company also has a location in Chicago and will be opening a fourth office this summer in Raleigh, NC. In choosing locations, they consider client base, talent base, and proximity to research universities.

Why was the fellowship created?

“We are passionate about diversity in technology,” shared managing partner Jonah Bailey. “…there’s just a great dearth of racial and cultural diversity in technology. It’s…primarily a bunch of white dudes.”

The summer of George Floyd’s murder and the Black Live Matter movement made them realize it was high time to do something. That something became a laser focus on how they’re spending their philanthropic dollars.

They asked themselves, “What would it take to make an impact at a hyper-local level?” They had already tried supporting various local philanthropy efforts when asked, but this scattershot approach with funds going every which way had very little impact overall.


Fellow Sally Pham, University of Michigan student. Photo provided by Dylan Goings from Atomic Object

When talking to folks within Washtenaw County about diversity in STEM careers and STEM education, the identified roadblocks that prevented students from succeeding were lack of a network, lack of a support system, and lack of discretionary income. Atomic Object knew they could help students overcome through this fellowship.

Who were Baker and Cook?

They were part of the original group of ten displaced workers who founded the Ann Arbor Foundry in 1920. During its hey day, it employed about forty people.

Tech Brewery (formerly Ann Arbor Foundry) at 1327 Jones Dr. Photo provided by Dylan Goings from Atomic Object

It was known for tackling small orders such as coal-furnace parts, auto parts, irrigation pumps, old-fashioned door latches, ornamental items, and more. In fact, you might still find “The Ann Arbor” logo on manhole covers and storm sewer grates throughout the older parts of town.

Twenty-six years later, Charlie Baker and Tom Cook were the only two left.

Why are they the Fellowship’s namesakes?

“What we didn’t want to do is found a fellowship that was named after our company because we’re not really looking at this as a marketing gimmick or as a ploy to build brand within the community. We really want to make a difference. So we sort of zoomed out and looked for diverse examples of the kind of company we want to be,” explains Bailey.

After some extensive research into Ann Arbor history, they discovered Baker and Cook. The parallels between these men, the Foundry and Atomic Object check a lot of boxes.

First of all, the pair aptly represent diversity. Both were from minority backgrounds – Cook was a Jewish child of immigrants from the Ukraine and Baker was a black orphan of slaves born in Ohio.

Secondly, the structure and values of the foundry and Atomic Object bear some similarities such as being small employee-owned companies that do small custom projects with a real focus on craftsmanship.

Lastly, the tech component comes in with 1327 Jones Drive which was the steel Foundry’s location. This space is now the Tech Brewery, an incubator that houses tech companies.

All in all, it simply felt like a “good piece of Ann Arbor history to bring back to light,” claims Dylan Goings, Accelerator Manager & Software Consultant and lead of the fellowship program.

Who is qualified to apply?

The basic qualifications are for the student to be:

  • a graduating senior
  • black, Indigenous or person of color
  • enrolled in a high school in Washtenaw County (not just Ann Arbor)
  • majoring in Computer Science or currently enrolled in Computer Science courses in high school

“A really great candidate is someone who knows they are interested in a career in tech and want to pursue that. But they don’t have that network in place. They don’t know what the right steps are to be successful there. They don’t have a blue print that they can follow so hopefully we can be that blue print,” Goings said.

He further urges, “If in doubt, apply.”

Fellow Brendan Latham, Washtenaw Community College student. Photo provided by Dylan Goings from Atomic Object

How does it work?

“The plan is to award one new fellowship every year so that ultimately we have four people in the program at any given time,” Goings said.

“Our goal is really to set these [students] up for success through school and get them to the best possible option when they are done.” Fellows could even be hired on by Atomic Object upon completion of the program.

Goings emphasizes, “The…initial application…is pretty simple and straightforward. We’re not asking for a lot. We want the barrier to entry to be really low there.”

More information and the application are available here.