SUPERGirls Shine Foundation shines path for girls to STEM
SUPERGirls Shine Foundation members visiting the State Capitol Building in Austin.

SUPERGrils Shine Foundation is a powerful organization/movement that is placing young girls on a trajectory towards knowledge of self, academic excellence and professional success.

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Their founder, Loretta Williams Gurnell, granted the Defender an interview so our readers can learn all about what SUPERGirls stands for, who it serves and what activities its participants will engage in during the first half of 2022.

DEFENDER: Loretta Williams Grinnell, founder CEO of SUPERGirls Shine, please introduce yourself to Defender readers.

LORETTA WILLIAMS GURNELL: Who am I? Well, I’ll start with a lady, wife and mother of two amazing dudes, committed to families, faith and my freedom. I’m committed to the impact and the work of exposing the disparities within marginalized, underserved, underrepresented communities, that are plaguing our communities with either food deserts, economic disparities, STEM education and opportunities in the workforce to STEM. You can call me an advocate. You can call me a STEM influencer. And most importantly, you can call me a champion for closing the gaps and creating access and opportunity for more women and girls in STEM, because we know that STEM is a driving force of our economy. And since more women are raising mothers, we need to shift the economy by getting more women in STEM.

DEFENDER: For those who don’t know, what exactly is the SUPERGirls Shine Foundation?

LORETTA WILLIAMS GURNELL: It’s a pipeline for creating long-lasting talent and marketable professionals in the area of STEM who happen to be women. We are a strategic community partner with industries who are looking to diversify their pipeline with their professionals. We are a community partner with schools who are looking to advance opportunities for their students in the area of STEM. And we are a partner for philanthropic givers and those who want to share the wealth in areas and communities, which benefits the entire ecosystem.

DEFENDER: What was the motivation for its founding?

LORETTA WILLIAMS GURNELL: In one season of my life, I was a STEM educator, after being in higher ed administration and nonprofit development. And I was a biological researcher for years. What was interesting in that is, when I went into the classroom and I saw girls who looked like me, who didn’t possess the same type of confidence or the understanding of how to own their own voice, I was concerned. Because I am not a short lady. I’m not a thin lady. I have course hair. I think I have the ability to represent a lot of different type of ladies, shapes, education, my background. And when I saw that in the girls, I was just like, “Okay, Loretta, either you’re going to become relatable or these girls are not going to become what you believe they can become.” So, I had to stop and do a self-evaluation in the classroom to make myself available for them so they could relate to me. Once that happened, oh my goodness. It was a changing moment for me, and I think for them. But it was really for me because my language changed. My expectations didn’t change, but how I went about my expectations changed. I went to a principal and I said, “This is what is going on, but I have a solution. Would you be in agreement of me doing it?” When he said, yes, we had over 60 girls come to an information meeting with their parents. And when they showed up, I was like, OMG! We ran with that for almost a year. We weren’t focused so much on STEM, but we were looking at opportunities and we were looking and making sure the girls saw my colleagues who had brick and mortar, that they would go and interface with them as business owners. But then when I really sat back and looked at it, my husband said two things: “Babe, I need my wife back. And I need our money back” because I was spending a whole lot of time as an educator, one, and on top of that, building this concept. And it cost money. So, I went to colleagues and I asked them, would you help me plant a 501c3? Not one person I asked said, no. That was in December of 2015. And we were awarded our 501c3 in March of 2016.

DEFENDER: Is there a specific population you work with?

LORETTA WILLIAMS GURNELL: I love that question. So, I’ll be transparent. At first, we thought we were super ladies who were going to change the world. If you would’ve asked me that then, “Oh, we have all girls.” Hmm. We quickly understood and realized we can’t save them all, but we can impact enough where we can teach them how to have the confidence, have the problem-solving and critical thinking skills that they themselves could go out and duplicate. Our sweet spot is middle school. Ooh, let me tell you something about middle school. Middle school is sweet because once we become a champion of girls in middle school, when chemistry is changing in her body, she’s becoming aware who she is and who she is not, she’s trying to find her voice and her place in her own world, let alone everybody else’s world, so when we get in there, we champion around that middle schooler. Now, when she gets into high school, she has a little bit stronger footstool that she can stand on as she starts developing and exposing more into the STEM ideas to go into those college degrees. So, our sweet spot is middle school. Then, we impact that through the high school. And then it transforms when they become collegiates on a college level.

DEFENDER: What’s a parental testimony that stands out?

LORETTA WILLIAMS GURNELL: We were interviewed by one of the local news stations and one of our parents said, “We have visited, we have participated in organizations, long-standing organizations within the community, that focuses on girls. There is none like SUPERGirls Shine Foundation because it focuses on the whole girl.” See, we lean in and talk about STEM, but my philosophy is that we cannot teach you if we cannot reach you. So, we’ve got to reach the girls first and they understand who they are. And once they know who they are and they have owned their voice, you better watch out, because they’re going to be knocking on doors. They’re going to be innovating. They’re going to be coming to us about coding and tech and saying, “What other problem can we solve?” And I’m like, if y’all don’t slow down <laughs>. So, that’s what keeps my joy in this space that we call founding a nonprofit, leading a nonprofit, building these teams. It’s understanding that it literally is about one girl. And that one girl literally can change an entire community. And so, for that, it’s worth it.

DEFENDER: What are some 2022 SUPERGirls events you’re most looking forward to?

LORETTA WILLIAMS GURNELL: 2022 is full and we’re starting off with our Ladies and Girls LeadHers Tea that will be held at the Asian Society of Texas on February 19. It’s open to the general public for ladies and girls. Our focus is commerce, community and culture. And it’s powered by Comerica Bank. The next one we’re excited about is March 25, in Women’s History Month. It’s called our Learning to Earning. It’s powered by Chevron and held in The Ion. The beautiful thing about that is that it’s for upper-level high school and collegiates to come and learn and infuse conversation with leading women within the industries about their “learning to earning” potential so they’ll know what their degree is, what it can do and how much earning power it would bring for them. Now that’s hot. I’m excited about that. In the summer we have our Summer Shine Explosion where we’ll bring together and showcase our Super Girls. We’ll also be able to raise funds for that. Then our big event will happen on November 3 as our 10th celebration of SUPERLady Live Movement, benefiting our founding.

DEFENDER: How can people get involved or support SUPERGirls?

LORETTA WILLIAMS GURNELL: There are three ways. One is we are looking to in increase our powerful board of directors. We’re looking for diverse professionals in the areas of marketing and communications, financial disbursements, and financial growth mindset, as well as human relations so that we can make sure that our girls are prepared for the workforce. And then of course, STEM industry professionals. The second thing that we’re looking for is to increase our number of mentors. Our mentors are the catalyst of how we’re able to get them exposed to industry sooner than later. If you are interested in being a mentor, you do not have to be in a STEM industry. We are looking for people with integrity, with great character, who have a resource and a heart to be able to expose our girls to opportunities and give them access. And then the third thing, we cannot do anything without philanthropic donors and partners, because every program, every girl, every product, every material, every team, it’s cost. We are a good steward of what we have, but in order for us to really impact and develop the pipeline for two districts that we are looking at in the fall of 2022, we have to have the resources.

For more information, or to donate, visit www.SupergirlsShine.com/contact.

DN: Learn more about SUPERGirls Shine Foundation’s founding, memorable programs and how you can support at DefenderNetwork.com.

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