A bold idea came upon Robyn Brown ('05) while in a developer group meeting.
When discussing the desire to share their love of computer engineering for young kids and invoke passion in young creators, she knew they were referring to mentorship, something she had expertise in after serving as a Girl Scouts leader.
It was 2014, and Brown was working freelance as a professional writer for several software companies, including Microsoft, writing speeches, press releases and more for CEOs. And it was at this moment that Robyn Brown first thought of an idea for a company that would specialize in mentoring young coders. The company would later be called Bold Idea.
Brown has been named a 2021 Women Who STEAM Honoree by the Dallas chapter of The Links, a STEAM academy for young girls of color, for her work.
"It is a huge honor to be recognized alongside the other women in this honoree group," Brown says. "I'm especially passionate about championing girls' participation in STEAM, especially coding, because I didn't have that support when I was younger. To be able to do that in my current role and to be recognized for it just means a lot."
While Brown had always had an interest in technology and coding, she had known since a young age that writing was her skill set. High school teachers had pushed Brown to publish short stories, but journalism professor George Getschow of the Mayborn School of Journalism truly encouraged her to lead with writing.
"George taught me how to write like a journalist," Brown says. "He taught me how to ask tough questions and really get to the heart of the story. He'd meet with me one-on-one to give me critical feedback. It was incredible, him giving me a shot like that."
Brown went on to spend 10 years working for a small public relations agency, most of their clients based in technology and energy industries. Her job also entailed that she update the company's website and from that, she naturally picked up some skills in coding.
"I'd always been interested in technology, but my skill set was writing, so this was my way to be a part of that world," Brown says. "I got to be a part of these engineering teams, ask them lots of questions to understand what they were doing, and I'd turn around and write for an audience who wasn't technical."
It was a complement of these acquired skills, as well as the realization that teaching kids about coding could be a rewarding trade-off between computer engineers and students, that encouraged Brown to launch Bold Idea, a nonprofit that mentors young coders. She decided to call Girl Scouts and share this idea she had.
"I think I have a thing," she told them over the phone. "I have a group of web developers and coders. What if we got a group of girls together and connected them?"
Girl Scouts jumped right on board.
For a year, the nonprofit spent Saturdays meeting middle school girls at UT Dallas trying out the mentorship-based learning strategy, and from that, they began building a community. Shortly after, AT&T reached out, eager to mentor for Bold Idea, and so together, they spent five months designing a summer camp and training AT&T volunteers.
"We got really excited, because this idea works, and now big companies want to get involved," Brown says.
From this arose new questions: How do we keep them learning? How do we keep them engaged after this summer camp? These questions paved the way for a weekly, school-based program and a partnership with Dallas ISD. Students who normally don't have access to computer science education could now learn to design one coding project a year, such as websites, video games, apps and more. Bold Idea now has seven coding clubs across Dallas ISD, each with their own corporate partner, including State Farm. Their goal is to have 25 coding clubs across Dallas ISD schools.
"With the business community here in Dallas, you have to start thinking about your future workforce and the kind of makeup you want. It's not just Bold Idea working alone, we're working together to build that pipeline," Brown says.
Bold Idea plans to continue expanding in Dallas, generating a huge footprint and preparing the community for the future of technology. Now seven years old, the nonprofit has already gone on to help several young coders find their footing in the world of computer science. She thinks of Homero Hernandez, a student who enjoyed coding so much, he's determined to become a computer programmer when he grows up.
"There's so many Homeros in Dallas ISD. We want to be able to hold their hand from 4th grade through 12th grade and make sure they become a computer programmer if that's their goal," Brown says. "I was born in Dallas, and I love this city. I want to support it and make sure that every student has the opportunity to learn these technical skills for future jobs."