When Molly Webber started college, her goal was not to lead a revolution in getting more girls interested in computer science! As she tells it, her accidental career as a woman in technology began with softball, when she was recruited out of high school to play at one of the premier tech schools in our region, Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. Fast forward a few years later and Molly is now leading a new start-up, Yukōdit, which operates a learning center in Montclair, NJ with a focus on engaging kids in coding, design thinking and entrepreneurship. It was not, however, a direct path that led Webber from Stevens to Yukōdit.
“I started in the world of finance after college, but quickly realized it was not for me. Given my interest in coaching, I took a job as the educational technology coordinator for a local independent school and found my niche in working with kids”, said Webber.
This career transition eventually led her to connect with two local dads, Mike Halbert and Jamie Pagliaro, who were already devising the plan for an innovative educational model that combined the technical side of teaching computer science, with the practical skills of design-thinking and entrepreneurship. Webber describes her first encounter: “When I met Jamie and Mike, I was immediately struck by their passion for getting kids to learn about technology through real-world applications.” But then she started to ask tough questions, like how they intended to attract girls and other underrepresented groups to the program. The three worked tirelessly for several months fine-tuning their curriculum and center-based program model, which now includes a social mission thanks to Webber’s involvement. Specifically, the center is committed to making sure that 10% of its enrollment is through scholarships dedicated to students who demonstrate financial need and fit into the category of an underrepresented group in computer science (i.e., girls and/or students of color).
“We were thrilled to have Molly become the director of our first center in Montclair. She not only shares our vision for educating kids in technology, but is on a personal mission to make sure that girls want to get involved and stay with it… she is truly a role model for them!” says Halbert, one of the co-founders, and father of twin girls who attend the program.
Webber took a leap of faith when she decided to leave her job and join the ranks of other start-up entrepreneurs by becoming the Center Director of Yukōdit. But so far, she has not looked back. The center ran a pilot cohort of students this summer, and has since doubled its enrollment for the fall. Early results are positive: 75% of the initial students transitioned to an ongoing membership after the initial summer session, which the group cites as validation that parents are recognizing the educational value of the program and kids are having fun. The student population of the center is still only one-third girls, but Webber is not deterred, “I will continue to be a champion for girls in technology, and I see Yukōdit as the perfect avenue for fulfilling this mission!”