When Dwana Franklin-Davis decided to further her education, she wanted something that would combine the rigor of a Master of Business Administration program with the skills she needed for a career in tech.
“I also wanted to have a master's degree that carried some weight — something that had a strong brand and reputation,” she added. “Obviously, WashU had that.”
That led her to pursue a Master of Information Management at the McKelvey School of Engineering. Offered through the Henry Edwin Sever Institute, the program allowed Franklin-Davis to study part-time while holding a full-time job at Mastercard.
“For those who are doing a part-time program, you still have your priorities with regard to your day job,” Franklin-Davis said. “The Sever program allowed me to focus on learning and my career at the same time.”
Franklin-Davis earned her degree in 2009 and is now the CEO of Reboot Representation, an organization that aims to double the number of Black, Latina, and Native American women earning computing degrees by 2025.
When she arrived at Reboot, Franklin-Davis had a well-established track record championing inclusion in tech. She was a founding member of the Black Business Resource Group in 2008 while at Mastercard and served as president of the St. Louis chapter of the Black Data Processing Associates in 2013 and 2014.
“Women and people of color in general tend to be extremely passionate about inclusion in the tech space, because we are the minority,” Franklin-Davis said. “And I've always been one to advocate for others.”
One way Reboot plans to meet its goal is by strengthening the pipeline of computing students, from elementary school to the boardroom.
“When looking at K-12, the data shows that girls are interested in math and the sciences before middle school,” Franklin-Davis said. “How are we engaging young women and girls to believe ‘Hey, I'm great at math. I can do this.’”
Reboot partnered with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) to fund the creation of computer science courses for Native students in Oklahoma and New Mexico. By making the lessons project based and more culturally relevant, it drew more students, including female students, into advanced placement computing courses.
“Native communities have a focus on community and family values,” Franklin-Davis said. “When you target the curriculum to things students are more interested in, they’re more responsive.”
Franklin-Davis is bringing that insight, honed through more than a dozen of similar partnerships and years of experience as a tech industry leader, to McKelvey Engineering, where she now serves on the school’s National Council. In that role, she’s excited to help attract and retain a diverse student body and ensure that tech remains at the forefront of the school’s goals. She said that she hopes current women students and students of color realize the value they add to the tech space, acknowledging that many may experience imposter syndrome.
“Know that your differences are your superpower,” she said. “Your differences are what’s going to give you an edge and the advantage to see things in a different light and add value in a different way.”