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When Capital One software engineer Dominique Meeks Gombe was a child, she initially wanted to follow in the footsteps of her family doctor who was a young Black woman. After graduating from college with a degree in chemistry, she worked in an environmental chemistry lab. While there she began to teach herself to code in order to automate many inefficient processes around the lab. In doing those projects she fell in love with tech and decided to pursue the unexpected career change. Now as a software engineer, Meeks Gombe wants to be a similar role model to teach youth that they can pursue any career they desire.
“I’m so passionate about technology because that’s where the world is going,” said Meeks Gombe. Because technology has accelerated businesses and ecosystems, it’s more critical than ever to have diverse teams considering and building innovative features that encourage the inclusion of underrepresented people. “All of today’s problems will be solved using technology. So it’s very important for me, as a Black woman, to be at the proverbial table with my unique perspective. Otherwise it is very likely that my ‘problem’ would remain unsolved.”
Since 2019, Meeks Gombe and her fellow Capital One associates have partnered with the Capital One Coders program and Girls For A Change to teach coding fundamentals to middle school girls. The nonprofit is aimed at empowering Black girls in Central Virginia. The organization’s mission focuses on designing, leading, funding and implementing social change projects that tackle issues girls face in their own neighborhoods.
Girls For a Change is one of many local nonprofits that receives support from the Capital One Impact Initiative, which strives to close gaps in equity while helping people gain better access to economic and social opportunity. That $200 million, five-year national commitment aims to support growth in underserved communities as well as advance socioeconomic mobility.
Through the Coders program, girls can gain early access to computer science education, which can directly inspire their confidence level and interest in computer science. Research found that Black and Latinx students who take computer science classes before college are seven times more likely to major in computer science.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Meeks Gombe helped to develop a virtual curriculum that included breakout rooms with custom games and quizzes. In her role as a lead teacher for Girls For A Change, Meeks Gombe’s visibility as a Black technologist and leader is helping to create a lasting impact on her students. As a 2017 Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis study indicated, students with teachers reflecting similar demographic characteristics reported more positive benefits and had higher college aspirations.
“I thought I was going to be a doctor, but I’ve found that it’s more important to follow what you’re passionate about,” explained Meeks Gombe. “Just having girls see the variety of career opportunities led by people who look like them opens up that possibility. There’s a connection made when girls see me in a role that they don’t usually associate themselves with. I can’t reach every girl but I want them to know that they can do this.”
Capital One Vice President of HR Technology, Maureen Jules-Perez echoed Meeks Gombe’s perspective. For Jules-Perez, who served on the organization’s board for a few years before becoming the new Board Chair this year, the mission of the nonprofit parallels her motto of “Tech For Good” which uses tech to improve social, environmental, and economic outcomes. The organization’s long term programs give girls the option to see themselves as artists, entrepreneurs, technologists, among other career opportunities.
“I came from a similar background so I feel like I’m one of those girls,” said Jules-Perez, who’s helping to steer the nonprofit and effectively scale their programs. “I know what it’s like to have someone champion you, but also the opposite feeling of knowing someone who doesn’t think you’re worthy. I’m haunted by the thought that there’s a Black girl or a person of color who doesn’t feel seen or doesn’t think the world wants them. Girls For A Change prepares Black girls for the world.”
Beyond helping girls see their potential as future technologists, Girls For A Change CEO Angela Patton is working hard on her action-oriented vision to help realize the unmet needs of all girls in Central Virginia. Her focus is particularly on what she calls “at-promise” youth who have natural gifts and innate potential where their circumstances don’t define their identities. For more than a decade, Patton has supported at-promise girls with incarcerated fathers through Dance With Dad, a rehabilitation program founded by a group of young girls who wanted to invite their jailed fathers into their lives on their own terms and define their futures. The girls, Patton explained, wrote to a police sheriff to allow them to hold a dance with their fathers in jail. More than a decade since the program began, not one of the fathers had been reincarcerated again.
“We’re teaching girls to elevate their voices,” said Patton. “We want them to experience the moment where they feel ownership and empowerment so that they can change their own lives.”
Girls For A Change has partnered with Capital One since 2017 to “go into the community,” Patton explained, to connect girls with career and life opportunities for which they otherwise may not have access or insight.
Since our partnership began, Capital One has supported 15 different technology, workforce, or pro bono programs with Girls for A Change. Seven of these programs were Coders camps. Collectively, nearly 80 Capital One Tech associates have supported Girls For A Change girls over the last few years through these programs. Though the Capital One Coders program is an initial touchpoint for the girls to be introduced to tech careers, they have also taken tours to learn about jobs and meet leaders at Capital One.
“For some of the girls aging out of the Girls For A Change program, they had a chance to do mock interviews and get feedback for entry-level positions,” said Patton. “I love that I have resources to point my girls to so that they can have a chance at better outcomes.”