Cheryl is the Co-Founder and President of Edison Project, Inc. a non-profit dedicated to founding STEM-based charter schools in Phoenix. Cheryl has enjoyed an eclectic mix of experiences including teaching, college instructor, sensei, school board trustee, bookkeeper, medical insurance specialist, and mother. Cheryl has dedicated much of her energy to learning about motivation and implementing growth-mindset thinking in her school. She is a huge fan of Carol Dweck, Simon Sinek, and Angela Lee Duckworth.
Tell us about your first job in tech. Who did you work for, what was your role, and what excited you about the work you did?
I was a medical receptionist at Villani Eye Center in Detroit, MI. When they leased a new, cutting-edge cornea mapping machine in 1990 and ran out of space to store patient files on the hard drive, they desperately asked me to clear space. The doctor wanted only hard copies of the results, and no one else in the medical office knew how to delete the files on the hard drive. Because of my skills, I was able to wear many hats in that practice.
Describe your job in technology today.
Co-founder and Principal of a premiere STEM school in the West Valley. I am focused on making STEM interests and study NORMAL for all of our students and am dedicated to increasing the number of girls involved in robotics to at least 50% of our after-school club participants.
If there was a point in your childhood when you first became interested in technology, describe that event or experience.
My sophomore year of high school, I was taking an advanced math class with senior students. I had the highest grade in the class and the second highest ranked student was a senior male who said he was going to college to study electrical engineering. I had no idea what an engineer did but decided that if he could do that, I certainly could do it better! Unfortunately, I didn’t have a role model in my life at that time to guide me into an engineering career, but I did follow through with my other plans to work in the medical and education fields. Along the way, I took advantage of every opportunity I could to develop my technology skills.
Who has been the most influential individual or mentor in your education or career and how did this person help advance your role in technology?
My two sons have been my biggest inspiration and teachers in my technology education. They were born on the brink of the Internet revolution and have used it to advance their learning and careers. They don’t judge me when I ask them questions, and they’re always willing to show me how to accomplish my objectives!
What do you love most about working in the tech world?
I used to read the encyclopedia for fun when I was a kid. Technology today is like an infinite encyclopedia that responds to whatever needs we have. I love that we have tools that are constantly growing and that allow us to direct our own paths. Technology levels the playing field.
What do you believe is the biggest hurdle women face in pursuing a career in technology?
Our lack of confidence. If we doubt ourselves, we will never make headway in the field. I faced the challenges of being told it wasn’t women’s work; women didn’t belong there, so I hesitated. We need to dispel that myth and develop our own self-confidence so we can be role models to other women.
If you could change one thing about your education or career path, what would it be?
I would have taken more technology classes so that I don’t feel like a faker when I am discussing technological hardware and networking structures with experts. I have a conceptual understanding of the logic behind it but no formal training or concrete schematic in mind during meetings.
If you have ever experienced sexism as a female in technology, and you think others could learn from this experience, please describe what happened and how you responded.
I think the most prevalent form of sexism is the assumption that I am not interested in the details. I may not know something going in, but I sure as hell want you to explain it to me in detail, so I know I’m not being hoodwinked. It’s like taking my car to the mechanic – show me where the problem is and how it is affecting the function of the car. I want to know the details to make sense of the proposed solution.
Who in the tech field inspires you and why?
Melinda Gates inspires me because she holds her own in a male-dominated field. She’s married to one of the most influential tech gurus of our time, and yet she has her own agenda and makes her own decisions. She has never appeared intimidated or unsure of herself. I love that she can be confident living with one of the most influential men in technology.
If you could give advice to other girls in tech, what would it be?
Pursue your passions and interests. Try to find at least one other girl who can be your friend through this process and push you when you’re ready to give up. It’s still a male-dominated world and, while we can hold our own in the field, we need another female to talk to when we want to give up.