When Michelle Gall was growing up in Clinton Hill, she was a straight-A student in math and science — but she says she was never taught how to apply those skills to earn a living.
Instead, the Woman of Distinction remembers that men were encouraged to become doctors and lawyers, while women were encouraged to become nurses or teachers. It seemed like these mentioned career paths had little to do with the actual skills or interests of the individuals.
She realized this way of thinking needed to change, so in 2014, she founded Digital Girl, Inc. to encourage inner city youth, especially girls, to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math — the so-called “stem” subjects. The United States does not produce many stem professionals, Gall says, especially when it comes to women and people of color. Her organization strives to change that by providing schools with curriculum programs that offer exposure, hands-on training, and mentorship for those seeking careers in these fields. It’s all offered to schools at no cost to the students.
Digital Girl Inc. is based in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where more than half the population is female; less than 38 percent have high school educations; and only 8.6 percent are in stem occupations, she says.
“In today’s world, technology is the driving force for innovation and change, and occupations in these fields are projected to grow by 9 million by 2022.”
Yet, inner-city youth, specifically public school students, do not receive the same exposure, resources, or education that their more well-off counterparts receive, she says.
“Children today are born into a technologically advanced society, yet, in underserved communities, still receive the same education as students during the Second Industrial Revolution received.”
Through Digital Girl Inc., Gall brings awareness to students, parents, educators, and lawmakers about this achievement gap. She notes that the company does not spread the message that stem is the only path towards a successful socioeconomic future.
She credits Oprah Winfrey with offering inspiration. She attended Oprah’s “The Life You Want Weekend,” in Newark, and was motivated by words she heard there. She recalls that it went something like this: “You know what you’re supposed to be doing. You always knew what you were supposed to be doing since you were young. Stop thinking about how you are going to do it, and just do it. Once you make the decision to fulfill your purpose, the universe opens up to you and provides what you need.”
Since then, she has never looked back.
“Brooklyn has always been a hub for creative thinkers and entrepreneurs and is now experiencing a Tech Boom,” she says. “It is empowering to be among like-minded people on a daily basis, and feed off of that constant energy.”
CNG’s Jennifer Stern, who nominated Gall for this award, says, “These young girls and boys are blessed to have a role model like Ms. Gall.”
Occupation: Founder and executive director.
Company: Digital Girl, Inc.
Claim to fame: Empowering women with technology.
Favorite Brooklyn Place and why: Brooklyn Bridge Park. I think of all the people who come here for a better life, including my parents, and it reminds me of how fortunate I am to have been born here.
Woman you admire and why: I admire women as a whole. We each have our own unique struggles to overcome.
Motto: It doesn’t matter how much you know, if you don’t know how to apply it.