Rachel Wilkins Patel
Location: Mayfield Village, Ohio
Many students, especially girls, don’t have role models in computer science to make the field accessible. Rachel Wilkins Patel grew up as one of those girls in rural Ohio, and as an IT professional now working with insurance company Progressive (No. 153) in the Cleveland area, Wilkins Patel wants to make sure that young girls have a chance to pursue a career in industry she loves. About eight years ago, she held a web development workshop for 50 girls and she was surprised to find that many of their questions weren’t about web development, but rather about her personal life in the industry. “The girls had more questions about whether they could actually have a job in this field,” Wilkins Patel says. That’s when she decided to take her effort to the next level. In 2010, Wilkins Patel founded HER Ideas in Motion to hold regular workshops and tech clubs in partnership with Cleveland-area schools and companies. This past school year, her group held 12 workshops and tech clubs, covering IT, game design, filmmaking, programming and other topics. Most of the girls who attend have no experience with computer technology, either due to a lack of tech-related curricula at their schools or a lack of encouragement. Over the years, she has worked with hundreds of middle-school-aged girls and their parents, opening up their minds to careers in tech. “We try to let them know that these are really viable options that offer them a great work-life balance,” she says.