It was not long after the launch of ARA, an organization which aspires to attract, retain and advance women in technology and leadership, that my co-founders and I were introduced to Chicago Tech Academy High School.
From facilitating a virtual power lunch with their Young Women’s Leadership Society, to welcoming an intern from the Academy, we have enjoyed engaging with – and learning from – school leaders like Tiara Wheatley and its students and alumni, including Aria Walker. This final installation of our three-part “Learning as We Climb” series features both Tiara and Aria and shares more about their program’s impact on the next generation of female leaders. We were grateful and delighted to have them join us for a roundtable discussion a few months ago, and here are some of the highlights of that conversation.
Tackling diversity in tech through education
The Chicago Tech Academy changes lives by educating, empowering and connecting young, diverse entrepreneurial thinkers across Chicago. Tiara, Senior Director of Corporate Engagement and Philanthropy for the Academy, talked about their commitment to driving diversity in the technology industry. Through the Academy’s real-world learning curriculum, students are introduced to technology careers and professionals in the field.
For Aria, a 2017 graduate, those internships were the most meaningful part of her time at the Academy. She gained valuable IT experience, developed her soft skills and honed her communication and presentation skills by taking part in company meetings. But the professional experience was just one part of it.
From connection comes opportunity
Beyond getting her first taste of corporate America, Aria learned about the power of connection. Through both internships and her involvement with the Academy’s Young Women’s Leadership Society, Aria gained access to mentors who would become an important support system and sounding board for her.
Aria shared that she learned “it’s not what you know, but who you know” when it comes to being successful. As a first-generation college student, Aria credits her mentors for exposing her to new perspectives and helping her to see a different future for herself. She’s now majoring in Mathematics and Education at the University of Illinois Springfield.
What struck me in particular about our time with Tiara and Aria was the genuine love and respect these two share for each other. It’s through these real connections and bonds that we’re able to truly empower and lift the next generation of women leaders.
Wrapping it up
Our “Learning as We Climb” roundtable discussion was about harnessing the power of community, mentorship and relationships, and there are no better examples of this than the Chicago Tech Academy and the focus of our second blog in this series, i.c.stars. What makes them unique is that in addition to preparing students for technology careers, they also give them the skills to continue the important community advocacy work needed to lift up the generations that follow them.
Our thanks to both Aria Walker and Julie Brito for sharing what their experiences have meant to them, and our sincere gratitude to the ever-inspiring Tiara Wheatley and Sandee Kastrul for bringing such special programs to life.