Honestly, I never considered myself interested in education. My mom is a teacher. She was an amazing teacher. But teaching can stretch to occupy every moment of a teacher’s life. As a teenager, I was doing bulletin boards for my mom’s classrooms. I was writing the calligraphy on the kids’ end-of-year certificates.
So it’s ironic that my interest in curriculum ended me up in a school of education. And further ironic that I use what the Stanford School of Education taught me in totally unexpected paths.
At Emory, I majored in chemistry and international studies, intending to go into medicine. But I also studied Japanese for several years. I did a Fulbright in Japan, looking at the presentation of the West in Japanese textbooks, especially with respect to controversies over World War II and Korea and China.
I picked Stanford’s International Comparative Education (ICE) program because it allowed me to continue my studies of World War II history textbooks, decade over decade, comparing the U.S. vs. the Japanese presentation of the war. There was also a dude. He went to Emory with me, and he was from Palo Alto.
Even though I had this hyper-focus on international curriculum, ICE is part of the policy studies program at Stanford, so I learned a lot about doing research. I was hired by SRI and worked there for almost six years, doing educational policy research on issues like charter schools, the small-schools movement and teacher quality. It was an exposure to domestic education, which was new to me.
I decided I wanted to have a more direct connection to community. Policy research is very social-justice-oriented. But a lot of times the reports sit on some policy maker’s shelf and don’t have the intended community-level impact.
I became a philanthropy fellow at the San Francisco Foundation. The role exposed me to nonprofit leadership, to grant making – and to my current boss, Cedric Brown, MA ’90, who then led the Mitchell Kapor Foundation in San Francisco.
Cedric created a job for me as Kapor’s grantee advocate, advising on organizational development, finding ways to help nonprofits improve in ways that didn’t just have to do with giving them money.
Nine years later, I’m still here, though our organization has shifted a lot. Today, we’re the Kapor Center for Social Impact, we're located in Oakland, and we focus on tech diversity and inclusion.
I needed to know what it felt like to experience and understand the tech environment from a personal perspective. So, for three months, I worked Monday through Friday and then from 6-9:30 every Monday through Thursday evening and all day Sundays I went to coding boot camp.
It was interesting to go from "talking" about diversity in tech to learning to code as a Black woman from the South who had not had much technical training. The experience has an impact on the people around you in ways that aren’t always articulated. Others in my circle have been inspired to learn to code as well.
When it comes to tech product development, people create products to scratch their own itches. They don’t particularly understand how this product will affect others. Look, for example, at Joy Buolamwini’s research on face recognition software and how it doesn’t work on dark skin. If designers are explicitly or implicitly biased, the products they create will also have this bias embedded in them.
My organization fights this kind of bias through the work of its three entities. Kapor Capital, a venture firm, supports social-impact startups with emphasis on founders of color and women. The Level Playing Field Institute has a five-week, STEM-heavy summer program held at college campuses including Stanford and Morehouse. The Kapor Center for Social Impact, where I work, is community-focused.
I work a lot with Oakland community-based organizations that teach young people of color about tech entrepreneurism and coding, host hackathons and help people meet founders of color.
A couple of years ago, at Brothers Code, an annual event in Oakland introducing underrepresented male youth to the basics of coding education, we added a track for adults and parents.
Ultimately, we want folks to know that there are opportunities in tech for them and for their kids.
-- Barbara Wilcox
Top photo: Tiffany Price shares a selfie moment with young Laina Mwanza in Harare, Zimbabwe.