Women’s History Month Profile | Dr. Laine Powell, Tech Sassy Girlz
Historically, lack of exposure and access have been the main reasons women have been extremely underrepresented in STEM-related fields. Even today, only 26 percent of the total people in computer science are women, and of these women 3 percent are black and 2 percent are Hispanic. Dr. Laine Powell, founder and executive director of Tech Sassy Girlz, is on a mission to change that.
During her freshman year at University of Florida, her brother built her computer, and she became fascinated by how it worked and how he put it together. With her curiosity peaked, she went to computer conferences with her boyfriend, Courtney, who double majored in computer science and electrical engineering. She noticed there were hardly any women there, especially women who looked like her … something that nagged at her for years.
“I realized we need to normalize women knowing what a computer scientist does, what an engineer does, and we also need to normalize black and Hispanic girls being in this space,” she said. “It’s a fallacy to say women just don’t like computing, and it’s even more absurd when we create environments that are challenging to navigate for them.”
In 2011, she and Courtney (now her husband) started mapping out how to support young girls in this space. A year later, Dr. Powell founded Tech Sassy Girlz, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring underrepresented girls in middle and high school to engage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through college preparation, career readiness, mentoring and entrepreneurship.
Through Tech Sassy Girlz programs, girls in grades 6 through 12 — typically the time during which they lose interest in STEM — have an opportunity to connect with women leaders in STEM-related fields, participate in workshops and technology tours, network with industry professionals and intern with tech companies.
Orange County provides funding for Tech Sassy Girlz programs. During the pandemic, the organization had to its programming and events because they were all designed for in-person contact. Mayor Jerry L. Demings reached out to non-profits to identify how the County could be of support, and as a result it provided additional funding for Tech Sassy Girlz to remain open.
“Without Orange County, I’m not sure what this organization would look like right now,” asserted Dr. Powell. “It allowed us to pivot during that challenging time, transition programs to virtual format and actually introduce two new programs. I can’t thank Mayor Demings and his staff enough for allowing us to thrive and ensure that empowered girls power the world.”
In 2016, Dr. Powell was invited by the White House to present STEM Access for Marginalized Girls. She has received a host of other community and professional awards, including being nominated three times in 2016 and 2017 for the White House Champions of Change: Young Women Empowering Communities.
“I love that we get to inspire girls in STEM on a regular basis,” she said. “I love that we get to provide this type of programming for students regardless of their zip code, and I’m grateful I get an opportunity to do this work and make a difference in the community.”
For more, go to Tech Sassy Girlz.