DHF Youth Profile: Sierra Seabrease

When Sierra Seabrease first enrolled in programs at DHF in the fall of 2013, she wasn’t interested in pursuing a career in tech. “I wanted to be a traveling photographer for National Geographic,” said Sierra, “I thought tech jobs were boring desk jobs with Microsoft Office. My mom sort of pushed me into it.”

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The group of youth that started with Sierra that fall comprised DHF’s first Maker Foundations cohort. There were sixteen youth in the cohort, only three of which were female. “Me, Steph, and Amber [DHF’s Director of Education and Operations Manager, respectively] wanted to try to increase female retention in programs and sat down to brainstorm different ideas,” Sierra said, “I knew that I had stayed as long as I did because I’d formed a bond with Steph and wanted to find opportunities for other girls to collaborate with staff.” These preliminary meetings led to the formation of the Makerettes, a group of female youth and staff at DHF who meet twice monthly to collaborate on a variety of different projects.

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“I fell off one summer because I was going through some transitional changes in my life and it was hard to come in and do something without knowing what to do,” said Sierra. The Makerettes were a support system that guided Sierra and other girls as they explored different projects. Many of the projects Sierra created have become long-term installations at DHF.

“My final project in Maker Foundations was the Jukebox Piano,” said Sierra, “It’s a piano hacked with Raspberry Pi and MaKey MaKeys to play a song from a selection according to what key is pressed.” The Jukebox Piano was selected for the White House Science Fair in 2014. “It was a huge achievement for me,” said Sierra, “because it was the first time I was getting recognized for the work I was doing.”

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When Sierra became a Member at DHF, she started working on other projects with CNC machine and 3D printing photographs. She also built a photobooth and created an egg bot – a robot that draws on small round objects such as ping pong balls, light bulbs, and eggs. Her jukebox piano, too, went through several different iterations.

“Now, in my internship at Fearless Solutions, I’m doing a lot of software testing and coding,” said Sierra, “We made a map for Hubzones around the world with the small business administration. Hubzones are disaster areas or economic stress areas – if you’re in a hubzone, the government can give you money. I’ve been testing the software with another intern and am learning Ruby to test on my own.”

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This fall, Sierra has begun her freshman year at the University of Maryland where she plans to study mechanical engineering. “My mom says that when I was younger I used to build stuff out of nothing,” said Sierra, “I would make structures out of cardboard and straws and call them UFOs. Now I can build things as a career and I wouldn’t have known that without the support I had at DHF.”

Read more about Sierra in this feature of her work in POLITICO Magazine: How a Young Woman’s DIY Jukebox Caught the Eye of the White House

Celebrating International Day of the Girl Child at DHF

Women today are often faced with the challenge of being largely underrepresented in the tech world, but at DHF, in contrast, women represent around 40% of participants in programs semester to semester. In an effort to give girls a platform in STEM, the young women of DHF partnered with Wide Angle Youth Media at the end of August to create a short film for the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl Child initiative that showcases young women of different ages and demographics making in collaboration.

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On October 10th, the short film was released at the Digital Harbor Foundation in our first ever video premiere event. Members of the audience included families of the young women who starred in the film and community members such as Brooke Lierman, Maryland State Delegate representing District 46, who spoke on the importance of persistence, especially for young women. Said Lierman, “the next best thing to trying and winning is trying and failing.”

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The film screening, which also began DHF’s social media campaign for female youth’s representation in makerspaces and tech spaces, features DHF youth Miranda Hull, Jordyn Bocklage, Elizabeth Blake, Madison Bannerman, and Aeirss Prince, Anna Miller, Samantha Nistico, and Alexis Leggette. It shows the girls engaging in activities, such as problem solving, programming, laser cutting, and soldering, and features an encouraging message to girls – although only 24% of employees in math, science, technology, and engineering are women, young women can change this statistic by working together and rejecting the stereotypes that their minds aren’t wired for math and science.

Before and after the screening, two panels of DHF’s actresses answered questions posed to them about the process of creating the film and their experiences as young women in tech. When asked how to get more girls involved in tech, Aeirss, who narrates the short film, said “I would encourage girls to just go out and do it.” She also shared her story of being the only female participant in her school’s robotics club. Miranda had a similar experience of being one of the few females involved in her school’s Science Olympiad program.

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“The innovative and creative scene is male dominated,” Miranda said, “Women are underrepresented, but we will eventually dominate the scene.”

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Anna, age 10, closed out our panels with advice for getting more girls involved in STEM fields: “Tell girls when they’re doing a good job, listen to girls, and as girls help each other out, share ideas, and see what we can make.”