March 18, 2019  

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USM, Craig Newmark Philanthropies Host Speaking Tour to Encourage More Women to Enter High-Tech Fields

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Sheena Allen

In an effort to increase interest and diversity in technology fields and computer science, The University of Southern Mississippi and Craig Newmark Philanthropies have organized their first- ever Women in Technology speaking tour, which will reach more than 750 high school girls across Mississippi between Jan. 25 and Feb. 22.

This year’s tour features Sheena Allen, an app developer and entrepreneur who founded CapWay, a mobile bank for Gen Z and millennials. Allen, a native Mississippian and Southern Miss alumna, is listed on the Forbes 30 under 30 for 2019 as well as Business Insider’s 30 AND UNDER: The tech industry’s rising stars in 2018.

During the tour, Allen will speak at 9:15 a.m. on Jan. 25 at Ocean Springs High School, 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 1 at Meridian High School, 9:15 a.m. on Feb. 8 at Oxford High School, and 9 a.m. on Feb. 22 at Terry High School.

“I’m excited about engaging with the female students about not only tech but other opportunities that they may not have ever thought of or had access to before,” Allen said.

Women of color are among the least represented minorities in the technology sector, especially in computing fields. This is despite the accomplishments of early trailblazers, like African-American engineers and mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, whose experiences working as “human computers” for NASA were featured in Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures and later adapted into a movie.

Dr. Julie Cwikla, iD 8’s lead organizer and the Director of Creativity and Innovation in STEM at USM, helped envision and organize this speaking tour after seeing the powerful impact of USM’s first-ever iD 8 Hackathon in 2017.

“The power of role models should never be underestimated,” Dr. Cwikla said. “We are thrilled to have the young, energetic Sheena Allen share her story of grit and success with high school girls across the state.”

“Including everyone in tech careers is a matter of economic and national security because true innovation comes when diverse talent is encouraged to share and act on their ideas,” said Craig Newmark, the founder of craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies. “I’m proud to work with The University of Southern Mississippi and Sheena Allen to help inspire more women to enter the tech sector.”

More than 50 female African-American students representing six Mississippi high schools attended the first Hackathon in 2017. The students worked in teams to design and build a social media app, while computer science professors and students from the University provided technical assistance. The students also heard from a number of accomplished women of color in STEM fields.

The speaking tour will serve as an introduction to the 2nd annual iD 8 Hackathon, which will take place on April 12-13 on USM’s Hattiesburg campus. Teams of four African-American girls are invited to USM to build an app prototype and compete for a grand prize. The two-day event will include guest speakers, panelists, and giveaways.

Students can find more information about the event and ways they can prepare for the competition at id8create.org.