Andrea M. Baldrias
On Saturday, October 13th the Ignite Leadership Academy for Girls launched this year’s 10-week immersion program.
The walls of the room were tightly lined with volunteers and community members while several young, bright women and their families packed its center. Everyone listened intently to Executive Director and Founder, Shirley Coates, as she welcomed the students to her brain child, the Ignite Leadership Academy for Girls (Ignite).
Founded in 2014, Ignite is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization that combines an emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) with leadership development curriculum specifically designed for girls in middle school. This year, the free program was expanded to accommodate high school students as well.
Shirley Coates is founder and president of the non-profit organization, the Society of Extraordinary Women, Incorporated. The organization’s mission is to facilitate the empowerment of women and girls to discover their extraordinary selves through education and mentorship for a life time. These same values are brought to the forefront in this program.
The Ignite Leadership Academy was launched, “In response to studies showing that 30 percent of minority teens in the Inland Empire were failing to graduate from high school and finding that a rising number of teenage girls were also falling through this achievement gap. To help address these concerns, The Society of Extraordinary Women (SOEW) developed a curriculum designed to improve outcomes in those critical areas.
What makes this program unique is the incorporation of Geographic Information System (GIS) in the curriculum, which means that as strides in technology are made, Coates is ensuring that these young women are prepared to thrive in an industry where they are often underrepresented. “Our goal is to make sure they’re ready for what’s happening. Right now, with GIS that also involves Virtual Reality (VR), Virtual Intelligence (VI), and they’re getting [exposed to] all that,” she explained.
The Ignite program is facilitated in partnership with USA STEM and Mapping Black California, the latter of which has an alliance with Esri.
Esri, a global leader in GIS, provides SOEW the ability to offer their students exposure to cutting-edge GIS technology and the use of spatial analytics as part of their Ignite learning experience.
The classes in the Ignite program are taught by two of the top technologists from Esri, two professors from Claremont College, professors from UC Riverside, and others in the district. Almost all the teachers hold a master’s degrees in either leadership, math, or science.
Each of the teachers volunteer their time and expertise, which speaks to the importance of and the community’s investment in Coates’ vision. “They have passion. I tell people that with a teacher it’s not about the letters behind their name, but the passion in their heart. That’s why I am so happy to have the teachers that I have, that are involved to make sure the students are progressing and getting the most out of the class,” says Coates.
Additionally, Ignite provides unique learning opportunities through programs on art and film, aviation, exploration field trips, and experiential learning trips to Washington D.C.
The Ignite Academy is purpose driven and each facet of the curriculum is designed with meaning and intention. The program continues to give back to the community and provides an engaging way for those involved to continually support one another. The services and encouragement that Coates, the Ignite Academy teachers and volunteers provide local youth offers them an inimitable experience and opportunity to thrive. For more information on the program and how to register for future sessions, visit igniteleadershipacademy.net or call (951) 289-9535.
Header Photo: Shirley Coates, Founder and President