Turning coal country into tech country shows the power of Kentuckians working together.
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Microsoft

When you think of places where technology rules, does rural eastern Kentucky come to mind?

When I think tech, I think Silicon Valley — an area that's such a tech bubble (and occasionally a parody of itself), there's even a TV show about it. And then you have other obvious hubs: the New Yorks, L.A.s and Tokyos of the world. The tech world loves cities.

GIF via "Silicon Valley"/HBO.


But a push to create a high-tech ecosystem is happening in an area you'd least expect: the heart of coal country.

In a new initiative called TechHire Eastern Kentucky (TEKY), students are getting paid to learn to code, with the hope of launching the area onto the tech map.

Yep, getting paid to learn to code. How unheard of is that?

The program is equipping local residents with the skills they need to turn their deeply struggling economy around with technology jobs. And with the support of local governments, Congressional leaders, tech businesses, schools, and community leaders, it just might work.

All images via Interapt, used with permission.

TEKY works like this: Eastern Kentucky residents apply to the program. If selected, they are paid to learn to code at a local community college in a rigorous 16-week program. Upon successful completion of class and a 16-week paid internship that follows, students are offered full-time employment at the technology company Interapt, which is expanding from Louisville into eastern Kentucky.

The program hopes to answer the question: Can you train a tech workforce and build a tech ecosystem where one doesn't exist?

It's hard enough to build a tech business in a major city, let alone in the remote region of eastern Kentucky, a part of the country that's known for getting left behind.

What was once an area booming with the coal industry, eastern Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia continue to deeply struggle as that industry fades out. Poverty rates and percentages of working poor are higher there than the rest of the country. And wages, employment rates, and education continue to lag behind.

But Ankur Gopal, a fellow Kentuckian and the CEO of Interapt, thinks coding might be the way to bring jobs back into the area — and keep them there.

When Gopal first entertained the idea of expanding his tech businesses into eastern Kentucky, he knew it was the opposite direction a tech company would normally take. But he was impressed by the hardworking, loyal, and passionate people who loved their communities there, and he wanted to give it a shot.

"That’s the beauty of technology and the opportunity it brings," Gopal said after the program launch. "If you have connectivity and the skillset, you can work wherever you want and make a very good living. We intend to make that a reality."

Removing barriers is critical to making that reality a success — and one of the most obvious barriers is the cost of education. The fact that students get paid to learn through TEKY, instead of the other way around, shows an incredibly thoughtful approach.

"You can’t learn something hard if you’re worrying about where your family’s next meal is coming from," Gopal says.

When the program's first class started in August 2016, almost 1,000 candidates applied for the 50 open spots. The second round of the program is expected to start in 2017, and they aim to continue the program until at least 400 jobs have been filled.

Coding skills aren't only helpful for tech jobs. They help lay a foundation for the ability to learn quickly and constantly — and that can be applied anywhere.

But just like any profession, coding isn't for everyone. For those students that decide it isn't right for them, TEKY has resources to guide them down other career paths through local partnerships they've developed.

That may be the biggest accomplishment of all of this: everyone working together. A community that's willing to address the problem of an economically deteriorating region — and coming together to find solutions for it. That's how you get things done.

Gopal hopes this initiative will spark interest with other tech companies and industries, helping local economies to grow and prosper. It's an endeavor that's rewarding from all angles. As he puts it:

"If you give people an opportunity, you’d be surprised at how well they shine."

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

via Pixabay

Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given all that we've seen in the past half-decade, it makes sense for many to believe that race relations in the U.S. are on the decline.

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Photo courtesy of Macy's
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Did you know that girls who are encouraged to discover and develop their strengths tend to be more likely to achieve their goals? It's true. The question, however, is how to encourage girls to develop self-confidence and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

Photo courtesy of Macy's

Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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