Janani Janakiraman: Making Latinitas into Robot Chicas

Janani Janakiraman is Latinitas favorite kind of volunteer. Though highly qualified on her own as an engineer at IBM, Janani never comesjanani (2) alone – she comes with a task force that includes her oldest daughter Divya and her twin sisters Priya and Kavya and some of their friends from Westwood Highschool’s Spanish Honor Society or the engineering program at the University of Texas at Austin. This Spring, Janani led “Robot Chica” – Latinitas first Lego Mindstorms workshop.  We are also grateful to Janani for acquiring some of our first tablets at Latinitas – she truly comes to youth empowerment with a lot of gifts.

Latinitas: What was your experience like teaching Robot Chica?

Janani: I had a lot of fun teaching the kids how to program a Robot. I was amazed to see how even kids as young as second grade picked up programming via Lego Mindstorms very quickly.  Programming involves logical thinking, creativity and patience to complete tasks. Its always interesting to see the spark in the kids eyes when they are able to build things on their own.

 Latinitas: You get your own daughters involved in volunteering also – why?

Janani: I have three daughters and we volunteer as a family. I work full time and it started out as a way for me to spend more time with my kids and volunteer at the same time. We made fun shared memories while doing STEM based activities. It has now evolved to me depending on them to do most of the training when we host these workshops. My girls enjoy being role models for the other kids, especially girls, to show them that STEM is fun.

Latinitas: What were you like as a girl and how do you think that helped you become an engineer?

Janani: I grew up in India and was fortunate enough to be in a family where we were never held back. My mom was a high school math teacher, my dad an engineer and my hometown was filled with engineers working in the steel industry. So I grew up with great role models. I was always curious about how things worked and math was my favorite subject in school. I gravitated towards engineering without too much thought.

Latinitas: Where is your favorite place to be in the world?

Janani: My favorite place is a museum. Whenever we travel, we look for museums to visit. My favorite museums are ones which are hands on. Did you know that Austin has tons of museums and in September, on free museum day, you can visit all the museums for free?


Southwest Key Says Thanks

Thank you so much for all you do to support the growth and development of young ladies in our community.  Your services are relevant and engaging and cover a wide variety of topics.  Most girls are able to find something appealing and interesting at your camps no matter how unique their interests may be.  Moreover, your scholarship offerings make your services accessible for families that would not be able to afford this opportunity otherwise.  On a personal note, I cannot express my gratitude for you working with one of my clients this past spring.  I referred her for services, and she reluctantly agreed to give it a try.  This young lady had been through many challenges and was struggling to find herself amidst a negative peer group and emotional turmoil.  There were many demands at home leaving the family with no disposal income.  Thanks to Latinitas providing her a full scholarship, she was able to participate in the Spring Break camp which she absolutely loved.  She made sure to let me know on numerous occasions how much she enjoyed and appreciated the program.  From what I understand, this young lady has been doing so well and is continuing to achieve success.  A week may not seem like a long time, but even a week long camp can have far-reaching impact if available at a pivotal moment in someone’s life.  I believe this is exactly the case for the child I referred to you.  Thank you for helping her explore and access a new perspective and positive outlook on life.

Thank you again for all you do.

Best regards,

Courtney Seals


Workshop Testimonials

“Thank you so much for the opportunity to participate in such a wonderful event.  My daughter Fabiola truly enjoyed the game design adventure and is excited about starting her own game.  She is already talking about who might be her “BETA” testers. I am very impressed with your program.”

Maria Guadalupe Palop

Mother, Software Engineer

Code Chica Conference Recap 2014


classroom10 - CopyWhy Code Chica? 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, by the time girls in middle school now go to college, there will be one million more computer science jobs than computer scientists to fill them. When we look at the number of females pursuing that career path, things look bleak, women of color pursuing technology – nearly nil . Less than one percent of high school girls express interest in majoring in computer science in college and the American Association of University Women reports only 19 percent of computer and information-science majors are currently women, less than one percent of engineers right now are Hispanic women.

Latinitas Empowering Using Media and Techology!  Check out the video!

To combat the current under-representation of women in the tech industry, Latinitas, in a partnership with Google’s Made with Code campaign, developed the Code Chica Conference with the aim of getting girls excited about coding and sparking an interest in tech jobs. The first Code Chica conference was held on October 25, 2014 at Austin Community College’s Eastview Campus. Sixty girls and teens at the conference were introduced to coding with the help of professionals and graduates from local coding academy MakerSquare who facilitated the coding seminars throughout the course of the day.

Kick off! The event kicked off with a key note address from Latina engineer Karen Siles who spoke about being one of the few female employees with her job title at IBM in Austin, TX. She shared, “There is jobs waiting to be filled by a qualified woman candidate. The issue is not that there is not jobs for women in technology, the issue is that women are not choosing to take the path of attaining degrees in computer science.” Tung Huynh, an admissions recruiter at ACC Eastview, also spoke about working in tech with just one female colleague.  His company eventually hired more women who became some of the best product managers, coders, developers, engineers, account managers, and sales directors. He explained, “That’s the whole funny thing about this- girls are shy about competing and then they come in and they do better than the guys do.”  Similar to Siles experience, there were more jobs than women applying. He said, “I think today is going to go a long way towards changing that.”

Coding Begins!

Girls were introduced to the concept of coding as a means to create actions with a visual demonstration of a robot. One of the Makersquare seminar facilitators pretended to be a robot and the girls had to direct the robot to the door.   Then, they visited a Disney website and were guided through the process of using code to change a website, font colors and sizes, and delete pictures. They also used an online web based coding platform and CSS to embed video games. Girls expressed excitement as they passed from one level to the next.

Women in Tech at Lunch

At lunch girls were visited by many local powerful women in technology today. These women shared their personal, academic and professional journeys in technology. The roundtable set up made the connections more personal and powerful. Women came from Rackspace, Google, Dell, BB&T Bank, local PBS station KLRU-TV, Accruent and start ups like Stretchrecipes.com and SheHacksATX.  . Miczeh Reeze (A code chica) expressed how she will remember how the speakers gave inspiring quotes to follow their dreams.”  Jackie Lopez also noted,” The one thing that I will remember from this event are the people that visited the tables.”

Miranda Dawn from TV’s “The Voice”

It wouldn’t be a Code Chica event without having just as much “chica” as coding and so Latinitas welcomed former volunteer and current alumni from last seasons’ “The Voice,” Miranda Dawn (Miranda Oropeza), a singer/songwriter and member of her own band Dawn and Hawkes. She performed but also invited girls on-stage.

Code Afternoon:

When the “Code Chicas” returned to their assigned computer labs, they continued coding and practiced manipulating code by changing the Latinitas website. Over 60% of the attendees surveyed said they had never been to an event like this. Many of them expressed how they wished they had Latinitas at their schools. Several of the girls were also active members of Latinitas clubs and camps and expressed excitement about Code Chica. When asked if they would tell their friends about Latinitas programs and events, surveys showed a resounding “yes!” Seventh grader Elizabeth Hernandez said, “I would absolutely tell my friends about Latinitas because it’s a place where girls can dream big and have fun.”  She also said,”I liked the fact that girls were able to connect with technology.”

Code Chica presented coding on girls’ terms through fun exercises that incorporated some of their favorite brands and videos.  Coding was demystified for many girls and thanks to dedicated instructors, lunchtime career presenters and Latinitas model of empowerment, more chicas in Austin are putting themselves into the shoes of developers, designers and definitely: coders.

Sara Martinez: A Latinitas Story

Eleven years ago, Sara Martinez joined one of the first Latinitas after school programs at Martin Middle School in Austin, TX.  Her journey from then to now – becoming a musician, travelling to Japan, studying cosmetology, using that skill to afford college and apply to the University of Texas at Austin and now plans to be an international journalist is more than inspiring and impressive – it’s the dream we had for every chica who walked in Latinitas’ door!  Below Sara shares what Latinitas meant to her growing up, but also, more so, what a dynamic and thoughtful person she has always been.

What did you like about cutting hair/studying cosmetology?

SM: Ever since I was a little girl. Something that I cared about was my hair because I felt like it was part of my identity. A different style, color or cut can dramatically change a person’s image and self confidence, and that was something that attracted me to cosmetology. I liked studying cosmetology because I enjoyed watching how a person’s self confidence would go up after getting something done to their hair. Seeing their smile after seeing the finished product was something that kept me going throughout my years at cosmetology school.

What is it that draws you to journalism?

SM: When I was younger, I was very shy and stuttered frequently. I felt like I had no voice so I really liked to express myself through writing and social media which I discovered through Latinitas in middle school. Deep down inside through my years in high school, I felt that I wanted to study in college something that would help improve myself as a person. Because of my love of journalism, I have a physical voice now because I want to be heard. My stuttering and shyness in front of big groups of people has gone away because of my love of expressing my opinion. Majoring in journalism not only gives me the chance to be a voice but to also make sure that other people’s voices are being heard as well.

What’s next for Sara Martinez?

SM: My dream is to become an international music and fashion journalist. I’m expected to graduate with a degree in Journalism and a minor in fashion design next year. I’ve been studying Japanese for about four years now and I got a chance to live there during the summer of 2013; it is an experience that I hold very dear to my heart. I’m hoping to relocate to Japan after graduation so I can become a native speaker and attend a Japanese language school while looking for work. I want to find work in the Japanese television and magazine industry because that is a big market in Japan. During my trip, I discovered that although American pop culture is well known there, our actual culture is confusing to understand at times because it is completely different compared to Japanese culture. I want to become a bridge and a voice that will help Japanese people understand as to why things are the way they are in America. My love of learning and culture is something that has set me apart from a typical Latina and I think its because of my mixed heritage and being a first-generation american in my family. Given the chance to go to one of the top universities in the world and being part of a top ranked program has taught me that if I try really hard and follow my heart, then amazing things are possible. I want to be a person that can be looked up to.

What’s something about you that sets you apart as a “Latinita?”

SM: Latinitas was the reason why I was able to work my way to becoming the person that I am today. Coming from a family that is considered lower class here, made me think that I wouldn’t be able accomplish much in life. But looking back, I feel that I have accomplished so much and I haven’t even graduated college yet. Being a Latinita brought my self-confidence up and has given me the drive to make a difference like Laura, the CEO of Latinitas Magazine. What sets me apart as a “Latinita” is that I am confident and although I know that I make mistakes, that will never bring me down. Being mentored by Laura taught me that many things are possible and that dreams do come true if you are strong enough to pull through all the hard obstacles that come our way. Being a “Latinita” is something important because wherever this life takes me, the lessons and experiences with Latinitas will always be with me and giving me the drive to make a difference.

Former Austin ISD Principal Raffy Garza-Viscaino

“It is I who is honored to support you and the wonderful work you do. I saw firsthand the positive difference Latinitas makes in the lives of our Martin Middle School girls. I am thrilled to see that Latinitas has continued to grow and touch the lives of young women. I am so honored to support this awesome organization.”

The Music You (Latinitas) and I (Child of the 80s) Love

Music2Every October tens of thousands gather in America’s new city sweetheart, Austin, TX for a music festival that lasts two-straight weekends: Austin City Limits Festival.  Emerging and established bands convene for an eclectic expression of new and old music and Latinitas was there to cover as much as possible – exploring new and old loves:

Nightbox – this Irish quartet was, to me, what would have happened if the 80s band New Order could have had a baby – really if any band of that time could have reproduced its DNA -Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode- even the Pet Shop-Boys.  What I loved the most about this performance was how Irish folk threads are married with danceable techno.  The bands lead is a new generation of dreamy and though this is a new, little heard band in the U.S., it’s roots to British new age made me feel like a “Latinita” again. (I’m a little over the age limit.)

Dawn and Hawkes – swinging the pendulum from club sound to Austin’s own folk duo that suceeded as finalists on “The Voice” and  touched, yes touched Adam Levine - the team took stage at the festival on my favorite stage, located centrally and smaller, the show is truly intimate and melodic and graceful songwriting gets its due.  Dawn is Miranda Dawn, half-Mexican American, half White – her voice is as beautiful as she.  She and Chris Hawkes, so young, so fresh – sing, though, like they have been writing folk songs for centuries.

Spanish Gold – A Latina publication has to check out anything that says  ”Spanish” of course. This collaboration of Band of Horses members and Austin and Laredo native son Adrian Quesada, founder of numerous other musical projects including Grupo Fantasma, Brownout and the newly formed Brown Sabbath, a commemorative, but Latin perspective on Ozzy’s Black Sabbath hits, Spanish Gold is its own brand of authentic new sound.  The entirety stays lyrically true to themes of rural meandering and Southwest origins, but as with many of the bands at ACL fest this year – they entreated audience members with something unexpected: their version of  the 90s hit “Poison” by Bell Biv Devoe.  It was refreshingly refreshing.

Tuneyards – They are not Latinas, they are not even women of color though they sound like they are and I wouldn’t stop Henry Louis Gates from doing some DNA history on this band to find out if I’m wrong about their cultural origins.  They may have some Mahalia Jackson in that lineage somewhere.  Experimenting in percussion, throaty vocals and opera-like expressions of music intention, Tuneyards get you pumped up, active – seeking purpose.  Does anyone remember Sweet Honey from the Rock?  This band loved Sweet Honey from the Rock, but also loves Red Bull and other caffeinated products, I think.  Love the energy of the Tuneyards. It’s the type of the music that slips between performance art and revolution – easily.

Zoé – if you are 30ish and Mexican, you know Zoe. If you are a Latinita living in Southwest, United States or Los Angeles, well you too are familiar with this Spanglish/ Mexican rock band that has been around for a while, but just peeking it’s head into American mainstream with the minor onslaught of more pop en Español radio stations emerging in popularity.  Zoé epitomizes what is becoming “American” music. It is no longer rockabilly folks. It’s electric guitar with cumbia undertones.

I left reviews of Juanes and Eminem to our younger Latinitas dying to see these icons, but when Pearl Jam was poised as the headliner as a Sunday headliner, well I was immediately transported to sophomore year of college.   For some of you Latinitas that was last semester – for me – that was another decade.  I couldn’t have enjoyed Pearl Jam more.  Eddie Vedder, my middle age peer is as adamant about injustice as he ever was in the early 90s grunge era. His hair is neater, but he, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament and the Pearl Jam band restored faith in history, rock that comes from the heart and from pain.  Izzy Azalea played earlier and her act, to me, looked like the boring cheerleading practice from my high school – while Pearl Jam reeled off “State of Love and Trust,” “Alive,” and other classics like they were plugged into a whole other musical universe.  I thank ACL fest for bringing worlds such as these together because music is music – manufactured or primal.  It’s all worth a chance.

Foundation Communities

“What I value about the media and technology lessons that Latinitas provides is the hands-on experience that the girls are getting and the encouragement for application of these lessons in their lives. Girls who may not identity as “tech-savvy” gain confidence in their ability to use technology to express themselves and explore topics of importance to them.”

Leashya Padma Munyon

Program Manager, Foundation Communities Sierra Vista campus


“In today’s tech-loaded world it’s more important than ever to expose our youth to technology. As a growing career field that is predominately held by men, I value Latinita’s ability to engage young girls in technology and hopefully inspire them to pursue a rewarding career in a STEM field.”

Megan Wilkins

Site Coordinator, Foundation Communities Sierra Vista campus

Denise Riojas: Mentee Becomes the Mentor

104_0655Denise Riojas joined Latinitas in the 7th grade at Martin Middle School and participated until she graduated 8th grade.  Quiet and thoughtful, Denise took a little time coming out of her shell, but when she did, her take on Latinas and media representation opened up. “Latinitas made me feel proud of my culture, something I had been waiting for since I was a girl. I know Latinitas has made me a more confident person.”  Denise really enjoyed the opportunity to express herself through media making websites, producing ‘zines and short “webisodes” about life in middle school.  Now a junior at the University of Texas Austin studying nursing, Denise returns to help Latinitas in a leadership capacity making presentations on health and fitness during our summer camp series and by managing workshops at Latinitas’ annual Chica conferences focused on tech in 2012 and college attainment in 2013.  Denise helped girls produce their public services announcements on using technology for good and topics related to going to college.  Denise is certainly paying it forward in the cycle of mentorship.

Launching a Latinitas Print Issue

AUSTIN, TX – Ten years ago when Latinitas began as the first and still only digital magazine made for and by young Latinas, trends pointed to a publishing world that was going entirely digital.  A decade later, a majority of Hispanic girls are still struggling for internet and technology access, still wedged in a digital divide because of cost and lack of bilingual content.

Understanding bicultural and bilingual print media is as relevant as ever for Latina youth, Latinitas launched its first Kickstarter campaign ending Oct 26th to cover costs of publishing its magazine in its first “slick” edition.  Backers will receive an actual copy and other Austin or El Paso, TX centric prizes, where Latinitas Magazine and outreach is based.  The current issue is focused on Latina health and wellness and will be 16 pages long.

Established in 2002, Latinitas, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, whose mission is to empower young Latinas through media and technology, has been a vital part of young Latinas’ lives through after school programs, teen internships, Saturday and Summer camps, special events, and the very first digital magazine for young Latinas—www.latinitasmagazine.org. The bilingual magazine, written for and by young Latinas, provides a vehicle whereby these girls and young women not only see themselves positively reflected, but are also a part of the production.  Latinitas programs have served more than 20,000 girls and teens with empowering lessons about culture, identity and media expression. Latinitasmagazine.org has published over 1500 articles for and by girls and hosts its own social media network: MyLatinitas.com with 1,000 registered users.
The magazine will be distributed overall to public and high school libraries in Latino-dominant cities in Texas such as Austin, El Paso, Dallas and San Antonio and New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami.

Donate to the campaign here:  http://kck.st/1eJH4yn



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