lauren holloway

Lauren Holloway, Class of 2009, Changes the Game for Girls Who Code

As part of the District’s commitment to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, Shaker Middle School launched two clubs this past school year designed to attract and retain girls in STEM learning: Girls Who Code, and Girl stEMPOWER, led by faculty advisors Debra Quarles and Lauren Priestley. Knowing that it helps to see what you can be, Deb Quarles reached out to Shaker alumna Lauren Holloway to ask if she would be interested in acting as a mentor to the Girls Who Code, drawing upon her background in the tech industry. What happened next was “a total game-changer,” says Deb. Read on to learn more about Lauren’s involvement with the club, and what led her to the field of STEM in the first place. 

Catch us up on what you’ve been doing since you graduated from Shaker?

After graduating from Shaker Heights High School in 2009, I attended Spelman College in Atlanta, GA where I earned a B.A. in Sociology. After college, I served for a year in AmeriCorps at a Residential Psychiatric Treatment Facility in Douglasville, GA for youth with severe emotional and behavioral challenges. My area of service was specifically math and literacy education. It was by far one of the most influential years of my life. Following my year of service, I began my career transition into the tech industry.

I recently moved back to Cleveland and I’m still working for a company I’ve been with for the last 6 years. I’m the director of education for the software development programs of a coding boot camp. Our programs are accelerated software development career training programs for adults. Our mission is to champion social equity through technology education, emphasizing reaching those from backgrounds underrepresented in the tech industry. 

How did you get connected with the Girls Who Code program?

I got connected with the Girls Who Code program at Shaker through the mom of one of my best friends from Shaker with whom I’m still very close. Her mom is a teacher at the Middle School and she connected Ms. Q with me via email. Originally, it was to attend one of the meetings over Zoom that was a Q & A session with the girls. I was truly amazed and inspired by their questions about the industry, what they should learn, my experience in the tech industry especially as someone who identifies with multiple groups underrepresented in tech. Ms. Q had mentioned to me earlier some of the challenges she was facing with curriculum access for the program due to firewalls, etc. At the end of the Q & A session, I offered to Ms. Q and the girls to do some coding with them. And from that point on, I met with them for several meetings and we developed chatbots of their design, problem-solving, and creativity in Python.

Women are historically underrepresented in the STEM fields. What led you to this path?

I have always been excited and passionate about technology. At Mercer and Woodbury I would find any excuse to spend extra time in the computer labs. Looking back, I was extremely fortunate to have had educators in those spaces that gave me those extra opportunities, like being involved in Computer Club in 5th and 6th grade. That space just felt like home for me and I felt included. I am to this day so grateful for those educators that helped to fuel that early flame for me at school and for my parents providing me early exposure and opportunities to tinker and explore it at home. Unfortunately, like so many other girls, everything changed in middle school and I no longer felt like that space was mine, or that I belonged. 

It was my year in AmeriCorps that challenged me to consider a tech career. I would often ask the students I was working with, “If no one put doubt in your head, told you it’s not for you, what would you want to be when you grow up?” It was a very uncomfortable question for a lot of them, but I had one student in particular who told me he would be an architect. I reflected on this conversation quite a bit and realized I was being a bit hypocritical because I wasn’t sitting with that question honestly myself. When I moved back to Ohio, I was fortunate enough again to have supportive parents who encouraged me to give it a shot.

What has been the highlight of your experience in working with the Shaker students?

Ms. Q told me that they’d tried Python once prior, but there was some fear and apprehension on the girls’ end. So, I was determined to join forces and help them tear down that wall of fear brick by heavy brick. There were many highlights for me, but the theme of them all is seeing them go from quiet, fearful of being wrong or making a mistake passengers to curious, vocal, confident drivers of the project. I’m still so extremely impressed by them and their growth!

Why do we need clubs or opportunities just for girls in STEM? 

My short answer is equity, inclusion, and representation. My story isn’t unique. We all deserve to feel like we belong.