YWCA program teaches web design to historically excluded groups


Onyekaorise Chigbogwu/Daily Senior Staffer

Evanston/North Shore YWCA. The YWCA recently kicked off its third cohort of the YW Tech Lab in Evanston.

Skyler Zur, Reporter

The Evanston/North Shore YWCA recently started working with its third cohort of the YW Tech Lab, a free, 16-week web design technology program. 

The lab hopes to increase opportunities for groups traditionally excluded from the field, including women of color, domestic violence survivors and low-wage workers. The program launched in Evanston in January 2020 and joins four other YWCA’s nationwide in receiving a Tech Lab grant. 

Despite its recent arrival to Evanston, the program was started in Wisconsin in 2014 as “YWeb Career Academy.” The program is a dual partnership between the YWCA national organization and Google.

Oakton Community College will work with the YWCA to provide a professor well-versed in web design. Course enrollees learn computer languages to build and create websites. Across the 16 weeks, they learn content equivalent to two OCC courses and receive seven hours of credit from OCC. 

Shannon Callahan, Evanston/North Shore YWCA women’s leadership and economic advancement director, said this program has increased community educational opportunities, especially because it launched in the height of the pandemic, when unemployment rates were high.

“Last December, during our virtual open houses to promote this opportunity, so many women who were in that call had lost their jobs because of COVID,” Callahan said. “The fact that we had an opportunity to provide a program that could be facilitated virtually and would give them skills that would set them up for success in the future was one of those moments that was so exciting.”

Many previous students used their skills to either continue working toward a certificate at OCC, create websites to market themselves or enroll in a free eight-week portfolio group, offered by McCormick Prof. Sarah Van Wart.

During the first Evanston cohort, Northwestern computer science students led virtual office hours for program members. After the program’s first class graduated, Van Wart said she started the portfolio group as a way to build relationships and continue helping program graduates.

“We wanted to keep working with them and build up continuity and get them into different industries and public sector positions,” Van Wart said.

YWCA Workforce Development Coordinator Kristin Drake works with graduates of both the course and the portfolio group to help them find sustainable jobs in technology industries.

“I’m hoping that we will be able to have some form of a social enterprise that will help the students get connected with businesses and employers,” Drake said. “And also give them the opportunity to really practice their skills hands on and build up confidence.”

The YWCA also consults with technology industry mentors through the Women in Tech Council, which predates the Tech Lab’s Evanston launch. 

The council is made up of women from companies and institutions including Google, Exelon Corporation and NU. They give advice, present at panels for the students, open up doors for internships and donate their time to support the students.

Many of the women who choose to enroll in the program are balancing their learning with full-time jobs, parenting and other obligations. Drake said she’s been impressed to see how many people have committed to continuing their education through the YW Tech Lab regardless.

“There are so many extraordinary women that come through our program, and they have so many different life experiences,” Drake said. “I’m just always amazed by how extremely resilient we are as humans, and I’m amazed by how many things the women in our programs are able to juggle.”

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