A Conversation with Danielle Hester, Digital Editor of ArtInFact Magazine

Q: Where are you from originally?

Q: What is AIF? What does it represent?
AIF is a content and community platform for people doing creative things in New York City outside of the traditional 9-to-5 work structure. We cover a range of entrepreneurs and startups, independent artists like filmmakers, fashion designers and musicians, and local community projects.

But we also cover mainstream topics from an underground perspective. While the Internet is buzzing about the new Trey Songz album, we’re more interested in the person who shot the photography. What’s his story? And more than likely it’s a freelance photographer who would appreciate the press coverage.

Our goal is to bring the behind-the-scenes creative process to the forefront. We’re fascinated with telling the stories of people you wouldn’t necessarily hear about in mainstream media. AIF represents the millennial who has taken action to pursue their creative endeavors. The brand represents us, its creators, who started a brand because we wanted to produce quality content about topics we care about. This concept is how we came up with the name ArtInFact magazine. We believe there’s always an art element to the facts you know about, and some facts to the artistic work you see.

Q: What inspired this idea for AIF?
I run AIF with three amazing editors who I met during our time at Columbia J-School. The initial idea to start an independent magazine came from our managing editor Semmi W. She approached me, Ashley and Angel with the idea, and the overall concept of AIF was conceived collectively.

We were all recent graduates working as freelance writers, copy editors and fact checkers, but were somewhat unhappy with the kinds of stories we were asked to do over and over again. We were battling with having to produce overly saturated, SEO-driven content.

We would get together and find ourselves obsessively talking about the types of stories we wanted to write and the influencers we loved to follow on social media who we wanted to know more about. So, we decided to create our own magazine and tell the stories we wanted to tell and that we felt were interesting and important.

We wanted to give people the facts behind the art (creative person) they loved. At first, AIF was just a passion project. We had no business plan, no real direction for the site. We ran the site very independently. Each editor would publish whatever we wanted, whenever we felt like it, kind of like a blog. But it was very important to us early on not to look like a blog site. We wanted the site and our work to reflect the technical training we had received at Columbia.

But that required so much. We were putting in a lot of time interviewing and writing stories while working full-time jobs. After a while, the process started to feel pointless without any real editorial or business direction.

Around this time, Semmi W. and I got invited to attend a business development workshop in the Hamptons that was hosted by Dell. While there, we listened to entrepreneurs talk about their successes and failures. One of their biggest concerns was that there was a disconnect between entrepreneurs and their access to quality media coverage; that it was hard for them to get media coverage about their startups and creative projects.

That’s when we made the pivot to focus on the projects and creative processes of entrepreneurs, indie artists and influencers living in NYC. It became our goal to feature these unknown people and package the content in the same way you would see it in New York Magazine or Vanity Fair.


Q: What do you believe makes AIF different from other online publications?
AIF has such a unique focus in which we serve to fill a need for a specific group of people who work hard to make their passion projects come to life, but feel ignored by mainstream media outlets. There’s a loyalty that comes with our content because we, too, are in the same boat as the people we cover.

So, when we write an in-depth profile about a startup and promote it on our social media pages, they appreciate it, and in return will help to promote AIF, too. We’re not a news-breaking website. That’s not our purpose. What makes AIF different, in a sense, is that we are building long-lasting relationships with our subjects. We want to help them build their press coverage. It’s all about using our skill sets to help a fellow creative reach their goal, and they’ll use their resources to help ours.


Q: Choose three words to describe your professional journey and why?
1. Progressive: I’m not the same writer or editor I was five years ago, or three years ago, or even a year ago. I am always trying to progress and build my skill sets. I am always looking for new things to learn about my craft. I’m so far away from my initial dream of being a magazine editor. Now, I’m on the digital production side, and I love it!

2. Goal-driven: I always set goals. I tend to focus more on short-term goals because I am the type of person who is always open to trying new things, and long-term goals feel like they box me into one idea. Nevertheless, I’ve always had some sort of goal, whether it was to grow a certain skill set or start a passion project with three friends. I think this has definitely helped me in my professional development because I am able to identify what I want to gain from a project or job position.

3. Patience: I came out of undergrad in 2008 when the economy was in really bad shape. The publishing industry still struggles with not having enough resources to hire full-time staffers with reasonable pay and health coverage. I’ve had to be very patient with my career. I’ve had to take many contract jobs and freelance positions, even after I got my master’s in journalism. But I’ve met and worked with some amazing writers and editors along the way who gave me opportunities I am so blessed to have had.



A Conversation with Rakia Finley, CEO of Surge Assembly

Rakia Finley is the founder and CEO of Surge Assembly, a technology firm. Surge Assembly is not your average tech firm. It is a company that believes in more than just providing solutions. The goal is also to promote growth. When Finley is not spending her time running a business, she can be found working to support women in the community. She recently started an event called Pastries and Champagne, where professional women come and share the challenges and triumphs of being a woman in the male-dominated tech industry. Finley took some time out to share with Blerds what it’s like being a female CEO in the tech world.

Q: Where are you from originally?

I’m originally from Portland, Oregon. I moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, when I was 16.

Q: Where did you go for your undergraduate/graduate degrees?

I attended Hampton University, where I received my bachelor’s in sociology. I received an MBA from Howard University.

Q: How long have you been working in the technology field?

I started doing tech when I was still in undergrad. I built my first website near the end of my freshman year. My brother is a web designer, and I just thought anything my brother did I wanted to do. So I taught myself HTML, simply to just bug my brother. I learned that I really liked it a lot. I got really interested in technology, but I was very scared of changing majors. So during the summer, I took program classes at American University and received a web design certification.

Q: Essentially, you had a tech background before getting your MBA?

I did, but I didn’t know it at the time. I knew I wanted to help nonprofits use their resources to help their development. I didn’t know that tech would play a huge part in that.

Q: How did Surge Assembly start?

My business actually started in 2003, but it wasn’t until 2004 that my brother and I realized there was something here and we could make some money and pay for college. We worked with small nonprofit organizations in the Washington, D.C., metro area. I was working on a contract with a nonprofit called Break the Cycle, a domestic violence prevention organization for teens. I was implementing technology solutions into their development, such as website design and redeveloping email marketing structure. This was during a time where technology existed but everybody was scared of it, especially nonprofit organizations. It was cool to people, but when you’re trying to implement those strategies into actual organizations people are very scared.

Q: Where do you think the fear came from?

I think the fear comes from them not knowing. Whenever we went to nonprofits and told them we were going to build them a whole new website, they thought we were going to steal their intellectual property. The coolest thing at that time was downloading white papers. So the fear was their white papers could be stolen. The intellectual property then was just writing and thoughts.

Q: How did you know there was a need for the work you’re doing?

I attribute this to my mother. My brother and I were always two individuals who thought adults were doing it wrong. I carried that with me in work life. My thought was this could be done so much better. So in regard to the work I do, the need wasn’t there. I would suggest to clients the value of implementing tools, online donations portal, instant messenger, etc. It wasn’t because they needed it; they thought it was a waste of time. It was more about there being a more efficient way to do this. I love that technology allows you to do things in a more efficient manner.

Q: Choose three words to describe your professional journey and why?

Progression: We started with Microsoft Tools, Microsoft Access and Instant Messaging. We had to progress, so now we do Mobile Apps, CRM systems and more intricate technology solutions.

Education: I have never been allowed to base my experience off something I learned 10 years ago. I’m constantly learning and being open to what technology is.

Understanding: I keep saying we’re leaving people behind. Our client profile tends to be older organizations and businesses being run by older people who aren’t a part of the tech boom and don’t necessarily care about it.  We as boomers or millennials have a responsibility not to leave the rest of society behind in technology.

Q: What are your thoughts on women of color in STEM fields?

I think there are amazing women in STEM, but I would love for our voices to be a little stronger, a little bigger.

5 STEM Internships Blerds Should Know About

Internships have always been a great way for individuals to advance in the professional world. Internships provide skill-building workshops, networking opportunities, monetary benefits and sometimes potential for a full-time position with a company.

For you Blerds out there looking for internships in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields to help advance your career, here are five STEM internships you should consider.

1. Minority Educational Institution Student Partnership Program

What: MEISPP is a program that is open to high school students and undergraduate/graduate students with a desire to work in the STEM fields. They provide students with an opportunity to work with experts in science and engineering so they can enhance their career and leadership skills. The program targets underrepresented students, like women and minorities, in STEM fields. The research focuses on policy, business and government relations.

Benefits: Students receive paid lodging, round-trip airfare and monetary compensation.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • 18 and over
  • U.S. citizen
  • Earned no less than 24 semester credits hours
  • Must be enrolled as a full-time undergraduate or graduate/professional student in an accredited institution of higher education in the fall of 2012
  • Maintain an overall grade point average of 2.8 or above on a 4.0 scale
  • Applicants must demonstrate the following:
    • ​Leadership potential
    • Commitment to public service
    • Interest in energy-related issues
    • Strong written and verbal communication skills
  • Must fill out an application
  • Must provide a transcript
  • Must have two letters of recommendation


2. Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship Internship Program

What: The Mickey Leland Energy Internship Program was created in honor of the late Texas Congressman Mickey Leland who was a huge proponent of social, cultural and environmental issues. It is a 10-week program that supports underrepresented students in STEM majors by allowing them to work in a mentorship program where they can work with officials whose research falls in line with the Office of Fossil Energy. At the end of the 10 weeks, the students will present their research at a technical forum.

Benefits: Students receive a stipend, housing and transportation

Eligibility requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be a U.S. Citizen
  • Have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0
  • Be currently enrolled full time in an accredited college or university (sophomore year or higher)
  • Participate in the full 10-week program


3. Clean Cities Internships

What: The Clean Cities Internships are unique in that they focus on students who are interested in changing the future of onroad transportation. Students work with Clean Cities Coalition coordinators and stakeholders to plan events, analyze data, research markets and design websites. The program encourages peer exchange, networking, engaging with case studies and doing research. They do hands-on work that involves implementing the use of clean vehicle technologies. Students work toward increasing awareness for things like alternative fuels and the reduction of petroleum. This is all in an effort to improve the overall environment. The internships are available throughout the year.


  • Students who are studying communication, public relations, business marketing, engineering or environmental sciences
  • Fill out an online application


4. The Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships Program

What: The Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships Program encourages undergraduates interested in STEM careers to apply. The students conduct research at the Department of Energy laboratories (16 locations). The program has three cycles. The summer cycle is a 10-week cycle that starts in May and ends in August. The fall cycle is 16 weeks and starts in August and ends in December. Lastly, the spring cycle, also 16 weeks, begins in January and ends in May.

Benefits: The program provides enrichment activities, professional development and laboratory tours. Students receive a $500 stipend per week. There is opportunity for transportation reimbursement and housing.


  • Must be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident
  • Must have completed at least one year of school as a matriculating student
  • Must be enrolled in an undergraduate program full time
  • Must have a 3.0 GPA at the time of applying


5. Minority Serving Institutions Internship Program

What: The Minority Serving Institutions Internship Program is a 10-week summer program that  supports undergraduate and graduate students who are high-performing students in the STEM fields. The program provides on-the-job training, opportunities to work on projects in laboratories, federal field offices, etc. Students will be working with some of the nation’s top scientists and engineers. Ultimately, this program allows students to gain experience in their fields of interest so they can make more informed decisions about their futures in STEM.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • A United States citizen at least 18 years of age
  • Attending a participating MSI
  • Enrolled as a degree-seeking student maintaining a minimum of a half-time academic course load (as defined by the educational institution at which the student is enrolled)
  • Maintaining a minimum grade point average of 2.5 and be in good academic standing.
  • Apply to the program





Ethel Cofie, CEO of Edel Consultancy, Talks Supporting Women Through Technology

Ethel Cofie, a self-proclaimed techie and CEO of Edel Consultancy, has been using her love for technology to provide solutions for socio-economic issues in Africa. She is currently finishing up her studies at Yale University through the Washington Fellowship, a program for young African leaders to build leadership and management skills. When she is not spending her time supporting startups, building apps to support women’s health or improving her skills at Ivy League universities, she can be found working on narrowing the gap between men and women in the tech industry.

Q: What are three terms that describe your professional journey?


I worked for one of my professors who taught computer science, when I was a university student back in Ghana. I was 21, and he was letting me weigh in on these huge discussions that were way above my head. This exposure helped to inform my career journey.

This encouraged me to be a businesswoman. I started a business in 2010. I felt I was pretty passionate and intelligent. In terms of what happened, I got really interesting jobs working across Africa. I failed a lot along the way but learned many lessons, which made it easier to get back up and try again. So persistence was key in my development as a professional and a businesswoman.


One of my last corporate jobs before I started my tech company was being head of commercial solutions for Vodafone Ghana.

As women, we work hard, and because of it, we should be acknowledged for it. However, that acknowledgement doesn’t always come. I learned how to be aware of emotional intelligence, and I learned that working hard is not enough. It is important for professionals, women especially, to be able to walk into a room and be aware of who is in the room, the motivations of the individuals in that room, recognize the synergy and how to work with them. Once I realized that, it made things easier for me.

Hard work

It is pretty self-explanatory. I work as hard as possible to accomplish my goals.

Q: Explain the function of your position as a technical product/solutions manager. How do you assist your clients?

From a technical perspective, I describe myself as technical product/solutions manager. I am sort of the person that is in the middle of technical expertise and customer design. I’m a techie that is focused on customer service products.

When working with clients, I first like to start by testing the customer journey out before I build anything. I like to sit with a client and understand what their business is and who their customers are and what is the company’s path. Once that happens, I can begin to build tools that work.

So there’s an anthropological component to how I approach my work. That makes the technology part successful beyond just a working tech product.

Q: What does a typical workday look like for you?

OK, so apart from running Edel Consultancy, I also run a women-in-tech group in Ghana, and I’m working with women-in-tech groups across Africa to create an alliance.

I am also working to create an accelerator for StartUp Africa. So right now, my days are a little everywhere. Literally, I have a plan for what I’m achieving for each quarter. So, essentially, no day at the moment looks the same. I could be doing a client brief, business development, working with multinational companies that are coming into Africa and helping them with technical solutions.

Q: What is one project that you worked on that you were really proud of?

I worked with the Gates Foundation to build a mobile app that enabled pregnant women to know when to go to the hospital and what medicine they should be taking. I also built one for nurses to track their patients. That did really well. It was piloted in Ghana and then deployed to other countries like Tanzania and Uganda and other countries across Africa. This was work that I was really excited about doing, and I want to continue to do that kind of work.

Q: How did you get involved with the Washington Fellowship?

It’s actually funny how I got involved. I initially did not want to apply for it. I’ve been so busy, and I have all these other projects that I didn’t want to add this to my plate. My husband was the one who told me about it, and although I was reluctant, he wouldn’t let it go. So to avoid a big argument, I just applied, and I actually was called to be interviewed. From there, I was accepted.

The program is a wonderful initiative that [President Barack] Obama created called the Young African Leaders Initiative where 500 young leaders are chosen to receive leadership and management training in the United States.

I spent six weeks at Yale receiving the training. I had the opportunity to meet with President Obama and the first lady. I also met with United Nations ambassadors and government leaders.

The experience has been great. They encourage you to work on a project before the end of the fellowship, so I have been working on this accelerator program StartUp Africa.

The goal is to support startups that are in their nascent stages and help them to get access to networks, funding and the exposure to triple their chances of surviving. Seventy to 80 percent of startups fold within the first year. I realized that I wanted to help startups but doing that in a way that is structured. I sought after startups that wanted to launch in multiple markets because it seems more profitable. The accelerator  program is a three-month program. A lot of the work is virtual. And we are recruiting other people to help, such as mentors.

I have always had the idea in my head for ages, but I just couldn’t do anything about it just because of timing. Being a part of the fellowship allowed me to access additional resources and support to make it easier to execute the idea.

Q: You are very involved in a lot of different projects. Tell me more about the work you are doing with BarCamp Africa UK.

BarCamp Africa UK started in 2009. I did my master’s in the UK, and I realized there are a lot of Africans in the diaspora in the UK, and I wanted to find a way to bring those skills that these people have and bring them to Africa. I reached on social media. I shared my ideas and left it there. Then people started to reach out saying they are ready to help. And so that’s how we ended up forming this with five or six people.

Essentially, this initiative was about connecting Africans in the UK and having them network. We want to work with organizations doing things on the ground who need our help. So for instance, the Gates Foundation or social enterprises who could use our help, which could be developing an app or putting together a marketing strategy or business plan. We would take all these diverse skill sets into one room and put them to work for four or five hours. The question we posed was: What could you do to help the continent in four to five hours? This is much harder to do than just a conference. So right now, we are partnering with an organization this year that is doing something similar to our initiative.

BarCamp Africa UK was sort of my first move to doing all the things I do now. It gave me the confidence and provided me with a strong network.

Q: What are some of the challenges you experience in the work that you do?

So I run a women’s tech group in Ghana because I strongly believe that women are underrepresented in the industry. We need to help support women in the field. My efforts have been deemed feminist. Or sometimes, I will get asked questions like: How are you married doing all of this?

It is important for me to help women in the tech field, but it is a challenge convincing people that my passion to support women does not mean I’m against everyone else.

The other challenge is travel. I’m married, and my husband and I travel a lot, so the separation can be hard. I’m grateful though because despite the challenge of travel, he is very supportive. He double-checks all my work. He’s a great teammate.

Q: What are your overall thoughts about women, specifically women of color, in the STEM fields?

Women in technology are extremely underrepresented. Having diversity in your organization helps with diversity of thought and that helps with the bottom line. If your aim is to profit, it just makes sense to have diversity. You will not grow as a business without that.

Women in the tech field has improved, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. I’ve been thinking about how I could partner with different organizations to narrow the gap. I’ve said this a couple of times. It’s easy for me to be a part of the boys’ club because I’m in tech and a bit boisterous. But a lot of women think tech is a bit of a boys’ club, and it’s hard to penetrate that. Well, I’m trying to create a girls’ club to provide women with the resources and networks.

We need more of these groups to help support women so they can do this on their own.



Romona Foster, Social Media Marketing Expert, Talks to Blerds About Finding Her Niche

Romona Foster, a Pennsylvania native, never imagined that her skills as an events planner would lead her to have a strong role in the tech field as a social media consultant. She is revered for her training style and her expertise in social media management and marketing. Foster shares her unexpected journey to becoming a social media trainer and consultant.

Q: What are three words you would use to describe your professional journey?

The first word that I would use to describe this journey is unimaginable. I would have not imagined in a million years that I would be doing what it is that I’m doing today. And I love what I do.

The second word would be difficult. When I first started doing social media management and marketing, I was out of work. Getting to this place where I am now was hard, and many people admire where I am and often think it just happened. It took a lot of hard work.

The last and final word would be amazing. When I look back at the times when I was down and out, I think about how far I have come, and the journey has been amazing. To know that people are looking for me, asking me to be places to help them, are excited about what I have to offer after all this time is still amazing to me. I thank God for the opportunity. Without Him, I wouldn’t be here.

Q: Social media management is definitely a fairly new profession in the technology industry. How far back would you date it?

For me personally, I would say 2003. This is from what I have seen. When I teach my classes, it’s important for me to share facts, and one that I share is that LinkedIn started in 2003. At that time, I didn’t know it even existed. It wasn’t until 2006 that I created a profile. Someone sent me a request. I opened an account and then didn’t look back until about 2010. According to Tom Standage (digital editor of the Economist), social media is actually 2,000 years old. He talks about his philosophy on why it is so old in an article on Tech Crunch. It’s very interesting. You should check it out.

Q: ‘Difficult’ was one of the words you used to describe your journey. What was difficult about it?

Well in 2007, I left my real job, as they would say. I was going to George Washington University for event planning and management. The program required that students do a full-time internship and 160 practicum hours. I completed everything in 2008. Unfortunately, when I was done, I couldn’t find a job; 2008 — that was when the economic crash happened, and so jobs were scarce.

Naturally, I was concerned about what I was going to do about making money. During my internship and practicum, I was building websites, doing email marketing and administrative work. So while I was unemployed, I began to assist people with those things.

Many of the [projects] I received were by request. I would go online and look things up, and then I would teach myself how to do it. I would do a lot of research, a lot of reading, and sometimes I would sign up for free trials for different programs and platforms just to gain skills to effectively help my clients.

About a year after doing this, my pastor asked me to build a Facebook page for the church. I said OK, but, in my mind, I was skeptical about doing it. Most of what I knew about Facebook was that people tend to post their personal business on the site, and that turned me off.  After I did the page, other people started coming to me and asking me about how to use Facebook and LinkedIn. I had no picture on my LinkedIn page, but I updated it and started showing people how to do things but for free.

A couple of years later, I had an idea. I wondered if I did teach a class on social media management and marketing would people come. I decided to try, and so I secured a small venue and advertised the class via email and through an online calendar.

Five people showed up. When the class ended and I did the math of what I made in two hours from five people, I was amazed. The cool thing was that the people who came were people who didn’t know me at all but were interested in what I could teach them. One of the five participants expressed the class was too short and she would have liked more. So I did another class for three hours, and the feedback from that was that that class was too short. So I started a boot camp course that lasted six hours. I could not believe that I could hold people’s interest for six hours. That’s how I got started with the training component of my work. I have to give my pastor credit because if he hadn’t asked me to create that Facebook page, I might not have ever done it.

Q: You mention that you did a lot of research and reading to learn more about social media marketing. Would you say that the time you put into researching exceeded the profits you made when you started?

Yes. In the beginning, I was doing a lot more research than I was making money. Looking back now, I can say that all that reading, researching and learning was all worth it. And now, I don’t have to do that much research, but I do keep informed by reading articles and stay up to date on changing trends and new platforms.

Q: Would you consider yourself an entrepreneur in the technology field?

Yes, I would consider myself an entrepreneur of sorts — or more specifically an independent consultant.

Q: What does a typical workday look like for you?

The first thing I do when I get up at around 5 in the morning is to start posting on various platforms for my clients. My workday consists of meeting with clients, conducting webinars and trainings.

Q: You will be facilitating a workshop at the Code(Her) conference Sept. 13 in Chevy Chase, Maryland. What are some things that attendees can look forward to?

They can look forward to learning new tips and tricks that will help them manage their social media platforms in 60 minutes or less. Many of the people I train are often social media managers, so I hope that if that is the audience for the conference that they walk away learning something new. What I hope happens is that they feel more empowered about the work they are doing and realize that social media management and marketing does not take forever.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring social media managers?

My advice is to learn as much as you can in school about social media management and marketing. However, understand that even after you gain formal training in your school, don’t assume the learning stops there. Many people consider me an expert in this field, but I don’t. Simply because I know there is always some knowledge to be gained, hence why I am always reading about new changes each and every day. I would also encourage them to get into the habit of creating a content calendar.

Q: What is a content calendar?

A content calendar is similar to an editorial calendar for a magazine. Where the editors have each issue planned out a year in advance. For me, I usually create a content calendar for my clients 30 days out. That doesn’t always work depending on how often information is coming in. So some clients need updating every day because of how quickly the information comes in.

Q: What are your overall thoughts about women, specifically women of color, in the STEM fields?

I feel like I can only talk about the technology piece, but as far as technology is concerned, know that there are a lot of women of color in the tech industry, but I have to say that I don’t run into them. And the only reason I know this is because I see them on Twitter and Facebook. I don’t see a lot of women in my region doing what I do. Many of my trainees tell me that they don’t see anyone that looks like me doing what I do.

I hope that more women of color will surface in this field. This is a great profession. It is constantly evolving.


7 Black Nerd Events Worth Attending in 2014

Did you tell yourself that this year would be different, and you were going to be a better professional by attending more conferences? Did you have hopes of expanding your professional network, improving your technical skills, or building your brand?

Were you hoping to get out and mingle with like-minded people who enjoy art in its various forms but haven’t had the chance? Are you disappointed in yourself because it’s almost the end of summer and you have not signed up for one conference or gone to one event?

The summer may be coming to a swift close but the year is not over yet. Here are some worthy conferences and events that you can still check out before 2015 rolls around.


1.Chicago Writers Conference

What: The Chicago Writers Conference is a conference for writers and those aspiring to be writers. The two-day conference offers programs and workshops to help attendees improve their writing skills.

When: Oct. 24-26

Where: Chicago, Illinois,

How: The conference supports writers by providing immersive writing courses and workshops that are focused on skill building such as, writing for the stage and screen, and finding your voice. It also features discussions from bestselling authors.


2. NSBE Professional Development Conference

What: The National Society for Black Engineers is hosting its third annual Professional Development Conference. The three-day conference is meant to create a space for professionals to network, improve skills, and engage with leaders in the industry.

When: Oct 2-Oct 5

Where: Phoenix, Arizona

How: Networking and skill building will occur through a variety of ways, and attendees will have the opportunity to receive one-on-one mentoring through the Executive Mentoring Suite.

There are a series of workshops that cover topics related to increasing success in the field. For example “Networking on the Green”  addresses how to use nontraditional networking skills on and off the golf course.


3. Art Miami

What: An international contemporary and modern artist fair. The fair brings in collection curators, museum professionals, and artists from all over the world. Important artwork from the 20th and 21st centuries will be showcased.

Where: Downtown Miami

When: Dec. 2

How: The fair encompasses seminars, Understanding the Artist: Permanence is Forever, a curator brunch that allows them to mingle and network with other curators around the world, and a variety exhibits.


4. Code(Her) Conference

What: A one-day conference that allows women interested in the tech industry to build a professional network, increase their knowledge of changing trends in the field, learn and improve skills.

When: Sept. 13

Where: Chevy Chase, Md.

How: The Code(Her) conference is unique as it has a series of immersive workshops to help women network and build skills to be competitive in the tech field. The workshops focus on everything from cyber security to branding through social media.


5. The Lean Startup Conference

What: The Lean Startup Conference has been helping entrepreneurs build networks and skills for the past five years. The conference gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who have proven success with their startups.

It allows participants to get the answers to questions such as: How can I get internal services like IT, finance, legal, and HR to act like startups and serve entrepreneurial teams throughout my organization? As well as questions that cover how to get buy-ins from leaders and managers to support entrepreneurial methods.

When: Dec. 8 – 12

Where: San Francisco, California

How: Attendees gain knowledge and support through a series of workshops, sessions, one-on-one meetings, Q&A panels, and group dinners over the course of five days.


6. DC Shorts Film Festival

What: A 10-day festival where the world’s top short films are screened to a wide audience. For this year, over 100 films will be screened from 25 countries. The main purpose of the fair is to create a space for filmmakers and lovers of film to mix and mingle and enjoy great cinematic art.

When: Sept. 11-21

Where: Several locations in Washington, D.C.

How: The film festival helps individuals engage with each other through film screenings, parties, and workshops and competitions.


7. Urban Tech Weekend

What: A two-day conference hosted by the National Black Info Tech Leadership Organization. The goal of the conference is to narrow the diversity gap for Black and Latino-Americans in the technology field.

When: Sept. 25-27

Where: Houston, Texas

How: The conference supports Black and Latino-Americans through networking from various companies. Also available will be  panels with speakers who are leaders in the tech fields, workshops,  and mentorship opportunities.

5 STEM Grants and Scholarships for African-Americans

STEM careers are growing at a much faster rate than other industries. The growth is apparent on both the national and global levels. There are many opportunities available to Blerds who have a strong interest in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Here are five grant and scholarship programs created to support innovation, education and entrepreneurship in the STEM fields.

1. Small Business Innovation Research

Five years ago, entrepreneur Kendra Ough attended a Small Business Innovation Research conference. While there, she discovered that there was funding available for small businesses with big ideas.

The Small Business Innovation Research program has been around for more than 30 years with the primary goal of supporting small businesses plan development. They provide grant money to fund research and development, which inevitably gives small businesses a competitive edge in the global marketplace.

There are several agencies that participate in the government-funded program, such as the Department of Agriculture, Education, and Transportation. The basic eligibility requirements include a three-phase process. Some additional requirements are: 50 percent of the business must be owned or controlled by one or more individuals who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents; the business cannot have more than 500 employees; and it must be for profit and located in the U.S.

*Please note that every participating agency has its own additional guidelines. Visit the SBIR site for additional information on eligibility requirements.

2. New York State Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics

This past May, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of the New York State Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Incentive Program. The Higher Education Services Corporation-funded grant is designed to encourage high school students interested in STEM majors in college.

To be eligible for the grant, students must attend a New York state high school, be ranked in the top 10 percentile of their class, and enroll full time in a State University of New York (SUNY) or City University of New York (CUNY) school. For more information visit the HESC website.

3. Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge

The goal of The Conrad Foundation is to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. One way the foundation accomplishes this is through the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge. The program, which supports future inventors, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, was created in 2008 in honor of astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr.

There is a five-step process to becoming a Conrad Scholar through the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge.
The first step to is to join a team and register for the challenge. Registration is currently open but will end on Oct. 16, 2014.

The second step is to develop an idea or a solution to current problem in one of the four industries: aerospace and aviation; energy; environment and energy; cyber-technology and security; and health and nutrition.

The third step is the initial round and also referred to as the “Investor Pitch.” This pitch is submitted in the form of a short video where teams describe why their innovative idea is valuable. This video is submitted online.

If a team moves on to the second round, which is the fourth step, they will present a business or technical plan that will be a developed from the pitch presented in the initial round. This is also submitted online.

For the final step, teams that advance to the final round will present their innovations in person through marketing and Q&A’s.

If a team wins the third round, the participants will be honored as a Conrad scholars. This honor affords them an opportunity to access seed funding for their innovations, patent support, as well as additional scholarship funding.

4.The STEMPREP Program at Southern Methodist University

Southern Methodist University is on a mission to increase education and resources for middle-school minority students with an interest in STEM-related careers.

This year the U.S. Department of Defense offered the enrichment program $2.6 million to fund the program. The program promotes early awareness in STEM subjects. and those who complete it often become college graduates and pursue careers in the STEM fields.

The STEMPREP program is available to students anywhere in the U.S. who qualify. Students usually enter the program in their seventh-grade year. If they are successful in the summer program (based on behavior and academics), the student has a chance of being invited back each year until the program ends in the 10th grade.

For a student to be eligible they must complete the application, write an essay, take the SSAT, a standardized exam for students interested in admission to independent schools, and they must provide transcripts from their past three years in school.

The program is an excellent opportunity for students because after their 10th grade year the program helps them access other opportunities, such as research work with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Many of the students who complete the program often become college graduates and pursue careers in the STEM fields.

5.MIT 100K

MIT100K is a dynamic program that has been supporting future entrepreneurs in the STEM fields for the past 25 years.

Through this competition-based program, like-minded individuals from MIT and the outside community come together to strengthen their skills and build on their talents to create new tech firms for the future.
Each year MIT100K awards hundreds of thousands of dollars to winners to help them start their businesses.

Jason Young’s App, Thrive and Shine, Sheds Light on Finances For College Students

Jason Young is the co-founder of MindBlown Labs, an Oakland-based tech company that is responsible for creating an innovative and educational learning tool called Thrive and Shine. The main goal of the app is to increase financial literacy and capability for young Americans.

Young said he “had an idea” and with right help and support, Thrive and Shine was born.  The Harvard  University graduate was just recently appointed to the Special Advisory Council on Financial  Capability for Young Americans by President Obama. This new responsibility has afforded him more access, resources and support to improve  financial capability for our youth.

Q. When you think about young people being financially capable/literate what does that mean to you?

So what that really means to me is that they have the knowledge, skills, mindset and trained behaviors necessary to make financial decisions that will impact their lives.

Q.The national retention rate for college is so low, how much of that do you think is directly attributed to students being financially illiterate?

There are a lot of factors which impact college retention, but I do think that financial literacy and financial capability are very important factors. Financial literacy is having the knowledge, and financial capability is broader. Financial literacy is actual a part of financial capability. A lot of students going to college are not financially capable. They don’t understand how to finance college. My second oldest brother dropped out of college because he didn’t understand the financial aid process and didn’t know where to look for money so he couldn’t pay tuition.

On the other hand, I think there’s another factor which is the understanding of the long-term ramifications of going to college and not finishing. Most students don’t think of college as a financial decision. They don’t understand that, so they don’t understand the decision they’re making when they choose to drop out or to continue.

I think if a lot more students understood that they will still be paying those student loans 10 years later, whether or not they finish, then they would understand the significant impact college could have on income. Knowing that would allow them to make very different choices.

Q. How do you see Thrive and Shine being used as way to help students think about college as a financial decision?

So the high-level answer is that Thrive and Shine does a good job of helping students do what they can’t do in real life, which is to see the consequences of their actions in real time. I think that’s very powerful. Specifically with regards to college, the next version coming out this fall actually will cover the impact of a college education on earning potential, as well as student loans. This will allow them the choice to actually go to college and see what happens if they don’t finish. They can see what happens when they take out loans and they can see what happens if they take out too many loans.

Q.Do they see what happens with private vs. federal loans?

It doesn’t get that detailed, but we’re building a curriculum around that and the curriculum will go into that detail.

Q.In thinking about the curriculum, how would you advise college access counselors to use Thrive and Shine as learning tool for students?

In terms of how it can be used, first and foremost we see it as a tool to get students excited just about the idea of money and some of the concepts related to money. So for most students who haven’t even had a job, how do you talk to them about student loans when they literally don’t understand how much a tank of gas costs?  If they haven’t had a job, they can’t make those kinds of cost relations. The idea is to help them create those connections and not just on individual topics but systematically, which allows them to see how the cost of college relates to their own life.

Now in terms of these particular topics, we’re building experiential curriculum and the idea is to have students play the game, have them become used to the concepts, get excited about those concepts and then the instructor, teacher, or counselor will talk to them about their experiences in the game.

From there, they can build upon those experiences to go more in-depth. Instead of talking about federal vs. private student loans or interests rates, they can talk about the student’s avatar, what happened when student loans were taken out, what happened when the avatar graduated. If the avatar doesn’t graduate, then students can discuss options like what it means to take out loans and not finish college, or what it means to finance college through scholarships or what it means to consider attending a more affordable college.

Essentially, the student and the instructor start to have that conversation and it’s based on at least some part of the student’s reality.

Q.You have an economics background from Harvard. Did your economics background make it challenging for you to create Thrive and Shine?

Well, I definitely had to build an entire to team to do this. There are eight people working on this full-time right now. A lot of the times when people hear you say you created an app they think “Oh wow, that’s easy.” The truth is it takes time and  a lot of energy.

The fact that it’s an educational app adds another layer of complexity. There was a definite learning curve for me when I started working on Thrive and Shine. I actually went to work for a startup before doing this. I worked there for several years learning about technology and working with developers and even then, coming out, there was still a huge learning curve.

I would say it was challenging, but I mean most things worthwhile are challenging. It takes a lot of time and effort. You have to learn and you also have to make sure you have good people around you. This is a team effort. I didn’t build this app. I had an idea. I recruited a team. It really requires a lot of really smart and passionate people and a lot of time. It was very iterative. We had the concepts, we designed it, and we built a little piece of it, and tested it. Overall we’ve tested with nearly 4,000 students and thankfully, before we consider the app to be truly complete, we’ll have tested with 10,000 or 20,000 students.


Q. Thrive and Shine is visually stimulating and engaging. What was the process around tackling the artistic aspects of the app?

Well, most financial literacy instruction just doesn’t work in part because it’s not engaging.

Our No. 1 mandate was to make sure this game was engaging. We wanted to make sure we were creating something students could relate to.  In terms of the avatar, that was also a major focus. What we found at the rudimentary level was that students really engage with the avatar. We had students who played it for 40 or more hours in their free time and they expressed that they wanted their avatar to be successful, so they sent her to college but now they want to help her pay off the loans.

Some expressed that when they stopped playing the game their avatar was sad, so they went back and played some more.  The feedback from the students let us know that the avatar played a key role in the application which was something we didn’t learn from creating it. As a result of the feedback, we invested a lot of resources to rebuild the avatar system from scratch.

Q.This year you were appointed to the Special Advisory Council on Financial  Capability for Young Americans.  What are some of the things you and the other council members are already discussing as far as new initiatives and policies to improve financial capability for young people?

I can only say so much about we’re doing at this point. What I will say is that the council is different from previous councils because it places a large emphasis on public-private partnerships, as well as on partnerships between the members of the council.

We are also more focused on young people and that is huge. We are looking at how we as members can do things and have an impact. One of the things we are focusing on is how we can get high-quality financial capability instruction more widespread so that students, particularly from lower-income backgrounds, can have more access.

Q.Does that mean that you might be going into the schools asking questions?

It’s very likely that we would. Another piece of that is that a lot of the organizations represented in the council work with young people.

 Q.What factors do you think play into the African-American community as a whole as financially illiterate?

I think that as with many things, African-Americans are not doing as well with financial literacy but everyone is doing horrible. Part of it is socio-economic. Ninety-five percent of students graduate financially illiterate. Even up through the middle class, which means our youth don’t know anything about money.

It’s more pronounced in the African-American community because there is a higher level of poverty and a lot more single-parent households and so those issues get exacerbated. However, on a broader spectrum most people are financially illiterate. Most parents feel uncomfortable talking to their kids about money. So as nation, no one is teaching financial literacy and what it means to be financially capable to our youth.

I think in the African-American community, that gets exacerbated because there are all these other negative cultural influences that promote the exact opposite of financial literacy. But once again, that is a microcosm of what has happened in American culture in general.

We have rap, we have hip-hop which promotes some very negative values these days, at least the mainstream version of it. At the same time, you have The Bachelor and the Real Housewives which essentially promote the same negative values. Financial illiteracy is  not an issue unique to the African-American community.

Financial literacy is a necessity for the nation as whole.


5 Interesting Topics You Have To Be a Blerd To Appreciate

1. The Author of  ‘The Three Musketeers’ Was a Black Man
During the mid- to late 1800s, Alexandre Dumas rose to literary fame as one of France’s most prolific writers. He wrote alluring and adventurous tales. His novels were filled with descriptions of picturesque French landscapes and deadly sword fights. His most notable novel The Three Musketeers has boasted over 100 film adaptations. His other well-known novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, is loosely based on his father General Alex Dumas, who had a reported rivalry with Napoleon Bonaparte.

2.Why Lonnie Johnson is One of the Coolest Inventors

Lonnie Johnson, African-American engineer and entrepreneur, is a dynamic inventor who has made significant contributions to NASA space travel, but Blerds can’t ignore the impact one of his inventions has had on children worldwide. ABC news reported that in 1982, Johnson was  working on building a heat pump when he attached a nozzle to the end of the pump, which he connected to his bathroom sink.

Immediately water blasted across the room and the Super Soaker was born. In 1990, the Super Soaker hit the market and garnered much success. Since the invention of the Super Soaker, water fights have never been the same.

3.Why Raze From ‘Underworld ‘ is Our Favorite Werewolf

If you’re a fan of the Underworld film series then you are probably a huge fan of Raze, the big, booming and ferocious Lycan. Raze played by Kevin Grevioux, not only had a significant role in the successful franchise, but Grevioux also wrote the original screenplay for the first film. His creativity and love for science fiction did not stop there.

According to Shadow and Act the Howard University graduate, who majored in microbiology, wrote and executive produced the sci-fi film, I, Frankenstein, released earlier this year.

4.Why ‘Sharknado 2’ is Worth Watching

Blerds everywhere know that Sharknado 2: The Second One is far from cinematic excellence, with its questionable blue screen graphics and its equally subpar script. However, you know you were one of the 3.87 million viewers glued to your flat screens on July 30 to watch the Syfy channel original movie. Do you regret watching the sequel? No. In fact there were some memorable moments that made you feel better about watching the film. Two moments in particular were cameos by two rap legends.

You may have cringed, bust out in laughter or both when you saw Pepa, from the ’90s rap duo Salt-N- Pepa attempt to escape impending danger from flying sharks while riding a bicycle. You definitely rooted for Biz Markie when he went from an ordinary cook to a knife-wielding shark killer. Either way after those two appeared you felt a little better about tuning in.

5. Neil deGrasse Tyson is the Ultimate Blerd
If you are true Blerd then you consider Neil deGrasse Tyson Blerd royalty. The Bronx, N.Y.-bred astrophysicist removed Pluto as the ninth planet.

In true blerd fashion, Tyson argued that the “dwarf planet” doesn’t share the proper criteria to be given  “planet” status. To add to his awesomeness,  he currently hosts the 12-time Emmy-nominated series, Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey.