By Anna Bryson
Sandra Vernon-Jackson graduated State University of New York alongside 215 other meteorology students—only five of whom were women.
She was the only woman of color.
“It sparked something in me that we are not sending the message that students, women, women of color, women of color from other countries, from Jamaica, can do this,” said Vernon-Jackson.
“I think so many times when students see a woman in the position of whether coding or engineering or meteorology, there is a role model.”
Vernon-Jackson, STEM instructor, is working to bring Girls Who Code to USF St. Petersburg.
Girls Who Code is a non-profit organization that teaches young girls computing skills, which are a proven path to security and prosperity in today’s job market.
Focusing on girls is important to open the door to diversity in a field that is male-dominated. Encouraging girls to start learning coding at an early age will allow them to see all the possibilities that computer science can bring.
Vernon-Jackson moved from Jamaica to attend State University of New York. She received her doctorate in mathematics education form Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA.
She has received many awards and has site on the advisory panel for NASA Education Astronaut Evaluation program. She is a certified Meteorologist and worked for over five years at The Weather Channel.
“That’s what we want to give our students of color. Give them a chance to first of all see themselves in the role,” Vernon-Jackson said. “And that role can pen so many doors, there are many opportunities. And that’s what we should do for the students give them the opportunity.”
USF St. Petersburg is in the initial stages of becoming part of the nonprofit organization, but Vernon-Jackson says she is confident that it will happen.
The College of Education is seeking funding to identify what Girls Who Code would look like here. Allyson Watson, dean of the College of Education, is assertive in pushing for this organization to come to campus.
Vernon-Jackson’s primary focus is to get STEM education off the ground running. Doing so would require a STEM lab and teachers who are trained and engaged in STEM education as a whole.
Interim Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock is also an instrumental part of trying to get the organization off the ground at USF St. Petersburg, Vernon-Jackson said.
She envisions the program possibly starting as a summer camp where middle and high school aged girls learn coding skills.
Despite being new to the USF St. Petersburg family, Vernon-Jackson sees the sense of urgency in bringing this program to campus. She thinks that once the STEM lab is built, the Girls Who Code organization will take off.
“Whether it’s robotics or aerospace engineering or coding for girls, I think once we get that STEM lab up, it’s going to accelerate all these different areas,” she said.
Vernon-Jackson sees the need for Girls Who Code in the St. Petersburg area, which is riddled with schools that aren’t doing well, such as Azalea Middle School and Fairmount Park Elementary School, which both received F ratings from The Florida Department of Education in 2017.
She believes that young girls and students of color will start to envision themselves in roles they’ve never imagined themselves in when they see people like themselves in those roles and are given the opportunity to explore fields that they otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to.
“I have two daughters, so it’s personal for me. It’s at the heart, it’s at the heart of my passion that I need to do this, and I need to do this here, and I need to do it now,” said Vernon-Jackson.
Girls Who Code at USF St. Petersburg can be the vehicle that provides opportunity to young women to engage in coding activities and enter into the male-dominated technology field.
Header photo courtesy of Pexels