23 to watch in 2023: Gianna Biaggi, founder of Magnolia Projects

Gianna Biaggi has spearheaded, Magnolia Projects, a project-based learning program that partners with local schools to connect students in the classroom with the real world.|

For more people to watch in 2023, go here.

Title or position: Founder and director of Magnolia Projects, a nonprofit that provides experiential learning opportunities to Sonoma County public school students

On the job since: 2021

Age: 27

Hometown: Santa Rosa native but grew up Boyes Hot Springs

Why Biaggi is someone to watch:

Gianna Biaggi is out to change the culture of education, which she says is sore need of modernization.

She has spearheaded a project-based learning program that partners with local schools to connect students in the classroom with the real world, better preparing them for college and life beyond.

Currently operating in three school districts (Guerneville, Geyserville and Piner-Olivet), the program offers externships that pair students with mentors in the Sonoma County business community, allowing them to go off campus during the academic day and shadow career professionals. Internships allow students to work on a project, also under the tutelage of a mentor.

The roster includes 120 students, the majority of them from socioeconomically disadvantaged households. Some are bound for college and others see themselves jumping into trades or other roles.

Biaggi’s program is funded by private donations and government grants. mpartsMagnolia Projects has no offices or facilities and Biaggi said she spends 4-to-5 days a week at either of the school sites.

“Everything we do is student centered,” she said. “We come to them, we help provide transportation to internships and externships. For students on free and reduced lunch, we provide them with the clothes they need to go off campus — boots, shoes. We have kids that need suits and jackets, we provide that for students that are socioeconomically disadvantaged.”

What others say about Biaggi:

“The energy she brings, in my opinion, is very essential to to the success we've had so far. Students are very responsive to her. She does have a demeanor where she can get students out of the shell,” Jesús Díaz, college and career counselor at Geyserville New Tech Academy. “I think it's necessary and it's a breath of fresh air, because we have somebody coming from the outside and seeing the value in the students and helping the students see the value in themselves. That's one of the things that Gianna brings to our campus.”

What Biaggi says about 2023:

“I want to refine, iterate and grow our internship, externship and exposure experiences programs. I want to keep trying, failing, and find the most innovative, and effective ways to serve our students, with the goal to take the Magnolia Project to a larger scale in Sonoma County and beyond. I am so grateful for our three amazing district partners, Guerneville, Geyserville, and Piner-Olivet, whose leadership has made our work possible, and for the Magnolia board of directors, current and past, whose support of me and the vision has been unwavering. I am excited to continue my work to grow our organization, and I invite individuals interested in getting involved in any capacity to reach out to me. Finally, I see my work as bigger than the Magnolia Project. What I am really doing is changing the narrative about what quality education looks like in Sonoma County, and of who is capable of leading change. As an educator, I want to grow our pedagogical vision and program. As a young female leader, I want to carve out a path for other young women in our community to create, innovate and lead, and to ensure that our voices and expertise are heard and respected."

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

For more people to watch in 2023, go here.

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