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First women of color graduate from Franklin County tech training program

Students working with computer parts
Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services
Students work with computer parts in a class that's part of The Tech Women of Color program.

Nine students graduated today from Franklin County’s free tech training program for women of color. The group is the first to graduate in a continuing program that offers certifications at no cost.

The Tech Women of Color program is funded with more than $4 million dollars of Franklin County’s American Rescue Plan funds. The county intends to run the program until 200 women complete tech certifications.

The program is run in a partnership between the county and Per Scholas Columbus, where Jenn Fowler Howard is the managing director.

Following the graduation, Fowler Howard said women of color are underrepresented in the tech industry.

“Only three percent of women of color are working in technology. And we know that that's under representation,” she said.

But, programs like this can change the conversation when it comes to the STEM field and women of color like herself.

“As we are trying to do the work of getting young people more engaged in STEM, I recognize that representation matters,” Fowler Howard said. “And so is being able to see a woman, and a person of color, working in a field, designing bridges, doing all of the things that come with building technology, creating cyber firewalls, and things like that, keeping your company safe. It's important that women are at the table.”

Jazemon Robinson and Magdalena Butts both graduated from the program with the CISCO IT Essentials and CISCO Networking certifications. Robinson intends on pursuing more certifications. She wants to become a data analyst, or move toward design, where she can use her creativity to create.

Robinson was interested in tech boot camps, but found their cost unaffordable and the schedule unworkable as a stay-home mom. But this program was different.

“This program was just perfect, perfect hours, perfect structure perfect everything,” she said.

Franklin County Commissioner Eric Crawley says the program is designed to overcome the financial and circumstantial obstacles women of color often face when they want to continue their education, like childcare and transportation.

“We're investing in people and making sure that they could move up the economic mobility ladder and, and that it's self-sustaining,” Crawley said.

And, those skills are only going to grow in demand in Central Ohio as more tech-oriented employers move to the area, she said.

“There will be more demand and we are not meeting just the workforce needs of today, but the workforce needs of the future,” Crawley said.

The participants don’t have to pay a dime, saving them up to $18,000, said Bart Logan, deputy director of communications for the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services.

“I feel like we have developed a program that will meet women where they are, and then challenge them to take the next steps to launch into their careers,” Fowler Howard said.

Magdalena Butts said she had her doubts at first, but now feels confident in her skills and ready to work in the field while pursuing more certifications.

“At first, I thought I wasn't going to make it. But I made it. I graduated today and I'm proud and happy. And I'm excited for the next opportunity waiting for me,” she said.

Women of color are encouraged to apply for another round of the program starting in January. It will have a morning and an evening group. About 40 have signed up so far and there are still some slots available.

The first nine women to graduate from the program are Carla Nunez, Cestwaila Beck, Charlene Wilmer, Destiny Williams, Evelyn Amofah, Fartun Aden, Jazemon Robinson, Magdalena Butts and Nafisa Yusef.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.