Francisco Valdes-Jasso and Elizabeth Bell work during a lab session with the YWeb Career Academy.

On Aug. 29, 15 graduates took the Rotunda Stage in the Overture Center for the YWeb Career Academy Summer Training Program Graduation Ceremony. Through career academy, a program of the YWCA of Madison, these individuals took part in an intensive web design/development training program that allowed them to get a foot in the door to many stem-related jobs post-graduation.

YWeb Career Academy (YWebCA) is a training program that targets women and people of color who are underrepresented in technology careers. The goal of YWebCA is to prepare students for family-sustaining jobs while meeting a gap in the labor market for these positions.

Each YWebCA cohort is composed of 20–25 students. The program includes 400 hours of intensive technical training. Students are expected to complete job-related projects and work outside of class time and to be actively engaged in the learning process.

Elizabeth Bell, a graduate from the career academy, provided her insight on her experience both within the program and in her current position. Bell’s life had been filled with many hardships and she had to take on two jobs to provide for her family. Bell saw the career academy as an opening to new and brighter possibilities. Her long-held interest in computers pushed her to take a course with the YWCA and through that experience, she was recommended to join the career academy.

“The people at YWCA were inspiring and had so much spirit and energy,” Bell said as she explained why she wanted to be a part of academy. It was the staff who put their heart and soul into the work that really made the program successful. Bell explained how staff would tap into their personal networks in order to provide as many connections for the students as possible. In the 8-month course that Bell took part in, the students learned web development tools, software development, and soft skills for their future careers. They learned front-end web development skills including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Git, UX design, and project management. In addition, the class covered job readiness, team building, and hands‐on learning in computer programming.

Learning soft skills, as Bell explained, was extremely important. For many people, entering the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] field is extremely intimidating. By having business leaders and bosses working with students once or twice a week, students become comfortable and eliminated any fear of going into the industry. From working in groups (small and large) to giving presentations, the students are well-equipped for any challenge they may face in the workplace post-graduation.

YWebCA class includes time to work alone or with classmates.
YWebCA class includes time to work alone or with classmates.

“To see the YWeb Career Academy accommodate individuals with struggles worse than mine really made me appreciate the staff and the organization,” Bell said.

The career academy not only helped eliminate barriers when it came to learning the skills, but they also eliminated any road blocks that students may have. From providing rides to the internships and class to accommodating any personal needs, the career academy made sure to help relieve any obstacles students may face.

“Elizabeth graduated YWeb to enter a whole new learning curve with the specialized programming she’s doing now. Her barriers have become hurdles and we see her running laps,” said Eric Upchurch, development director for the YWCA of Madison. “She’s a true inspiration for anyone brave enough to think that they can in the midst of a tough circumstance. She’s proof.”

Bell now works with Flexion, a Madison-based enterprise that provides IT[information technology] advice, staff, and digital solutions to clients across the United States. Through this company, Bell and her partner, Lashawna (another graduate of the program), have been able to give presentations at company summits as well as provide alternative web designs for testing systems across the states. Bell, throughout the entire interview, was extremely excited as Flexion had future potential developments that have been shared recently.

“I wouldn’t have had this opportunity if I didn’t have the support and the push from the YWeb and YWCA as well as Scott Hasse and the Flexion Team,” Bell said. “Scott and Flexion’s team were mentors to me during my classes and continue to teach me. YWCA is a place that I will always remember and if they ever needed me, I would help in a heartbeat for all that they have done for me.”

With the STEM field already being an intimidating and difficult area to enter, women and individuals of color are often underrepresented and disadvantaged. Initiatives like the career academy not only provide students with the skills, but also help support students to alleviate their own barriers to success. With the connections created, the knowledge learned, and the experiences, graduates are more than equipped to handle the work environment. Students like Bell are given an opportunity to grow and expand on interests that they otherwise might not have been tapped into.

“This program opens so many doors every single day for people who have to deal with many unfortunate circumstances,” Bell said. “The staff, with their big hearts and energetic personalities, truly change lives with the work they do.”

As the new graduates enter their careers, the YWCA career academy prepares for the next round of talented and inspiring students.