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Digerati Girls
Digerati Girls - Doug Coombe

Digerati Girls

22200 West 11 Mile Road
Southfield, Michigan 48307

Digerati Girls

By Amanda Lewan
July 10, 2013

Monica Wheat has an energetic laugh that beckons any listener to believe in her mission. Her fervent voice could easily lure a roomful of people to join her cause. Her sister Adrienne is more reserved, calmly yet strategically planning their program’s behind-the-scenes success.
Monica founded the educational nonprofit Digerati Girls in 2011, though she has known for a long time she wanted to help expose youth to opportunities in technical industries. She brought on her sister Adrienne as Co-Founder and Creative Director to help "reel her in," as she says.
Both sisters were born and raised in Detroit, and Monica repeatedly acknowledges gratitude for having the opportunity to participate in after school programs early on in life. In Detroit there aren’t many opportunities for women to be included in technical training, especially at a young age when exposure can have a huge impact on a child’s future.
"We were fortunate enough to be exposed at a really early age to the industry," said Monica. "But as I was growing up a lot of the programs I experienced were geared towards boys. We want to change that."
Monica studied engineering at the University of Michigan. She worked in the field for a few years before transitioning to digital marketing. Digerati Girls was founded to show young women the fun side of digital media, teaching classes like social media marketing and mobile app development. It was created to give young women the exposure and the resources to begin a career in technology and digital media.
"We give them access to building something fun, like an app or video game," Monica said. They refer to their official "Kidpreneur," niece Oliva Snead, for insight into what young kids want to learn.
Digerati Girls is an after school program for girls in grades 6-12, and their Digerati Kids program brings technical education to the classroom for boys and girls as early as grade 4. They’re also working on a high school boot camp in partnership with Hajj Fleming’s Student Ventures.
"It’s the exposure of seeing women in many different roles that’s vital to the program," said Adrienne. "We have a strong component that’s coding specific, and a part for digital marketing and entrepreneurship."
Adrienne Wheat also attended the University of Michigan where she studied economics and finance, going on to work in finance for the next twelve years. Adrienne participated in robotic competitions at a young age, and agreed with her sister’s vision to get more young women involved in technical programs.  
"I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and what better way that to do it than help bring my sister’s vision to life," Adrienne said. "I’m really into the Detroit digital scene. It’s great to do this in a place we’ve grown up and a place that’s having a huge surge in the industry."
Monica agrees that Detroit was the right place to launch their nonprofit, which now offers classes in Chicago, Atlanta, and Miami, and will soon expand globally to London, Tokyo, and Rio. The city has enough talent to assist the program, and enough struggling neighborhoods to help expose Detroit kids to possible future in tech.
"As a professional I’ve been across the U.S. and the world. I’ve seen different tech ecosystems, and I saw that we could do what we wanted here in Detroit," Monica said. "We knew we had the tech talent to help teach classes and the enthusiasm that I haven’t seen in a lot of other areas."
The powerful duo has plans to continue to expand their program in local classrooms, and to develop an online platform that offers live sessions, resources, and ideas on how youth can solve problems in the Detroit community using their technical skills.
"Right now we’re trying really hard to work on quality rather than quantity,” said Monica. "A lot of that quality starts in Detroit because the seasoning is right."

All photos by Doug Coombe.

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