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Graduates become pioneers in technology, film and social change

Graduates become pioneers in technology, film and social change


Dr. Courtney Ryan Ziegler's expertise spans multiple areas. Ziegler (Porter '03, Film and Digital Media) is an award-winning technology entrepreneur, filmmaker, producer, social justice advocate, and scholar. Since he graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2003, he has founded four applications and platforms that address social issues head-on and provide solutions. These platforms include:

Trans*H4ck (TransHack) (2013): A two and a half day hackathon in Auckland. Transgender hackers and developers were invited to come together and create software. This hackathon shined a spotlight on the transtech community, which is often underrepresented in this field. Although the hackathon is no longer active, its influence is still felt. Ariel Spaces (2014): A virtual event platform that hosts educational webinars. In 2016, Ariel Spaces partnered with the White House to provide digital education to her 20,000 students in underserved communities. Ziegler's company had been working with Microsoft to develop online education tools for students. Appolition (2017): Approximately 60% of people in jail awaiting trial are there because they cannot afford bail, which is often only a few hundred dollars. Appolition allows users to set up automatic bail payments. In its first year, Apolition amassed 8,000 users, raised approximately $140,000, and secured the release of 45 people across the country. WellMoney (2021): “Get money in an emergency. Give money when you can.” WellMoney is a community-driven application that allows users to pay for housing costs, car repairs, health needs, groceries, and more. You can request an emergency fund. Users can set up monthly payments and contribute to her WellMoney emergency fund.

Overarching theme: Ziegler is a social engineer who expands representation, prosperity, and community through technology. He has received multiple awards for his work. He was named one of the top 40 LGBT activists under 40 by The Advocate Magazine, one of the most influential African Americans in 2013 by TheRoot100, and in 2017 he Diablo Magazine named him in the top 40 under 40. For his work with Trans*H4ck, he received the Innovation Award and his Nominet Trust 100 Award in 2014.

Ziegler says her work is inspired by her personal life and lived experiences.

“I think I'm very blessed to know my purpose in life as a young soul, as a young person, and I've been very in tune with that,” Ziegler said. “And I'm so lucky to have met people who I know are part of my journey to help me create something great. I know I'm here to leverage my resources and access and use much of my brain power to help people who are helpless in a variety of ways.”

Ziegler, a Black transgender man, grew up in Compton under difficult circumstances. He was brought up in a family of single women and was exposed to various aspects of abuse by his relatives. He was the first in his family to attend college. As a freshman at UC Santa Cruz, Ziegler took a course on race and women, which he says gave him important tools to reject harmful messages about race, gender and sexuality. Third year of doctoral course. After studying at Northwestern University, Ziegler began to identify as genderqueer and began transitioning.

Ziegler said that of all his platforms, Trans*H4ck resonated with him the most.

“This was my first foray into being an entrepreneur in the tech industry, but it showed me that it can be done without working in the industry. I don’t know anyone who works professionally in a tech company. I had to learn how to put those fears aside and do what I was supposed to do. Now, a few years later, I'm like, 'Wow, that one platform allows me to do multiple things. I was able to build something.'

Ziegler launched the two-and-a-half-day hackathon with the hope that the platform would strengthen the lives of transgender people economically, socially, and emotionally. Although Trans*H4ck is no longer active, their influence is still felt.

“It went on like wildfire. So many organizations were coming up and emulating Trans*H4ck. There was a shift in policy, technology companies were facilitating bathroom conversations, medical conversations, We started hiring more transgender employees. Trans*H4ck also became a catalyst for transgender people in the tech industry who never thought we could work in tech. I joined the first Trans*H4ck and many of them went on to become successful software engineers and technology founders. So it was a great experience.”

Mr. Ziegler graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in film and digital media and a minor in computer science. He says his time at UCSC played an important role in his growth and becoming the person he is today.

“I'm very grateful for this experience because it has shaped everything in my life ever since, professionally and personally, and in a very good way.”When I was young and moved away from home for the first time , made great friends from across the state and country, and was able to leave home with a film degree. I became a filmmaker and used the practical skills I gained with my film and digital media degree. I was able to apply it to my personal work. UCSC was also the beginning of my academic journey.”

Immediately after graduation, Mr. Ziegler founded ZaMLabs (formerly Black Star Media) and in 2008 produced the multi-award-winning documentary Still Black: a port of black transmen, which follows the diverse stories of six trans men. ” was created. The film won the Isaac Julian Experimental Award at the Queer Black Cinema International Music Festival and the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Reel Out Queer Film + Video Festival.

Ziegler earned a master's degree in ethnic studies with an emphasis in black studies from San Francisco State University in 2005 and a master's degree in African American and Black Studies from Northwestern University in 2008. He received his PhD in African American Studies from Northwestern University in 2011.

Currently, Ziegler works as the CEO of WellMoney and as a technology entrepreneur at Ideas42. He spends most of his time working on his WellMoney fundraiser and enjoys going to the gym and spending time with his fiancée.

Ziegler's advice to current UCSC students who want to make a meaningful impact and make a difference in their communities is to “just do it.”

“I think the people who attend UCSC already realize that their presence as future intellectual scholars is positively impacting California and our country. I've never let anything I don't have, where I'm from, who I am, or what I look like, stop me from achieving or pursuing what I want to do. I would encourage you to do the same.”




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