December 15, 2017

D.C.’s ‘Stem Queen’ shares her love of coding with the world

Three inspiring stories of innovation and ingenuity across America

Sasha Ariel Alston’s book, “Sasha Savvy Loves to Code,” will be reaching new audiences—from Arkansas to Japan. Photo courtesy of Sasha Ariel Alston

Every Friday, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions individuals and organizations are creating in their communities. Want to share a story from your hometown? Email us at

Spreading a love of STEM: We have an update from one of our favorite stories of the year. In April, we wrote about Washington, D.C., teen Sasha Ariel Alston who was writing a book about a young girl’s passion for science and technology called, “Sasha Savvy Loves to Code.” Since her book published in June, Sasha has been touring the country to talk about her own passion for coding in the hope of inspiring the next generation to pursue STEM education and eventually a career in the field. Last week, the governor of Arkansas announced that approximately 900 public school libraries in the state will receive copies of the book. In addition, schools will also receive a Micro:Bit, which are small programmable computers. “This is a great investment in our young people that complements all the other computer science initiatives we are undertaking to keep Arkansas ahead of the technology curve,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a press release. Sasha’s book is not only reaching new audiences in the southern United States; it also will be reaching readers overseas. In November, Sasha announced on her Twitter, @TheStemQueen, that a Japanese publisher will be publishing the book in Japan.

Bridging the online divide: The California Emerging Technology Fund is working to bring access to broadband Internet to 500,000 households in California in the next five years. According to a recent CETF report, a number of obstacles keep people across geographic and social strata from accessing Internet services, including personal disability, household income, the absence of a high school degree, and limited English proficiency, among other factors. As a result, many people can’t access essential online services that may help achieve personal or vocational advancement. “The lowest-income, least-educated, and most-rural Californians are living without an essential tool to access the educational, employment, healthcare and civic engagement opportunities that lead to greater economic opportunities and a better quality of life,” writes Sunne Wright McPeak, CETF’s president and CEO. In California, between 84 and 87 percent of households have connections. That’s a substantial amount, but each percent accounts for roughly 130,000 households, so there’s a large contingent that isn’t covered. CETF expands access through a number of means: by funding local organizations across the state, by pursuing public policy changes, by running public awareness campaigns, and through partnerships with public and private institutions. “We need to expand fiber to every corner,” says McPeak. “And when that is not possible, we need wireless broadband that can extend into farmer’s fields to make them more efficient and competitive.”

Coffee for a cause: The University of Washington and social workers in Seattle’s University District are teaming up to create a space for those experiencing homelessness, and who may not have a safe place to during the day without the risk of being kicked out. The premise is based on a model developed by a Methodist church in Auckland, New Zealand. The church had hosted a soup kitchen for over a century. However, it wasn’t serving the community in the longer-term. “Our soup kitchen hosted people for a few minutes at a time—people just gobbled down their meal and disappeared,” the Rev. John MacDonald told The Seattle Times. In 2010, the church tried a new approach: they opened a cafe where people experiencing homelessness could sit in peace, and enjoy the plain decency of eating alongside workers from nearby businesses. Brad Ramey, a homeless youth in Seattle, told The Seattle Times about the experience of getting kicked out of cafes: “It made me feel less of a human being.” The organizers in Washington are looking to stop that, and have started looking for space to host their own cafe. They’ve received funding for the project—titled the Doorway Project—from the Washington Legislature, the University of Washington, and YouthCare, a Seattle-based nonprofit.

Mikhail Klimentov and Margaret Myers

Mikhail Klimentov is a contributor to The Renewal Project.

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.