March is Women’s History Month, so Alameda County is honoring three women for trailblazing new paths in science and technology by naming them to the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame. All three work in Oakland.
They are all actually nationally famous. And two of them, Kimberly Bryant founder of Black Girls Code and Linda Kekelis, founder of Techbridge Girls, are at the forefront of what is gaining steam as an international effort to bring more women into technology. The third Hall of Fame inductee, Dr. Julie Saba, chair of pediatric cancer research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, may be on a path to developing a cure for cancer.
No small feats.
Black Girls Code has inspired hundreds of young girls to become interested in software engineering, teaching them how to code and how to have fun creating on computers. An electrical engineer, Bryant at mid-career decided she had to do something about the scarcity of women and African Americans in the software and computer fields. She attributed her own interest and success in engineering to early exposure to science and math. Black Girls Code summer coding camps for girls in Oakland and San Francisco have been so popular that she expanded the program and is opening camps for girls around the country and even in South Africa.
President Obama also named Bryant a White House Champion of Change last year.
Kekelis founded Techbridge 14 years ago – way before people started lamenting the lack of women and girls in technology and engineering. Her organization has brought thousands of girls into their science programs that feature hands-on engineering style problem solving.
Dr. Saba, a nationally known cancer researcher, is leading a team that is on a potentially groundbreaking path towards development of new cancer therapies. Dr. Saba’s research focuses on the role of natural lipids called sphingolipids that control many biological functions including cell growth and cell death. “We have found that sphingolipids can influence the development and progression of cancer,” she writes on her home page at Children’s Hospital, and thus sphingolipids are a viable target for developing cancer therapies
Dr. Saba and Techbridge Community Outreach Manager Molly Larkin met with the Alameda County Board of Supervisors Tuesday to accept their honors. Saba said Children’s Hospital is filled with people “who are leaders in their field.” She said Children’s has cured thousands of children with serious cancers and the cure rate for childhood cancers is now 85 percent. But there are some cancers that still evade medical answers. “It was those few children who didn’t survive that made me to turn to research,” she said.
Larkin of Techbridge said their Oakland organization is nurturing the science interest in girls through after school programs at 15 schools this year including 9 in Oakland.
Bryant, Dr. Saba and Kekelis will be inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame on March 29 at a celebration at the Greek Orthodox Church of Oakland.