From the early morning alarm sound to the backpacks strewn by the front door, all of the signs are there that school is officially back in session. In recognition of the new school year, we were thrilled to sit down with our latest Notable Woman, Alyssa Sharpe of Digi-Bridge, who is dedicated to ensuring that students have the digital resources and hands-on learning they need to excel this year and beyond.
Alyssa, tell us a little bit about your background and path to Digi-Bridge.
I came to Charlotte in 2009 through Teach For America and was recruited to teach 1st grade at Windsor Park Elementary. Through this experience, I discovered my love for education, particularly in science. After three years, I left to run experiential learning at Trinity Episcopal School, bringing robust experiences in the out-of-school time setting. I decided to then work for an emerging nonprofit organization, Project Scientist, to build interest in confidence in girls and women in STEM. Throughout my three years at Project Scientist, I was able to work with amazing STEM companies as the program expanded nationally. After having a baby, my heart was telling me to focus my work back in Charlotte as it would have a direct impact on her future. I reconnected with Digi-Bridge just as the Founder decided to leave the organization, and I stepped in as CEO on August 1, 2019. It’s been an amazing two years leading this organization.
What services does Digi-Bridge offer?
Digi-Bridge works to prepare students for the digital age. We have a number of school and community-based programs.
School programs include STEAMLab, an out-of-school program where we expose students to a variety of STEM topics such as cybersecurity, coding, game design, and more. We work with premier STEM companies to develop a robust curriculum that is hands-on and career-focused. Additionally, we have a competition robotics and programming initiative that prepares students in middle school for FIRST LEGO League competitions through coding, programming, and collaboration skills. We have about 25 school partners including nearby Eastway Middle School and Shamrock Gardens Elementary.
We also run community programs that are open to the public. We have a programming space in West Charlotte called Innovation Alley where we run courses for the community. We’ve also done lots of family events such as Daddy/Daughter Code-Ins, Bots & Brews and more!
What is STEAM education and why is it important?
STEAM education is an approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking. Charlotte is becoming a home for STEAM companies particularly in technology and we aren’t graduating enough students with an interest in or skills developed to be able to join the workforce at these companies. Digi-Bridge works as an early exposure point for students to learn skills and build interest in topics so they can then earn degrees or advanced certifications. The current STEM workforce does not reflect the diversity of our country and Digi-Bridge works with underrepresented minority students to show that they have a path and future in these careers.
How many students does Digi-Bridge support through its scholarships and educational programs?
Since our 2014 inception, we have supported 15,000 students through our programs. During the 2021-2022 school year, we will serve 25 school partners totaling close to 4,000 students.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My favorite part of my job is that no day looks the same! I am a mom of two littles — a 4-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son. We are lucky that they attend the Center for Children in the heart of Plaza Midwood. I enjoy walking them to school before heading into my office in West Charlotte. On any given day, I am helping develop programs with our program team, meeting with companies and prospective donors to invest in our vision, working with students on essential technology skills, and more. Because I am an entrepreneur, my workday rarely has an end time and my work and home life blend together a lot.
What is the best part of your job?
Definitely the impact. I absolutely love seeing kids reach their full potential and unlocking a future that they didn’t know was an option for them. Many of us take for granted our access to quality education and technology. For many of the students we serve, they don’t have the same tools and opportunities. When we are able to pair those together to spark interest and confidence, it fills my heart.
What are some of your favorite things to do outside of the office?
My family loves being outside so you’ll see us walking the streets of Plaza Midwood in search of fairy gardens or at the Whitewater Center. I am a very active community member and serve on Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Equity Committee, the Board of Directors for Teaching Fellows Institute, and, more recently, have been dipping a toe in early childhood education and advocacy. I like to stay active and involved to make our community a better place for everyone who lives here.
You live in Plaza Midwood. What are some of your favorite neighborhood spots?
SO MANY! We love Midwood Park and Veterans Park. The Briar Creek Greenway which is called “the special trail” in our house is a hidden neighborhood gem. I can’t forget about Soul Gastrolounge or Three Amigos for date nights. Plaza Midwood is the best neighborhood in Charlotte and we are so lucky to call it home!
If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it?
We live in a cul-de-sac in Midwood and have the best neighbors. Our end-of-day routine is to play with the tons of kids on our street in the cul-de-sac and unwind with a drink with our neighbors. I’d love to do that and not feel so rushed to get everyone fed, bathed, and to bed.
What is next for you and Digi-Bridge?
I am so excited about the future of Digi-Bridge! I see us growing to serve even more schools within Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. Additionally, we are growing our involvement with community organizations such as ourBridge and more. We hope that Digi-Bridge becomes a household name for high-quality programming for kids and a workforce development arm for STEM companies.