(VOICE photo file)

Drew Nate |

The Society of Extraordinary Women (SOEW)  began its mission in 2014. The non-profit organization, with its roster of  dedicated professionals, is committed to making a difference in the lives of young girls and making a positive impact in the world according to its founder, Shirley Coates.

Coates, who owned a real estate office at the time in Orange County and owned an Aerospace Electronics Company during 2014, decided that it was time to give back to her community. The idea behind the SOEW came in response to studies showing that 30% of minority teens in the Inland Empire were failing to graduate from high school, and  that a rising number of teenage girls were also failing through this achievement gap. SOEW developed a curriculum designed to help improve these outcomes.

This semester’s Ignite Academy was hosted via Zoom due to COVID-19 (Image courtesy of Breanna Reeves).

Today, the SOEW has the Ignite Leadership and STEM Academy, an 8-week immersion program designed to empower and encourage young girls who may have social barriers, lack of opportunities, or lack access to adequate resources. 

The Ignite Leadership and STEM Academy, offered to girls ages 11-15, provides an opportunity for them to learn skills that include the development of great self-esteem, team building, public speaking acumen, proper social and cyber etiquette, financial literacy, experience in community service, arts, aviation, STEM academics including GIS, and preparation for college. 

In an interview with the IE Voice and Black Voice News, Coates talked about the SOEW  mission with students in the community. She explained  how she lets the girls in the Ignite Leadership and STEM Academy know that “they are stars and that they are extraordinary.”

Shirley Coates founder and director of the Society of Extraordinary Women and founder of the Ignite Leadership and STEM Academy (source: youtube.com).

“Our mission is to empower them to discover,” Coates continued before thanking her parents for instilling the mentality that she can achieve anything in life, further noting how she  took this advice and encouragement to heart. 

During December, the students celebrated their academic achievements as they were honored remotely (via Zoom) for their work over the semester. The class was held remotely last semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic but that didn’t stop the students from thriving and achieving. 

Through the STEM Academy, this semester the students were immersed in Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, which exposed girls in the program to cutting edge technology in mapping, spatial analytics, and coding. This year’s class focused on GIS and journalism and students learned how to use the mapping technology to uncover geographic patterns.

Through the GIS tools offered by Esri, students were able to create simple shaded area maps and pinpoint regions that allowed them to communicate patterns. The students were aided in their efforts by mentors who taught them how to use the software for their community mapping projects. They learned to build maps, identify trends and forecast future trends.

Report for America Corps member, Black Voice News and IE Voice reporter Breanna Reeves, served as a Journalism Instructor alongside Kennedy Schneider, who serves as a coach for the program. 

This semester, according to Reeves, 45 students between the ages of  12 to 15 years old were engaged in the program. “ We did the classes on Saturday mornings every weekend from 9 a.m. until 10 a.m.” 

Reeves highlighted two students, Sophia and Victoria Pena, that gave standout presentations. Victoria’s project was based on climate change and how it not only impacts the world but more specifically her county of residence, San Bernardino. The project included interviews from family members that were transcribed into her project. 

The other standout presentation produced by Ignite student Sophia Pena, on the other hand, completed an in-depth project on Supply Chain shortages and how the ports are backed up. Through ArcGIS she was able to map out the various ports and pinpoint specifically the ports that were backed up in the State of California. Through this she was able to give an analysis on what Californians could expect during the holiday season. 

Speaking of her experience working as an instructor Reeves said, “It was cool to work with them and to learn from them, and to learn how they learn.”

Each semester the Ignite Academy’s curriculum provides opportunities for the students to focus on different project areas while learning to utilize Esri mapping technology. 

In the  past, students have also had the opportunity to receive an introduction to aviation. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the program had been preparing students to fly through Cal Baptist University and the Young Eagles program where pilots took students onboard to fly and gain aviation experience. Students who continue through the program’s aviation ground school are prepared to get their pilot’s license when they turn 18.

The Ignite program does not require an entrance exam or a certain grade point average. The Society of Extraordinary Women, the Ignite Leadership and STEM Academy will host its Spring Semester beginning in March 2022. The program is now accepting applicants. To learn more visit soew.org.

Drew Nate, a resident of Corona, California, reports for Black Voice News and the IE Voice where he focuses on stories within the Inland Empire and throughout California. An advocate for equity and social justice, he emphasizes civil rights for African Americans. Drew previously served as a staff reporter for The Criterion, a student-run newspaper publication at La Sierra University where he received his bachelor’s degree in Communications. Drew’s areas of interest include international climate change, fashion, and criminal justice reform. Contact Drew with tips, comments, and/or concerns at drew@blackvoicenews.com.