By Cameron Lee
June 20, 2020
“I grew up on the West Side of Charlotte. I grew up in the 28208 zip code in Charlotte to be exact, which is still being affected by the digital divide,” Khalia Braswell said. “So I’m very vocal about the demographic of students that we are targeting because I want to pull out the Khalia’s of the west side.”
Braswell is a graduate of the Master’s program from UNC Charlotte and is currently attending Temple University to earn her PhD. She is proud to be from the west side of Charlotte and she isn’t shy about telling potential donors and partners when asking for support for her nonprofit, INTech, a technology camp for middle school girls from underserved communities in North Carolina.
Born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Braswell moved to Charlotte when she was in the second grade. “I went to Thomasboro Elementary School on Bradford Dr. and when I tell people that, they say ‘you went to Thomasboro?’ because they know it’s not a prominent school in the city,” she said.
Braswell’s infatuation with computers and technology started shortly after her arrival in Charlotte: “My mom got our first computer when I was in the fourth grade, and it went from her watching what I did because she was afraid I was gonna break her computer to me showing her how to do things.”
Driving past Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology off of Freedom Dr. often as a kid, Braswell wished to attend the school because of its name. “I remember when the school was being built because we would pass it all the time. I already knew I was interested in technology so when I saw that, I kinda made the decision to go there, and my mom followed,” she said.
Enrolling at Phillip O. Berry through the CMS lottery, in 2007, Braswell got involved with hackathons organized by the Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA). The group of high schoolers would travel outside of the city to compete, and it eventually led to a tech internship at Wachovia. That experience would leave a lasting impression on Braswell.
After high school, Braswell attended NC State to study Computer Science and, after graduating, she returned home to UNC Charlotte to pursue her Master’s in Information Technology. It was at UNC Charlotte where she came up with the idea of INTech after receiving a $2,500 grant to hold a one-day technology camp on campus. Twenty-two middle schoolers attended the first camp where Braswell and her team educated the students through an informal discussion about technology and a panel with Black women currently working in tech. After the panel, the scholars (as they are referred to) built internet apps.
The feeling from the event would further inspire Braswell. “Two or three hours after the event I received an email from a parent and she said ‘You just changed a young girl’s life in 8 hours,’” Braswell said. The scholar the email referred to is currently getting ready to attend North Carolina A&T to study Information Technology.
In a dream world Braswell would have loved to stay in Charlotte to work full-time with INTech, but reality brought her to California for an internship at Apple in the summer of 2014. She would be drawn back to lead a Teach For America program that hosted a technology camp in South Carolina, holding three camps in three cities (Kingstree, Orangeburg, and Walterboro) in one day.
While INTech was mostly on pause after the South Carolina camp, Braswell eventually came back to Charlotte to finish her Master’s in 2016 before returning back to the Bay Area for another short stint at Apple. Two years later she was back in Charlotte because the desire to fulfill the possibilities of INTech were too strong: “I wanted to see what it was like to give it my all.”
Now, INTech hosts yearly camps in both Charlotte and Raleigh with hundreds of students participating. This year, however, presented new challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic. To adapt, the nonprofit utilizes an online learning platform called BSD Education (Build Something Different) with classrooms of ten students assigned to no more than two teachers, and a Zoom panel conversation with women currently working in technology. The program won’t skip a beat thanks to the many advances in communication that some of the scholars may one day contribute to.
For Braswell, her focus is not only dedicated to the digital camps; the information and findings will also be used for her PhD dissertation at Temple University. “What is it about our camp that works? What is it that we can learn from what we do well that can be published academically for others to learn from and to replicate? That’s the main goal right now, and to potentially go after National Science Foundation dollars.”
Update: After selling out the first camp, INTech has opened up a second Virtual Summer Camp on July 20-24.