How to Fire Up Kids and Engage Local Government & Community Leaders in STEAM: An Interview with Tiffany Linzan of @CivicInteract

Tiffany Linzan is the founder of Civic Interact, and organization which brings together civic scientists and designers of all backgrounds to leverage open source data and encourage independent innovations.

Linzan wanted to do more to foster coding and innovation for the next generation, so she decided organize an event that introduced  middle school girls in her native Long Island to code, while at the same time engaging local community leaders and government on how best to support STEM education.

And so the Friends in Tech event was born! The Jewelbots team had the honor to be there and help lead a coding with Jewelbots workshop with a group of amazing girls!! We were so impressed with the entire operation that we wanted to interview Tiffany and share her story and hopefully to inspire others to get involved in their own communities!

What made you want to put on an event for girls in Suffolk County?

My parents moved myself and my siblings from Brooklyn, NY to Brentwood, Suffolk County, Long Island to grow up with a suburban lifestyle. Although I eventually moved back to Brooklyn, Suffolk County is also my home.

 Through my very young company, CivicInteract, which focuses on forging creative and sustainable communities, I wanted the first STEAM community event I hosted to take place in Suffolk County.

I reached out to my favorite former high school history teacher, now Suffolk County Legislator Monica Martinez, about the event and she expressed interest in introducing STEAM initiatives to the community well beyond this event.

My desire to uplift underserved and minority communities plus Legislator Martinez’s goal to inspire and improve communities was a perfect collaboration.

It seems like the event was two fold, one to introduce some enthusiastic girls to coding and to help connect local leaders and resources. Can you tell me the goals of the event and how you went about designing it?

It was important to bring a coding event to the young girls, but more important for their parents or guardians and other adults to learn about the many STEAM resources available to young children. The second goal was to gather local community STEAM organizations and leaders to honestly discuss other issues which plague communities by preventing equal access to educational experiences and resources. To provide an opportunity for both to take place, the event was broken into two sessions at the Suffolk Community College Grant Campus: 1) for the young girls to code in one room 2) another room for the local organization representatives to discuss what worked and didn't work in the past and to brainstorm future collaborative initiatives.

How did you go about executing an event like this? Who did you reach out to?

Executing an event like this requires determination, persistence, and communication. There are so many people who needed to be involved for many different reasons. Because of this, it was important to bring everyone together on calls to communicate updates and to brainstorm.

For curriculum development, I immediately reached out to Jewelbots and Girls Who Code at the same time to help build a story and purpose around the Jewelbots bracelet. I then looped in other educational professionals along the way.

For bringing the event to life through graphics and advertising, Graphic Designer and Developer Amie Colosa volunteered all of her time to do so.

For day-of logistics, Legislator Martinez and her office, along with other organizations and individuals who reached out to support, provided an immense amount of help—from scouting sponsors to make this a free event for all attendees to helping the girls program their bracelets during the event. 

What was the best part of the event for you?

The absolute best part of the event for me was the opening panel. Usually, young children ages 7-12 tend to get a bit antsy after sitting for so long. Instead, these young girls were engaged and posed thoughtful (and quite advanced!) questions to the audience and panelist. I was also thrilled to see them inspired by the panels' interdisciplinary approach to starting their tech careers.

What did some of the kids say that was surprising to you?

I was truly blown away by comments from the young girls throughout the day. Specifically, one young girl raised her hand to explain that in this day and age, where women have more rights than previous women, they are still discriminated in the workforce by their race and gender.

What is your day job?

I recently joined Flatiron School, a WeWork company, where I’m leading the marketing team’s data and analytics projects. Flatiron School and WeWork share the same values and passions as I and I am excited to be a part of the NYC Flatiron family.

 How did you learn to code?

I was first a Computer Science major at CUNY-John Jay College, where I intended to work towards a career in the Department of Defense for either systems security or smart weapon development.

This clearly wasn’t a passion of mine and, although my parents weren’t too happy, I set out instead to learn about how people communicate and the ways technology shapes our interactions and social constructs.

As such, I enrolled in the English bachelor's degree program at CUNY-John Jay College to focus in Critical Theory and completed my masters degree at CUNY-Brooklyn College in English-Linguistics with a focus in Computational Linguistics, where my advisor introduced me to natural language processing using Python’s NLTK (natural language toolkit). From then on, I began to explore other languages, educational programs, and professional roles where I could leverage my interdisciplinary approach to coding.

What’s next for you?

Right now, I'm planning international initiatives which seeks to leverage the Girls Who Code community. Similarly, I hope to introduce the amazing Jewelbots bracelet to educators looking for ways to incorporate STEAM activities into their curriculum or after school activities.

Any tips to others hosting Jewelbots events or other coding events for kids?

Hosting a Jewelbots event, or any other coding event, is not just about the code. Code can’t save the world—how we use it can. But in order for us to inspire future superheroes and superheroines, we need to enforce the idea and purpose of community. To learn together, to support each other, and to grow together is what community and the coding experience are about.

My tip? Organize an experience which stays true to the values of the Jewelbots’ theme—togetherness.