Tech Sassy Girlz Aims to Close the Tech Gender Gap and Solve the Leaky Pipeline.
By Christa K. Santos
What is the common denominator between Sheryl Sandberg and Laine Powell, M.Ed., MSM, founder and executive director of Tech Sassy Girlz? Both are graduates of North Miami Beach High School and advocates working to close the gender gap in high tech. Inspired by the career success of Sandberg, Powell has embarked on an endeavor combining her passion and desire to make a positive impact in the lives of adolescent girls while changing the face of high tech.
Igniting a Passion
During her freshman year at the University of Florida, Powell developed an initial love for computers as a self-taught techie. It began when her eldest brother, Israel Mathias, a management information systems graduate, built his first computer. She was fascinated by the process and intrigued by how he assembled the components. While at UF, Powell met her future husband, Courtney. He was a computer and electrical engineering major.
Her passion for computing ignited as she read his computer science books and magazines, along with attending technical-engineering events together. At these events, Powell quickly noticed few were women, let alone diverse. Although Powell’s interest piqued in computer science, she did not have the confidence to pursue a computer science or engineering degree because she did not know any women working in these fields to serve as mentors or role models.
Transforming into a Butterfly
Motivated to change this high-tech gender gap, Powell created a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering middle and high school girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields through college preparation, career readiness and mentoring. Thus, Tech Sassy Girlz was born under the original charter of Collegiate Pathways in 2012.
Capturing the symbolism of the butterfly as its mascot, TSG would come to represent the embodiment of growth and transcendence, as it does from caterpillar to butterfly. While equally elegant and beautiful, the butterfly transforms to embrace a new way of ascending to a higher self. Tapping into her higher education background of more than 20 years, coupled with the lack of women in STEM fields, Powell became passionate about helping girls become makers and content creators instead of consumers.
Over the years, Powell’s efforts with TSG have been recognized by her three nominations as a White House Champion of Change for Young Women Empowering Communities; Computer Science Education and Extracurricular Enrichment for Marginalized Girls; Community Champion by the Orlando Magic and several other community and professional awards.
Moving the Needle
Powell credits her work ethic to her father.
“Growing up, I watched my parents work excessive hours to ensure that my siblings and I had what we needed,” Powell said. “My recollection of my mother is very vague as she died when I was seven. After this happened, my father went into overdrive. He ensured we were never left without anything, even if it meant he had to work overtime.”
According to national research, in 2018, eight million STEM jobs will be available in the United States, but the vast majority of students will be unprepared to fill the need.
Although she is currently pursuing her doctorate in instructional technology and distance education, she does not skip a beat and sees TSG as her way of moving the needle to close the gender gap in tech and solve the leaky pipeline in the STEM crisis. TSG provides access for girls to develop 21st century computing skills that will help them embrace their passion and recognize their potential in STEM fields.
Decreasing the Gender Gap
According to national research, in 2018, eight million STEM jobs will be available in the United States, but the vast majority of students will be unprepared to fill the need. Fifty-one percent of all STEM jobs are projected to be in computer science-related fields. The federal government alone requires an additional 10,000 IT and Cyber-Security professionals, and the private sector needs many more. STEM fields are at the core of the nation’s innovation.
Under Powell’s leadership, TSG has evolved to impact the lives of more than 700 girls, awarding 10 scholarships and performing 1,000 hours of community service with programs in South Florida and Central Florida. The program offers informative, educational and hands-on workshops, such as Tech Sassy Girlz Code, afterschool programs, summer camps, college tours, hack-a-thons, pitch competitions, career development conferences, the annual Tea & “bytes” scholarship award luncheon and a chance to attend Tech Treks to various STEM-related companies throughout the year. By introducing young girls to successful women within STEM careers, TSG encourages the transformation of thinking due to stereotyping girls as “less capable” in these fields.
“I feel really grateful to the people who encouraged me and helped me develop. Nobody can succeed on their own.” – Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook
“Growing up, I’ve always been extremely inquisitive about the world around me,” Kharis Hughes, TSG alumni and VISTA Marketing Coordinator for TSG, said. “This curiosity led me to a love of science and eventually to Tech Sassy Girlz. What initially drew me to the program was its interest in developing young minds of girls, like myself, who seldom saw people that looked like us, advancing in STEM fields. Being able to develop meaningful business relationships with minority women making strides in STEM has given me, among numerous other young ladies, the confidence to pursue any dream.”