Gabrielle Brown and Theresa Hopkins

Gabrielle Brown (center, holding laptop) assists Normandy art teacher Theresa Hopkins with her device. Brown and Ariel Piphus (at right) are 2019 Normandy graduates who served as interns in the district’s IT department last summer.  

At Normandy High School’s graduation last spring, the speaker shared with the crowd that the class valedictorian planned to major in computer science. Teri Green was in the audience and had an epiphany.

Green, the Information Technology director with the Normandy Schools Collaborative, has been working to increase the number of women and people of color in the IT field. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, only 7.4 percent of the IT workforce is African American. The numbers are similar for women.

After the ceremony, Green approached class valedictorian Gabrielle Brown and told her and her classmates about the idea for an IT intern program for Normandy graduates. Some of the graduates had other plans or interests; however, Brown, and classmate Ariel Piphus signed on.

“There’s a big push to increase the numbers of African Americans and women in IT, and it hit me,” Green recalled. “I can help make their dreams come true while bridging a gap in our field.”

As part of the Change Begins Now program, interns (or TechTerns) learn the basics of IT, working with teachers and staff on hardware specifications, adding hardware to the domain, creating user accounts, and uploading software to the machines.

Piphus, who is planning to attend the University of Missouri-Columbia to study nursing, participated in the program because she has always had an interest in technology.

“I want to learn and always have been tech-savvy,” Piphus said. “I’m the one who fixes the Wi-Fi at home, helping my older family members and keeping them up to date [on technology].”

Brown, who will begin coursework at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is majoring in computer science. She is appreciative of the opportunity to work with her alma mater, and with Green.

“This is another example of how [Normandy] has supported us and provides us with opportunities like this,” Brown said. “I’ve been a student here since kindergarten and appreciate how they are helping to kick start my career, especially as a black woman.”

Brown and Piphus are two of four students who graduated from Normandy with their high school diploma and an associate degree in general transfer studies. The students were enrolled in the Gateway to College program, a partnership with Normandy and St. Louis Community College which allows talented students the opportunity to earn an associate degree and high school diploma simultaneously.

Green, who is also chief information officer with FantasTechs, a technology consultant, is pleased with the progress of the TechTerns. Long-term plans include extending the summer internships to a year-round program.

“I’m a solution-oriented person which is why I named the program ‘The Change Begins Now,’” Green said. “We talk about increasing the numbers of people of color and women in IT, and I wanted to put something in place to help bridge that gap. But more importantly, when our students graduate from college, they have the degree and relevant experience to be successful in whatever field they eventually decide to pursue.”

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