Dr. Christina Outlay hopes to inspire the next generation of women and people of color in the tech industry through her organization, colorcoded.
“I’m always looking for angles that will appeal to youth, especially when you’re trying to reach out to youth that don’t go into tech now. You have to reach out to them in some type of way,” she said.
Outlay, a faculty member in information technology at the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater, founded colorcoded in 2016 after volunteering for CyberGirlz, a two-day camp in Whitewater for middle school girls who are interested in learning more about technology. After she took over the camp in 2015, Outlay prioritized bringing more diversity to the camp.
“We were bringing more and more girls each year, mostly white girls, a lot of them middle class and up, not all but certainly a lot of them, and mostly within a 20-30 mile radius of the university,” she said.
Outlay wanted to attract more girls from Milwaukee, Beloit, Racine, Madison and her hometown of Sun Prairie. In the fall, CyberGirlz hosted a special one-day version of the camp to attract more girls of color.
“I live in Sun Prairie so I wanted to bring more girls from Madison. I wanted to bring more girls of color, especially Black girls because none of the camps attracted very many Black girls,” Outlay said.
She intended for these special colorcoded camps to get more of these girls to attend the camp at Whitewater during the summer. Outlay said this particular program was a success, relatively speaking.
“We started that program with 25 or 30 girls and by the end we had about eight who actually came to Whitewater,” she said.
By the end of the program, parents then began to ask Outlay about future events, whether or not she would include boys or do after school programming. She then decided to do more programming for diverse communities — without much help.
“I really would fund a lot of the work I was doing out of my own pocket. I did a lot of it on my own,” Outlay said.
She made colorcoded into a program of its own. After applying for grants and receiving informal support from her department at UW-Whitewater, Outlay began doing one-day workshops for young athletes and afterschool programming at Wright Middle School.
She partnered with Sun Prairie-based Crush Basketball Club. Inspired by her daughter who plays both basketball and soccer and her son who plays basketball, Outlay found an avenue to interest other youth in technology.
“Technology has a lot of different areas and they don’t all require extensive math skill and ability,” she said.
Outlay began offering long term programming through Wright Middle School by offering a extracurricular club, attracting students through targeted advertising. She also said she had to educate teachers, coaches and counselors on what the workshops consisted of to help them identify which students would excel in the program.
“I know that just putting out a flyer even if it features students of color or girls of color is only marginally successful. You have to leverage the peers and the teachers and the parents and the other types of influence that you know directly affects girls,” she said.
Outlay’s goal was to create an inclusive environment for students regardless of gender identity and race that allowed all students to thrive. This includes ensuring at least half of the club was made up of girls to ensure their comfort and keep them involved.
“Just finding different ways that at least interests them enables me to get them to try it,” she said.