Empowered teaching young women coding skills

Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton with the Empowered students. | Photo by Tony Pacheco

In Louisville, one high school junior has devised a plan to provide young women an opportunity to learn coding skills while networking with local entrepreneurs and businesses.

Fourteen-year-old DuPont Manual High School junior Anjali Chadha introduced the nonprofit Empowered, which provides a seven-week coding class for young women in the Louisville area, in partnership with KentuckianaWorks’ SummerWorks program and Code Louisville.

Chadha first came up with the idea for Empowered two years ago after middle school. She said she saw an opportunity for young women to gain not only computer skills but business skills as well.

“The girls are actually working on a lot of real-world projects along with the program,” Chadha said. “They are working with some small-business owners in Louisville, some entrepreneurs who are getting off the ground with their businesses and need some technology help.”

It’s a good way for the girls to connect with professionals and entrepreneurs while gaining professional experience with web development and web design skills, she said.

The Empowered girls are working in pairs with these small-business owners, all of whom are minorities, women or both.

Along with teaching young women technology skills, Empowered is hosting a series of lectures on technology and business for the students. Speakers include minority women and their involvement with technology as well as their experience as business leaders, entrepreneurs and STEM professionals.

On Monday, July 10 Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton spoke to the Empowered students at the University of Louisville’s Nucleus iHub facility. Hampton, a former software tester in the Air Force, told the girls that it was important to always be inquisitive and to be well-educated in and out of the classroom.

“I’m always learning something,” Hampton said. “Wherever I live, I would just drop into the local community college and take a programming class or take a language I didn’t know.”

Hampton said there is no age limit to learning.

“As long as you’re breathing, school is never out,” Hampton said.

Hampton told the girls that it is important to always be improving something in their lives, whether through education or business but to remember to be flexible.

“Life is not going to go the way you planned,” Hampton said.

However, Hampton also said that each of them is capable of more than they think and if they get an opportunity to do something big, they should take it.

For Chadha, Empowered has been a rewarding experience, something which she said she hopes to expand it in the future.

“Working on it this summer has shown me that I have such a deep passion for this sort of work,” Chadha said.

Chadha said her parents, Vik Chadha and Vidya Ravichandran, had been a big inspiration for her involvement with technology. Her mother founded GlowTouch Technologies, a software company with around 1,500 employees. Her father is managing director of the company and co-founded Backupify. Her parents’ background in software and technology allowed her to gain these skills at an early age.

“My entire family is full of philanthropists, and people who really care about the community,” Chadha said. “I think that that has instilled in me a want to not only learn and acquire skills myself, but also to help spread skills to other people. It doesn’t matter if I learn how to build a website or how to write a program, other people should have that knowledge, too.”

The girls were hand-selected by Empowered program manager Alisia McClain based on their interests and potential benefit to the program.

The University of Louisville Foundation is donating the use of its Nucleus iHub facility to Empowered for the summer.

Nucleus director Dr. Mary Tapolsky oversees Nucleus programs, including their entrepreneur training program, accelerated customer growth program and various other programs. She said Empowered was a good opportunity for the University of Louisville Foundation to support a program that is line with their focus and the University of Louisville’s focus on education and workforce development.

Tapolsky said that Nucleus works with entrepreneurs, local startups and early stage companies to provide them with support services to help them grow their businesses.

“This was brought to me as an opportunity, which we were happy to support with their focus on teaching coding skills to high school females,” Tapolsky said. “The program is providing them with access to mentors and figures that would help encourage them to enter into this field and get them excited about the area of technology and coding.”