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Change Agent Brianna Fugate Named University Innovation Fellow

January 2016

Brianna Fugate Names University Innovation FellowThe National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter), recently named computer science major Brianna Fugate, C'2018, a University Innovation Fellow.  A national community of student leaders, Fellows work to ensure that their peers gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to compete in the economy of the future. Photo by Jerome Born, InDaHouseMedia

Fugate will join the Epicenter's 452 Fellows at 131 schools who are founding clubs, hosting events and workshops, collaborating with faculty on new classes, creating student makerspaces, and providing opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration.

To accomplish this, the Fellows advocate for lasting institutional change and create opportunities for students at their schools to learn about entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity, design thinking and venture creation. The online training and in-person events expose students to experiential training methods, design thinking, creativity, lean startup, innovation spaces and many other strategies for engaging fellow students in honing their entrepreneurial mindset.

The Epicenter is funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University VentureWell (formerly NCIIA).  Jakita Thomas, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer and information sciences, serves as Fugate's Spelman College adviser.

In her own words, Fugate explains how she fell in love with mentoring and what inspired her to blaze a trail of success in the tech industry.

My journey into technology was completely fortuitous. On a whim, I volunteered with Black Girls Code this past March and that experience unlocked a passion that I didn't even know existed. BGC is a non-profit organization that teaches computer programming to girls 7-17 in underrepresented communities. Kimberly Bryant, founder and executive director of BGC, saw how significantly underrepresented minorities were in the field of technology and she had a vision to change the landscape. That vision led her to start BGC. 

I first served as a non-technical volunteer where I helped check in the participants for a "Build A Website In A Day" workshop and helped with their lunch and restroom breaks. In the afternoon, I sat in on the workshop and saw how the faces of these bright young girls lit up when they saw their creativity come to life.

At that moment, my interest was piqued. Ms. Bryant inspired me to go from a non-technical volunteer to a mentor/technical volunteer and told me that I would learn a "TON." She was right. I served as a technical volunteer at two BGC youth-guided hackathons relating to teen domestic violence. The participants had to brainstorm and design a mobile application around the theme, "Love Is Respect." "Not only did I lead my team to second place in one of the competitions, I was also able to learn about mobile app development from an entrepreneurial framework of creating a product that we could utilize in the African-American community."

"For me, studying computer science is an equalizer that gives me the freedom and the flexibility to drive real change in the lives of others."

After my volunteer experience with BGC, I was eager to soak up as much knowledge about coding and computer science. I actively sought out opportunities, one of which was a competitive summer program with Google. I was one of 30 students who spent three weeks in Mountain View, California in the immersive and interactive Computer Science Summer Institute.

We learned new technologies such as Python and App Engine and created cool group projects to present before Google teams. In addition, I was able to see innovative projects like the Google Car and Google Glass. Being at Google was a rewarding experience and I was able to see how the skills I learned could be translated into a successful career.

While at Google, I applied for and won a Google Anita Borg Scholarship where I was able to attend the highly regarded Grace Hopper Celebration this past October. I was honored to be one of 8,000 women determined to break the glass ceiling in technology. Parenthetically, I will attend the ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing through a Bloomberg, LP scholarship next February. 

Ms. Bryant  taught me that I can become a "builder of my own future through exposure to computer science and technology." For me, studying computer science is an equalizer that gives me the freedom and the flexibility to drive real change in the lives of others.

I now see myself as a future tech leader and problem-solver who chooses to help girls and women of color flourish exponentially in the field of computer science. I am always grateful when my story resonates with a young girl considering tech, and I tell her how important it is to have a strong network of social encouragement. I look forward to being an inspiration to them the same way Ms. Bryant was to me. 

Learn more about Fugate's stellar experiences on Linkedin

Read the feature, "Black Girls CODE Teen Mentor Flying High in Tech Space

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