Last Updated on October 6, 2020 by BVN

Beginning Saturday, October 3, girls from across the Inland Region embarked on an amazing learning experience as participants in the 2020 session of the Ignite Leadership Academy for Girls.

The Ignite Leadership Academy for Girls (Ignite), designed for girls between the ages of 11 and 14, introduces participants to studies in science, technology, engineering, and math by focusing on a myriad of subjects including cutting edge technology, Esri GIS community mapping, how to create apps in addition to life skills including leadership development, team building, social media etiquette, presentation skills and more.

The comprehensive eight-week program, online this year as a result of COVID-19, is an innovative concept brought to life by Shirley Coates, President/CEO of the Society of Extraordinary Women and Executive Director of the Ignite Leadership Academy for Girls.

Ignite is supported by the Mapping Black California initiative under the leadership of Dr. Paulette Brown Hinds, Publisher of the IE Voice and Black Voice News, The Community Foundation, the Southern California Gas Company, the Walmart Foundation and has also received funding through the CARES Act.

Coates recently shared her enthusiasm about this year’s academy and the aspiring leaders who will facilitate it. Though she has led the sessions since the program’s inception, this year she has handed the reins of Academy facilitators to two aspiring and capable young leaders: Kennedy Schneider and Kennedy Wilson, as she continues in an administrative capacity.

Kennedy Schneider is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Riverside working toward a degree in Psychology. She is also Project Coordinator for the Footsteps to Freedom Study Tour which takes teachers and administrators from the Inland Empire to learn about the history of the Underground Railroad.

Though Schneider has always been intrigued by clinical psychology, she is currently considering a career in industrial psychology as she has a keen interest in business and operational structures.

Schneider has also worked with the Ignite program since its inception and is looking forward to her new role with the Academy this year.

Kennedy Schneider

Co-Facilitator Ignite Leadership Academy for Girls

(Source: Shirley Coates)

Speaking about her experiences with Ignite Academy participants in previous years and her hopes for this year’s session she commented, “I want to take away from this year, a new perspective. Every year, every girl has a different story.” Schneiderhe added how young girls in the program go through so much, just like she and Wilson did at their age. “I wish there was a program like this that I could have experienced.,” she shared.

She is looking forward to this year’s slate of speakers. “I am going to learn a lot more about financial literacy, social etiquette and presentation skills,” she noted. adding, “Presenting information to young girls requires unique communication skills,” adding how during the process, “We will enhance our ability to communicate with younger girls in ways that are impactful.”

Kennedy Wilson is a graduate student at the University of Redlands where she is earning a Master of Science degree in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Though new to the world of GIS she believes in the capabilities of the technology and hopes to harness its power to help underserved communities.

Commenting about exposing Ignite participants to GIS, Wilson recognizes the importance and possibilities of bringing this technology to communities and using it within governments to be a lot more efficient.

“GIS is an important tool for processing and understanding spatial data,” she explained. Wilson highlighted how GIS can also be used to inform policy decisions. “Getting information to the people and keeping them informed,” she explained is a big part of her long-term goal.

She also sees the power of using GIS to map injustice in ways that enable people to see it and empowers them to find solutions to some of our most pressing social justice challenges.

Commenting about her master’s degree program at the University of Redlands, Wilson believes the knowledge and expertise she is acquiring will provide her with the skills needed to one day teach mapping to students in the Ignite Academy. She looks forward to one day, “Taking a different, active role in how I contribute to this program.”

Kennedy Wilson

Co-Facilitator Ignite Leadership Academy for Girls

(Source: Shirley Coates)

 “The GIS community is ready for more diversity,” she stressed. “It is something you can learn about. You don’t have to be on the outskirts, left out. You can be at the table. But, you have to want it for yourself. You can get there, but you have to want to get there.”

Schneider concurred with Wilson about the value of introducing Ignite students to the power of GIS. Under the tutelage of Esri GIS experts, Ignite participants will benefit through experiential learning opportunities.

Students will be taught the fundamentals of mapping and how to use Esri ArcGIS mapping software, considered the most powerful mapping and spatial analytics technology available today. This learning experience is made possible through the support of Esri’s founder Jack Dangermond and the commitment of Esri employees who volunteer their time to introduce this technology to girls in the program.

“This year, Esri employees Rebecca Lehman and Melissa Thompson are transitioning into the program as instructors on Esri’s ArcGIS as Joseph Marsh and Katherine Stevens who served as volunteer instructors for four years, transitioned out,” Coates explained. Stevens also played a pivotal role in recruiting Lehman and Thompson to join the program as instructors this year.

Commenting on the commitment of Marsh and Stevens to the Ignite initiative, Coates was deeply sincere as she expressed her appreciation of their contributions and commitment., “We thought we would have them for the first ten weeks and they stayed for years,” she proclaimed.

“GIS is a big part of the program,” Schneider assured before further highlighting how the Ignite program also provides girls in attendance with so much beyond an introduction to GIS. “It teaches them how to manage their money, the importance of social etiquette, how to have emotional intelligence,” she explained.

Both Schneider and Wilson added almost in unison, “These are things you do not learn in school, things that schools do not teach.”

Schneider continued, “It teaches them how to carry themselves; interpersonal communications skills, including how to talk to people and how to get their point across.” Regarding social media, “It teaches them how to respond to certain things and whether they should respond to certain things.” Stressing again, “Those are the types of skills we are not taught in school.”

Each week, program participants will also be afforded an opportunity to hear and learn from a special guest speaker. As in previous years, the knowledge, wisdom, experience, and expertise shared by these experts from different fields is intended to inform students about the unlimited options for career paths available to them, as well as important skills needed to assist them as they navigate their way through life.

Included among this year’s guest speakers are: Retired Tuskegee Airman Col. Charles E. McGee whose motto is “Rise Above Life’s Challenges;” Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds, Founder of Mapping Black California and Publisher of the IE Voice and Black Voice News; Dr. Francisca Beer, Professor of Finance and Director of the Office of Inclusion and Engagement, Cal State University, San Bernardino; among others.

Schneider believes the program is worth every Saturday the girls will devote to it while making them aware of the many opportunities available. “It can open so many doors,” She affirmed adding, “When one girl participates and she enjoys the program, as I know she will, she will tell her friends. All you need is your computer to have a great experience every Saturday.” Concluding, “It is going to benefit the students so much in the end.”

“I agree with that,” Wilson added. “Opening this one door can change the entire course of your life. I was introduced to it late, and I would say—get introduced to it early. And if you don’t want to do it, that’s fine,” she shared acknowledging GIS may not be the path for everyone., “But, GIS is the future and so many more companies, organizations, local state and federal governments are all using it.”

S.E. Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.

Header Photo: Shirley Coates President/CEO of the Society of Extraordinary Women and

Executive Director of the Ignite Leadership Academy for Girls

(Source: Shirley Coates)