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Women's Tech Group, UTD Lead Girls Architecture Program

The nonprofit Women Leading Technology is working with the University of Texas at Dallas, the city of Richardson and Techie Factory to introduce girls and young women to architecture as a potential career.

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(TNS) — On Saturday mornings, dozens of girls and young women pile into a room at the IQ Headquarters in Richardson. Divided into three teams, they work together to plan, design and build three life-size playhouses.

Their work is part of a 12-week architecture program led by Kelly Flowers, CEO and founder of Women Leading Technology, in partnership with the University of Texas at Dallas, the City of Richardson and Techie Factory.

Flowers argues that many fields in STEAAM — or science, technology, engineering, architecture, the arts and math — are dominated by men. She sees it as her mission to introduce such careers to young women.

On one recent Saturday, the girls finished sketching out their designs and plotting out their ideas. They created a mock-up of their playhouse using cardboard. One of those girls is Jennifer Knoblauch, 15, a 10th grader at Emerson High School in McKinney.

When she’s not participating in school activities or prepping for the SATs, Jennifer trains every morning and evening as a competitive figure skater.


The architecture program has become a creative outlet for Jennifer, who hopes to one day be an architect or an author. But architecture wasn’t always on her radar. It was a career she thought was just for boys, said her father, John Knoblauch.

With eager hands, she cut into one of the cardboard walls to make a window for a model of her group’s playhouse. Although it’s sometimes a challenge, Jennifer says she has enjoyed getting to work with girls younger than her and hearing their ideas.

“I believe this program will help me, because it will increase my communication skills with younger and older people — as well as understanding how architecture will work in the future,” she said.

The Richardson Innovation Quarter, known as the IQ, is a tech hub for new innovations, startups and nonprofit organizations. The IQ Headquarters has been hosting the architecture program since it began in early January.

The girls work from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., collaborating, planning and designing — with a break at noon for lunch. They’ve met on most Saturdays since the start of the program and will meet every Saturday in April.


Flowers wanted to make the program available for girls of all backgrounds. Entry for the program was free and on a first come, first served basis. The application was available on Women Leading Technology’s website and was open for all girls from pre-K to 12th grade.

Funding for the program comes from the Women Leading Technology Foundation and the organization’s sponsors. The program will help the girls understand the basics of architecture and all its components, including several lessons on financial literacy, project management and software programs that help bring their vision to life.

Naumika Dantuluri, 14, was a late entry. Her team, the E.C.O Girls, has a plan to make its playhouse out of recycled materials. “We have someone who’s donating us a slide that’s made out of recycled plastic,” Dantuluri said. “And we’ll be using recycled glass for our little windows, if we can find someone to donate it.”

Dantuluri hopes to one day become an electrical engineer. “I feel like since it’s a male-dominated field, it’s going to be a little bit harder for girls to be accepted, but with an organization like this, we could actually try to make it a more equal field,” she said.

Introducing young girls to STEAAM-related courses or programs gives them the ability to empower others, said Gaurav Shekhar, director of the UTD Graduate Data Science Program in the Naveen Jindal School of Management. Shekhar provided the opportunity for Women Leading Technology to partner with UTD at the IQ.

“There’s always a saying that you educate a girl, you educate seven generations,” Shekhar said. “So I think that the ability that they develop through these programs goes beyond several generations, several groups of people.”

Flowers was in tech sales working for telecommunications companies for more than 10 years. She always noticed the small number of women in the world of tech and wondered what she could do to introduce more women to the field.

“And there definitely wasn’t a lot of women of color on the sales team,” Flowers said. “I wanted to change that.”


She uses the word “sorority” to emphasize how important sisterhood is. If young girls are provided with the right resources and support systems, they will feel more confident to pursue a STEAAM-related career, Flowers said.

“There’s not a lot of women in architecture or in construction at all,” Flowers said. “So I think that’s an industry we need to introduce kids to early because believe it or not, kids are very creative.”

Kim Nickerson is a residential architectural designer at K. Hovnanian Homes, where she designs and builds homes in different communities around the D-FW area. For the architecture challenge, Nickerson guides the girls throughout the program. She teaches the girls the history of architecture, how to execute their project and how to put their designs together.

As a woman in a male-dominated field, Nickerson has experienced some pushback from male colleagues. “Some of the obstacles have been a little bit of intimidation and not much encouragement from male counterparts who may have thought that architecture isn’t an industry for women, and that men, in some ways, can design better,” Nickerson said.

As a way to combat the negative assumptions the girls may face in the future, Nickerson and Flowers encourage the girls to see the best in themselves as both women and architects. “We just infuse them with confidence and with positive statements, and we try to stay upbeat,” Nickerson said.


The three teams are competing against each other for first, second and third place. The first place team will receive a $5,000 scholarship divided between each member, with $2,500 going to the second place team and $1,500 to the third place team.

The houses will be auctioned off on April 29 as part of their banquet at the Network of Community Ministries, when a panel of judges determines first, second and third place. Women Leading Technology is planning to host another architecture challenge in the summer.

“We have amazing opportunities for these girls,” Flowers said. “And we want major corporations to get behind us so that we can open up the doors for more girls.”

©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.