Sasha Ariel Alston believed that the field of STEM needs more female role models–so at just nineteen years old, she became one herself. Her Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the publishing of a children’s book that engages young girls in STEM met its modest goal of $5,000 in just four days. By the end of her campaign, she had raised over $17,000. She used the money to write and self-publish her first book, Sasha Savvy Loves to Code, which tells the story of a 10-year-old African American girl attending an all-girls coding camp. In addition to learning basic coding terms and problem-solving skills, young Sasha and her friends also learn to overcome challenges and try new things.
Alston’s storybook is inspired by her own experiences as a woman of color in technology. Despite attending a STEM-based high school, she was not made aware of the many aspects of technology that could be advantageous to her future until her first internship. She believes a lack of exposure is a fundamental cause of the limited interest in tech-related careers among high-school girls. This, coupled with the pervasive stereotype that a coding student must be a white male with glasses, has contributed to a staggering underrepresentation of women of color in STEM. Alston believes that reaching girls at an early age can help curb this imbalance, and show them that they don’t have to look a certain way or be a particular gender to succeed in technology. “Hopefully, girls hearing from me, a young woman who likes fashion and music just like most of them but also thinks coding is cool, will make an impact.”
Now majoring in Information Systems at Pace University, Alston remains passionate about engaging youth in STEM, hoping to eventually expand the book into a series, create an educational application for high-schoolers, and someday establish a startup that aids students in underserved areas. Despite the challenge of frequently finding herself the only minority or the only woman in a room, Alston has no reservations about her future ambitions. She hopes to encourage this kind of confidence among young girls everywhere. “I just want them to know they can achieve whatever they want.” After all, if Sasha loves to code, there’s a good chance they might too.