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Orlando’s Tech Sassy Girlz Expanding in the New Year, Offering More Coding Classes and Vocational Training

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Tech Sassy Girlz Ashley Simmons, Trinity Luv Lozano, and Sydney Anglin. Photo: Danielle Prieur

Women make up less than 30 percent of the workforce in STEM fields in the United States.  

A local nonprofit that’s expanding in the new year wants to change that by offering free coding classes to more Orange County Public Schools students.  

Laine Powell remembers what it was like attending coding events as an undergraduate and a woman of color at the University of Florida.

“The fact remained that there were not that many women there. There were not that many women who looked like me.”

Powell says she wanted to change that gender gap with Tech Sassy Girlz. The nonprofit offers free after school-coding and vocational training to girls from underrepresented backgrounds.

Powell says she didn’t want money to be a barrier for these students.

She says since 2012-more than 800 girls have participated in the program. Alumna have gone on to take computer science classes in high school and college-and pursue careers in STEM. 

“One young lady is actually pursuing her PhD at Georgia Tech University in aerospace engineering. We have another student who is in the cyber security workforce.”

Nichole Ross teaches at Liberty Middle School in Orlando. She’s seen how Tech Sassy Girlz has changed the attitude her female students have toward technology. 

“Yes some of them were forced into the computer class. They were forced into the computer class. Then they were forced into Tech Sassy. But I only had to force them for like maybe three weeks. You know? And then after that it was ‘Ms. Ross, Ms. Ross. Ok. Alright we’re going to have club today’.”

Liberty Middle School is a Title I school where one hundred percent of the students are on free and reduced lunch.

Ross says in the last three years girls have learned more than coding as they work on projects together for a few hours once a week. 

“I’ve seen so many of them open up out of their shells. They’re not afraid to make friends. They’re not afraid to talk. They’re not afraid to speak up.”

7th grader Trinity Luv Lozano is a perfect example of this. She was one of the girls Ross actively recruited into the program.

Tech Sassy Girlz Director Laine Powell and Liberty Middle School Teacher Nichole Ross. Photo: Danielle Prieur

And she changed her whole schedule just so she could be in the computer class. 

Lozano says she didn’t know anything about computers to start with. 

“We first learned using little tiny pieces of code and putting it together and trying it and just working on little tiny projects.”

Now after two years Lozano’s building her own interactive story game on a website called Code.org and wants to pursue a career as a technology teacher.

After two years with the program 7th grader Ashley Simmons wants to be a computer programmer. 

“I think it’s definitely a big gender barrier that’s held by a lot of these careers and things that companies hold back like profits and benefits that are not given to women as they are equally to men.”

And after three years with Tech Sassy Girlz 8th grader Sydney Anglin wants to use computer aided design software as an interior designer.

“We need more women in STEM jobs because we have good ideas and we’re very smart just like the men are.”

Rollins College Computer Science Assistant Professor Valerie Summet says this attitude is what women need to succeed in a male-dominated field. 

“People have told me that I took a space away from a more deserving male. I’ve been told I didn’t deserve my fellowships that I got as a graduate student. After I had my PhD I had a colleague who expressed surprise that I knew how to code.”

That’s why she says programs like Tech Sassy Girlz are crucial as they teach girls there’s a seat for them at the table early on.

“If you have a bad experience early on and you start thinking, “Do I belong here? Should I be here?” And the answer to that is absolutely yes.”

Tech Sassy Girlz Director Laine Powell says in 2020 they’ll be recruiting more high school students for free vocational training that could lead to a six week paid internship.

She says that’s how she’s trying to change the face of technology one girl at a time.

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Danielle Prieur

About Danielle Prieur

Reporter & Fill-in Host

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter at WMFE. You can hear her reporting on a daily basis on the station. She also fills-in as a host during the morning and afternoon drive times. Her reporting has been featured on NPR, Marketplace, Here & Now, and Vox. Danielle is originally from Rochester Hills, ... Read Full Bio »