OMED houses Women of Color Initiative

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

As Black History Month ends and Women’s History Month begins, one initiative on Tech’s campus is focusing on the intersectionality of race and gender, not just during one month, but year-round. The Women of Color Initiative (WOCI), part of the Office of Minority Educational Development (OMED), is comprised of three cohorts: the Black Women’s Initiative, Latinx Women’s Initiative and Afro-Latinx Women’s Initiative, all of which seek to uplift and empower women of color at Tech through various means.

This includes housing graduate and undergraduate ambassador programs, supporting research about women of color in academia and hosting events and workshops for career development and well-being. 

Sybrina Atwaters is the director of OMED and is a three time graduate of Tech: BS EE ‘94, MS HSTS ‘09 and PhD HSTS ‘14. During her time at Tech, Atwaters frequently used OMED as a resource.  

“OMED was a staple here in undergrad. I was a Challenge counselor for a while … I definitely relied on OMED as both a space but also [for] tutoring, [to] get support and mentoring as an undergrad,”
Atwaters said. 

After graduating with her Bachelor’s degree, Atwaters worked in the wireless design industry at Sprint and AT&T, and then returned to Tech for her graduate studies. Atwaters was asked by the then-director of OMED Cynthia Moore to help with the African-American Male Initiative, a grant-based initiative to support Black men at Tech.

Starting in 2016, Atwaters worked as the assistant director of OMED and in 2019, was chosen as the director of OMED. Atwaters has played a large role in launching WOCI. 

“For WOCI, for us, recognition and uplift is significant, and that is because we know women and women of color are doing the work. It’s just they don’t get recognized, right,” Atwaters said. “It’s no one uplifts that, so we’re very intentional about that.”

Each and every cohort has undergraduate and graduate ambassadors to support their peers. A large role the ambassadors take on is nominating women of color for awards by utilizing a database WOCI keeps of potential talented candidates. Additionally, they work to increase awareness of how OMED can support students. 

“OMED offers a lot of resources, services, opportunities, things like that, and so they have mechanisms where they will communicate that out to women of color, making sure they’re aware ‘hey, this is going on, you can participate,’” Atwaters said.

The final main task of WOCI ambassadors is mentorship. 

“As the numbers have expanded a little bit, we wanted to do more of high-touch mentoring and so now, each ambassador has a list of mentees that they are assigned to and they do everything from more cultural [and] social engagements … as well as academics,” Atwaters said.

A large part of WOCI’s initiatives is to support research focused on women of color in academia. 

“It was important that the research initiative be a part of the women of color initiative and really broaden that experience,” Atwaters said, who believes research should be an accessible experience for both undergraduate and graduate students. 

Upcoming research being done by Atwaters and the WOCI team includes looking at financial barriers for African Americans and how they intersect with gender and race.

Specific to supporting women of color in STEM, Atwaters explains that taking a broad approach, such as institutional wide initiatives, is best right now.

“You’re operating in very small spaces in very small numbers,” Atwaters said, who believes that disaggregating data into sub-fields of STEM would not be as effective right now. 

She points out that counting the number of women of color in certain fields does not always tell the full story. 

“What we look at is then the impact of the experience because that’s what we’re really trying to address, more so than the numbers, right?” Atwaters said. “… I look more so at percentage because that tells me a little bit more about impact.”

Besides research, WOCI hosts numerous events and workshops, including game watch parties for women’s basketball games and bootcamp fitness events. The bootcamp events typically take place at the end of the semester before finals. 

“We intentionally partner with women of color in the community that run fitness clubs and things like that, and we go to them rather than, you know, keeping our students isolated in this Georgia Tech bubble,” Atwaters said. “It is important again, if you’re building the ecosystem, and you’re in Atlanta … go out and connect.”

This bootcamp helps participants stay healthy, both mentally and physically, before finals. In terms of upcoming events, on March 11, WOCI will be hosting a Day in the Life event where participants can learn about career paths by shadowing and engaging with women of color in academia and industry. 

Atwaters hopes that the topics discussed during the event can be applied to some of WOCI’s research.

For students interested in learning more about WOCI and getting involved, they can reach out to Atwaters at [email protected] or Denise Ocasio Thomas, the assistant director of retention initiatives of OMED at [email protected]. Additionally, they can follow
@gtwoci on Instagram.