Nancy Mwirotsi, founder of Pursuit of Innovation 515 (Pi515) in Des Moines, Iowa, is already well-known in the community for her advocacy work on behalf of underserved women, refugees, and low-income students. She will now be able to expand these efforts, thanks to a 2020 Nation of Neighbors grant.
Nancy’s primary mission with Pi515 is to help create an inclusive culture wherein students can learn both STEM and the employment skills needed to launch them into new planes of achievement. This includes her Girls Entrepreneurial Summit program, which focuses on educating young women on business basics, including planning, financials, marketing, and digital promotion.
“Pi515 is taking on the inequity in STEM-related careers by directly addressing the pipeline. Each year, we embrace 100 students (particularly girls) from diverse backgrounds. We introduce them to teachers and companies with employees who look like them, providing role models that inspire them. We provide – at no cost – essential skills in coding and robotics, augmented by soft-skills training, for a well-rounded education and workforce preparedness,” states Nancy.
Now in it’s sixth year, Pi515’s success rates are impressive. They sponsor high school classes that are led by business professionals. Students learn, build products, and then showcase them at local companies. Each graduate gets a laptop to keep. A pay-it-forward mentoring program for middle school students was launched in 2019. Fifteen students from the high school program were paid to plan and deliver a similar program to more than 30 younger students. The project has now been implemented at three middle schools and five high schools around the Des Moines metro area.
In addition, in the last two years, nine of Pi515’s high school girls have been awarded the National Center for Women & Information Technology Award for Aspirations in Computing (AiC). This prestigious award honors 9th-12th grade students who self-identify as women, genderqueer, or non-binary for their computing-related achievements and interests. “Having role models who are the same gender as you, who look like you, who came from a similar background as yours, can go a long way in inspiring young girls in leadership, tech and entrepreneurship,” says Nancy. Allowing young girls to see – and realize – their potential earlier in their lives also cultivates a highly needed perspective on innovation. “The more women and minorities we can launch into STEM fields, the better for society. Diversity of thought through diversity of perspective has been proven to improve bottom lines. As a society, we should strive to create more avenues so that diversity is reflected across all fields, not just technology,” says Nancy.
Moving forward, Nancy and Pi515 have their eyes on partnering with local companies to create an IT/coding apprenticeship that will provide continuing training beyond high school and facilitate full-time jobs.
Nation of Neighbors is a Royal Neighbors of America philanthropy program that honors women leaders who are impacting the lives of women and girls. Each year, recipients are selected for an empowerment grant to support their work. To date, Royal Neighbors has awarded more than $2 million to women across the country.
For more information and program details, click here.