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Coding Kits and Mobile Apps Bringing Diversity to STEM

Web-based programs such as the coding kit LINGO and the mobile app Capri, which teaches financial literacy, are helping women and people of color prepare for jobs in which they're underrepresented.

Nicole Hartwig is developing a website and app called 'Capri For Girls' geared to help girls learn finance fundamentals. Hartwig works from her Detroit home on April 9, 2021.
Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press/TNS
(TNS) — The number of women who are proficient in financial literacy is significantly less than men around the world, according to the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center, which surveyed what women know about investing.

And the number of non-white and non-male workers entering the engineering, technology and computing occupations remains low, the American Society for Engineering Education says.

Some organizations in metro Detroit are trying to address this.

JOURNi is a nonprofit that focuses on increasing engineering and technology accessibility for youth and residents in Detroit.

Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan is an education nonprofit for youth and families that has a financial literacy program.

But for those young people who do not have access to local organizations, two web-based programs created by Michigan natives are available to assist them.

Here's how they came to be and how to access them.

Capri app teaches finances to young women

Capri is a phone app that allows a library full of courses that teach about financial literacy. Founder and CEO Nicole Hartwig zones in on closing gender financial gaps from investing and ownership to personal finances in the app. The app is a self-paced course with video classes, budgeting tools, loan basics and investment information.

"That experience really shouldn't be reserved for uniquely fortunate young women," Hartwig said. "That's a right that everyone has — to understand (the) mechanics of money and personal finance."

The app has a paid subscription that can be preordered for a six-month membership for $30 and a one-year membership for $59. Capri has been in its beta stages since January and it is set to launch by the end of this year.

The content in the app is geared toward Gen Z and millennial women who will receive access to over 75 financial classes, tools and the community room where app users can chat with each other.

"Those topics expand everything under the umbrella of personal finance," Hartwig said. "That means the very basics — like budgeting, understanding the mechanics of credit and how credit works — all the way up to maybe you're planning to live on your own for the first time, maybe you're financial planning to have children in the next few years or maybe you're starting to explore the world of investing."

Capri launched in 2018 in New York City, where Hartwig was attending school. Now that the app is preparing to launch, she wanted to bring the headquarters to Detroit, just a few miles from her hometown of Royal Oak. As the city continues to grow as a technology hub, she said she feels Detroiters deserve financial education.

"There's a tangible feeling of a community-wide goal of upward mobility for Detroit residents," Hartwig said. "That's something that you really feel when you get here. And that's really a stark contrast to a place like New York. The saying goes that it's 8 million strangers. The feeling of Detroit is this very real feeling of community where everybody in all walks of business are trying to help each other and help the community gain upward community."

The company currently has four employees, a suite of advisers and the Capri Council, which is a group of women in finance and entrepreneurship that reviewi the curriculum.

Cathy Lorenz of St. Clair Shores works with a lot of business owners as a CPA and partner at Cowen and Company, which is based in Cleveland. She said when her clients go to school to gain knowledge about a skill, they don’t end up taking business classes which creates a huge gap. Lorenz said financial literacy resources like Capri could fill this gap for many.

“Business owners tend to be very knowledgeable about their trade, whether they’re doctors or engineers or restaurant owners, but we find a huge lag in their general business knowledge,” Lorenz said. “We notice that a lot, where they don’t know the first thing about how to read their company’s financial statement or what goes into building their credit and why is that important for them as a person or as a business owner.”

Lorenz said there are many financial related fundamentals that young people don’t get to learn, like how to write a check or balance your checkbook, how to have a budget and how to manage your assets and debts.

“I’m a firm believer that people — especially young women, and I think we’re getting way better than generations before us — need to take ownership and be responsible for their education and knowledge about things that are going to impact them in their lives,” Lorenz said. “Having something like this to help bridge that is great.”

Coding kit brings engineering classes to your home

STEMBoard, a company based in Washington, D.C., noticed that there was a gap in how students were learning about engineering during the pandemic, so it set out to create a coding kit called LINGO to teach engineering techniques at home with hands-on equipment and video courses.

"The classes are all video," said CEO Aisha Bowe, 35, who is an Ann Arbor native. "They're online. They're self-paced. What I love about LINGO is it's not a toy, it's a tool. Our content is aligned to Department of Education National Learning Standards because we partnered with D.C. computer science teachers."

Each kit includes products that can be found in a car, such as a sensor, a micro-controller board, a breadboard, a resistor, wires, cables and a passive buzzer. The kit allows you to build a prototype of the sensors on a car that beep when you're too close to another object.

The kit can be purchased for $69.99 on the STEMBoard by LINGO website. There is also an option to donate a kit to one of two organizations: SMASH Academy, a STEM program for high school students in Atlanta, and INTech Camp, a nonprofit in Charlotte, North Carolina, that encourages young women to become interested in technology.

Bowe, who worked at NASA, grew up in Ann Arbor and attended both Washtenaw Community College and the University of Michigan. She now lives in Washington.

"After spending six years at NASA, I was really inspired to not only have a company that was technically proficient, but also gave back to the community," Bowe said. "I feel like businesses have the opportunity to make long-term societal impact, if they choose, in the communities around them and even the country. It was important for me to have the ability to work on technical subjects that were really cool, and also take a portion of that and invest it into some content and curriculum."

When STEMBoard started, the company hosted workshops and camps where Bowe's team would talk about careers in engineering. The camps started in the Bahamas, where her father is from, and each workshop would have about 70 students. At the end of the camp, students would have created a prototype, pitched a start-up company and loved the idea of technology.

"This light bulb went off in my head that there's a lot of people out there that would be engineers, scientists and technologists if they just were exposed to it early on," Bowe said. "We have some gaps in our educational system, and a lot of that is around how we teach the subjects and what people get to build hands-on in school."

Bowe hopes to continue inspiring the next generation, especially young people of color, to enter the engineering field. Bowe's LINGO clients include Microsoft, GE, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and middle schools, and she is hoping to expand her partnerships to increase the academic support.

"I do believe that STEM is not only the future, but teaching it in an engaging and immersive way is a necessity to helping people develop the skills that they need in the future," Bowe said.

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