When Michael Locher (’88)—CEO and chairman of Enterprise Integration in Jacksonville, Florida—first heard about the VOLstarter crowdfunding website, he spent some time browsing through the videos posted by students and faculty seeking relatively small donations to support specific projects. Locher thought he might find a project that he could support. What he wasn’t expecting, however, was to find an idea for solving a professional problem that had long plagued him.
Jessica Boles is a senior in electrical engineering and the vice president of Systers: Women in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UT. She had signed up with VOLstarter seeking funding to produce a video encouraging women to become engineers. “UT has always encouraged me strongly to pursue my passion for engineering,” Boles says. “Systers encourages more women to do the same and mentors them along the way. I have had several classes in which I was the only female, and that’s what we’re trying to change.”
“By creating a viral video of real women telling their stories—stories often untold—we can show young women just how powerful they can be. Your generous donations will allow us to hire a professional videographer to help create a high quality and efficient video. Your gift will also help us secure YouTube advertising spots so that we may be able to impact more women in a large platform.”
When Locher saw the post, he said to himself, “That’s exactly something I want to get behind.”
He gave $5,000 and wrote in the comment field, “I am looking to give back to my university and to help diversify more women in the world of computer science! We need interns! We need to hire graduates, and the industry is underserved by the lack of females in this exciting and ever-changing field.”
Boles was grateful for Locher’s gift and his words. “It validated what we’re trying to do,” says Boles of efforts to target females in their teenage years. “All we can do is introduce more girls to engineering in hopes that they will consider it.”
Boles’ interest in engineering came from her father, Gregg, a mechanical engineer. “I always knew I wanted to be an engineer,” says Boles, who is majoring in electrical engineering, focusing on power electronics with renewable energy applications. “I like math and physics. My dad and I always enjoyed tinkering in the garage. But if you don’t have a family member or an influence in your life, engineering can be hard to understand.”
After reading Locher’s comment about needing interns the VOLstarter staff put him in touch with UT Career Services to set up internship opportunities for promising students. Locher even visited UT for several days in February to meet with professors and students, and he hopes to return in April for a very special occasion—the women in engineering conference entitled WomEngineers Day that Boles and her peers are putting together.
“I am passionate about developing the talents of young women and addressing the lack of women within information technology,” says Locher, who graduated from UT with a BS in marketing and a minor in logistics. “It’s an endemic industry issue. If you go down and look at our staff and the résumés that we get, we are probably 96 percent male.
“Then you look at all the strengths that women bring. We want to grab those skill sets so that we can develop someone with great technical skills and great customer service. We need to develop the people with the critical system-thinking and business skills.”
Find out more about projects you can support at volstarter.utk.edu.