The Great Equalizer: This Former Elementary Teacher Turned Google Executive Is Pipelining STEM Opportunities for Black Girls. Here’s How

Most of us can remember that one teacher that changed our lives.

As evidenced by the hit new show Abbott Elementary, its creator Quinta Brunson recently told Essence the idea was sparked by Joann Abbott, a caring educator that nurtured the talent she saw in Brunson at an early age. 

Much like Brunson, Dr. Shanika Hope knows what the power of a great educator can do. Growing up in foster care, she often felt like the world was too much, and sought refuge in school. 

Currently a tech educator at Google, she says she owes her thirst for knowledge to one her favorite school teachers. 

“My mother had addiction issues, my father wasn’t present and there were six of us kids, so I’m the product of foster care,” Hope shared with Essence. “School became the outlet to create stability for me. This particular teacher named Mr. Gilky at Patrick Henry High School saw something in me, and became that mentor and coach I needed.” 

She said his investment in her went beyond the classroom, which attributed to her eventual success as an adult. 

“He followed me through my journey,” she said. “He got me into these summer programs that exposed me more to computer science and math.” 

That’s why now, she’s made it a mission to partner with organizations providing the same type of programs that illuminated her path to tech education. KID Museum, one of her long-time collaborators, is the nation’s largest playmaker space that provides K-8 students project-based activities and professional development opportunities to encourage their interest in STEM—they will be opening a new flagship location in May 2022. Dr. Hope said she was approached by the Museum in 2016 to partner, and she was immediately hooked. 

“They reached out and told me they were running this student event where we get student teams to come out and try to solve really hard problems through creative means,” she shared. “For example, ‘how do we create clean water if we only give you a milk carton and straws?’ And these teams of students would try to come up with this solution to create clean water using everyday, common things around your house.” 

She said the experience reminded her of the time she herself worked as an elementary teacher before moving into corporate roles with Amazon and now Google. 

“That initial experience with KID Museum had me hooked,” she said, referring to the event that hosted more than 800 children and teens from all over the DMV region.

Cara Lesser, KID Museum’s Founder and Executive Director says partnerships like the one they have with Dr. Hope is essential to their core mission of creating the next generation of creative problem-solvers, innovators and changemakers. 

KID Museum programs are designed to foster collaboration, connection, and community, creating unique opportunities for kids and families to learn from one another, to cultivate empathy, and build identity as the culture and community makers of the future,” Lesser shared. “Dr. Hope is evidence of what we’re aiming to drive forward everyday.” 

In addition to her partnership with KID Museum, a part of Dr. Hope’s job is to create programming and products for Google that widely amplifies tech education. She says, her personal mission is to make sure that happens in the kind of communities she grew up and  taught in. 

“One product that I’m particularly excited about is Code Next, a program that’s designed to support students that are typically invisible to the tech world,” she said. “Underserved students who have had lived experiences where they just never had access to technology or computer science classes or clubs, robotics will be able to learn those skills that are so important for the future of work.” 

She says the Code Next program specifically works with  students, pairs them with mentors and offers a summer learning experience. 

“They get a mentor that moves with them from 9th grade all the way through graduation and are provided with financial support. This, along with my partnership with KID Museum is the exact kind of work that made me who I am today.” 

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