GET TO KNOW GIRLBOSS GRANT RECIPIENT, MONICA POWELL
Hi Monica! Where did you grow up? How did it shape who you are/the work you do today?
I have lived in Bowie, Maryland almost my entire life. I am thankful that I grew up in a suburb right outside the Nation’s capital which was very diverse - socially, economically, and academically. Growing up, I had opportunities to interact with people from many amazing backgrounds, which definitely encouraged me to move to a big city for college.
While in high school, I took a couple of computer graphics courses which led me to become interested in digital and web design. Being able to publish my designs in print and on the web really empowered me. So in college, I was eager to get involved with Athena Digital Design to work on my portfolio.
Did you go to college? If so, where did you study and what did you get out the process?
I currently attend Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City, where I'm studying Psychology. I truly feel like there is no place in the world like Barnard. Not only is it a a small, liberal arts college that empowers women, but it also has the resources and opportunities of a large research institution. In particular, I am very thankful for the mentorship and guidance that I have received through Entrepreneurs@Athena program, at the Athena Center for Leadership Studies. Last year, I was able to live on campus during the summer, which definitely gave me the chance to explore and fall in love with New York City!
Who was your hero or greatest inspiration growing up?
When I was younger, I would read almost any book I could get my hands on. I vividly remember reading Dr. Ben Carson’s autobiographies and always being struck by how he largely attributed his success to his mother, Sonya Carson. (Dr. Ben Carson was the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins.) Sonya Carson made a lot of sacrifices on behalf of her children, along with going above and beyond to keep them on track academically - in a lot of ways, she reminds me of my own mother. I still admire these women greatly and am inspired by their strength, which consistently reminds me that - with diligence and determination - anything is possible.
What inspires you now?
I really enjoy following photoblogs like Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York (HONY) and Brandon Doman’s The Strangers Project. Both of these projects provide a voice or platform for complete strangers, randomly encountered in New York City and beyond. I have found quite a bit of inspiration and wisdom through reading stories from the wide range of individuals that have been featured in these projects. I appreciate that these projects focus on the wealth of information that one individual can share with the world.
I think what has most attracted me to Humans of New York, aside from its celebration of individuals from humble backgrounds, is Brandon Stanton’s ongoing commitment to philanthropy. In 2012, when Stanton’s photos were used by DKNY without his knowledge instead of demanding proper compensation for himself, he requested that DKNY donate $100,000 to the Bed-Stuy YMCA on his behalf. After DKNY apologized and agreed to make a donation of $25,000 which was $75,000 short of Stanton’s goal he reached out to his extensive network of followers and was able to raise over $128,000 for the YMCA. This is only one, of the many times that he, as an individual, has leveraged his platform and the power of crowdfunding to effect change. However, I was really inspired by this particular story because Stanton was able to transform the feeling of being wronged by a major brand into an altruistic act that benefited others.
How did the idea for Athena Digital Design come about?
Athena Digital Design was inspired by other student-run businesses at my school, such as Barnard Bartending Agency and Barnard Babysitting. Students and faculty were disappointed with the retention rate of women studying computer science at Columbia - women are definitely interested in taking these courses but studies show that they're turned off by the tech sector culture due to implicit and explicit messages indicating that women are not welcome, as well as institutional practices that dissuade women from technical careers. The tech sector, including educational institutions, is failing to serve half the population. On average only 12% of the US engineering population is made up of women. The Athena Digital Design Agency emerged to empower more women--from all disciplines, to explore coding. Technology is becoming crucial to every industry and its role in every business is often taken for granted. From the beginning, it was important to empower women regardless of their academic discipline to engage with web technology to create and assist small businesses.
How did you develop the idea into a business?
Athena Digital Design easily transformed into a business because from the very beginning the idea was to not only teach women web development but to also equip women with marketable skills and connect them with small businesses, especially those owned by women, in need of websites.
What advice would you give to girls who want to do your job?
In addition to studying hard and being willing to learn, don’t be afraid to reach out to women who are where you want to be in the future. There are many opportunities to join clubs and organizations that introduce girls to technology fields. You should immerse themselves in these organizations and learn as much as possible about the steps to follow toward your dream.
Also, you should research opportunities to take classes in coding and technology if they are not offered at your school. Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to women in the field for advice and information. I have met many wonderful and brilliant women in the field who would love to mentor and provide information and advice to girls interested.
What's your favorite thing to do when you're not working?
I definitely enjoy eating food from Chipotle and spending time with my two favorite poodles: Curly and Little Bits!
What are you planning next (in work/life)?
I am looking forward to graduating from Barnard College next Spring. I plan on attending a Human-computer interaction graduate program and/or a tech boot camp like Flat iron or General Assembly within the next couple of years. I’m not sure what my next business venture will be...