The Dottie Rose Foundation gets girls excited about careers in computer science and technology.
by Michelle Boudin
Sharon Torrence Jones had been teaching for almost a decade when she had an “aha” moment about how she could have more of an impact on her students. “I remember walking up the steps at Phillip O. Berry and being like, I got it!” At the time, she taught data analytics, web development and programming at the magnet high school in west Charlotte but had noticed there were hardly any girls in her classes — and fewer each year. She wanted to change that.
Jones realized the way to make the world of technology and programming interesting was to help kids make the connection to real-life examples.
“Anytime I could relate content to something they enjoyed, they would light up because they could see the relevance. I used the process and the recipe for trail mix to help them understand what an algorithm is. We made trail mix, and I’d say, You just executed an algorithm!”
Jones also realized she needed to reach the girls before they got to high school to get them interested in tech. While recruiting middle-school students to come to Berry, a technology academy, Jones noticed many of the girls hadn’t previously had access to technology classes. “Up until fifth grade, they’re all so excited about everything, but they hit sixth grade and it’s not cool anymore. So by the time they would get to me in the ninth grade, they’d already made a decision on how they felt about technology.”
Jones launched the Dottie Rose Foundation in 2018 with summer camps and Saturday workshops designed to get young girls excited about technology and computer science. Named in honor of Jones’ grandmother, the foundation has since expanded to include yearlong high-school programs and has served more than 800 girls.
Left: Dr. Sharon Torrence Jones
“Through educational programs, mentorship and community engagement, we strive to bridge the gender gap in the technology industry and cultivate the next generation of female leaders and innovators,” Jones explains. Summer camp themes ranged from tech theater to robotics to fashion and technology. The programs are free to all participants thanks to grants, corporate gifts and private donations.
Whitley Ryles got involved with the Dottie Rose Foundation when she was 12 and says it literally changed the course of her life. She switched her electives in seventh grade to computer science and now plans to study cybersecurity at N.C. State University.
“How exciting is that?” says her mother, Erika Ryles. “All due to the Dottie Rose Foundation sparking an interest in a young girl in the world of technology. As a parent, I am forever grateful.”
Jones is proud of all the young women the foundation has reached so far but says there is still work to be done.
“People are talking about the issue, but there are still not enough of us doing something about it. I have kids come to camps that love it, but then they want to enroll in a computer science class at school and there isn’t one offered. So I have to continue to offer as many opportunities as possible.” SP
Dazzle the Dot, the foundation’s annual fundraiser, takes place Sept. 21 from 7-10 p.m. at Charlotte Art League. Learn more about the event and the Dottie Rose Foundation at dottierosefoundation.org.