July 6, 2017

Teen on a mission to inspire more STEM learning

An update with 'Sasha Loves to Code' author Sasha Ariel Alston

Washington, D.C., college student Sasha Ariel Alston released her first book on June 2. Photo courtesy of the author

In April, we wrote about a 19-year-old college student from Washington, D.C., who was writing a a semi-autobiographical story about a 10 year-old African American girl attending an all-girls coding camp. The young author’s goal was to inspire young girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math.

Last month, Sasha Ariel Alston released “Sasha Savvy Loves to Code,” her book about a girl’s passion for STEM. We caught up with Alston to discuss the book’s launch and the self-titled STEM Queen’s plans for the future.

The questions and responses have been edited for clarity.

Your book was released on June 2. What has the response been like?

The response has been great. After the Kickstarter, I guess I had to ship out about 550 books, and on Amazon I see that 415 books have been sold already. (We spoke to Alston in late June.) That was amazing because it’s only been about two weeks. I read an article that said that typically a lot of people don’t buy books. So that was interesting to see.

I’ve received a lot of great feedback, especially from parents and actual kids. And even though the book was geared toward girls, a few boys actually liked the book and wanted me to have another book focusing more on her brother. So that was good. I really wasn’t thinking about that, but I can definitely have [a future book] be about both of them.

I got a lot of really great feedback, because the book talks about coding as just a basic family things. They cook dinner and go to different activities on the weekend, so it’s just showing how STEM can be incorporated in your life. It doesn’t have to be something separate that no one talks about.

You consider yourself a “STEM activist.” Could you explain what that means and why that’s important to you?

The reason why I said that I was a STEM activist is because my focus is to get more minorities—or just anyone—truly interested in STEM. When I was writing the book, I did not consider, “oh, I’m going to be an author when I write this book.” It was more of “I want to solve a need in the STEM world.” And so that’s why I consider it an activist thing. I want to increase the amount of people that are interested in STEM and who potentially want to pursue it.

I just think that STEM is really important because technology is continuously evolving. Even if you don’t want to learn it, I think it’s important to know what coding is. I read an article that said over 80 percent of the jobs will soon require some kind of technical skill, so STEM and specifically technology isn’t going anywhere.

I’ve seen a few people become STEM activists, but I think me having an actual background in it kind of helps. I’ve seen celebrities start to do it, but they don’t really have a background in STEM.

Putting out this book has taken up several years of your life. Are there any key takeaways or lessons you’ve learned?

I think in terms of the Kickstarter, I’ve definitely learned to be better with customer service, just because there were a few issues with people not getting their books, or not getting the right package. There were a lot of issues once I actually shipped the books. [Readers] were supposed to get it by the end of May and they didn’t get it until June. So I think I learned time management. There were a few issues and I was able to resolve them.

And also with the book, I would just say in general to not give up. Whatever you’re truly interested in, just continue to be dedicated and pursue your dreams. I got a few rejections with agents. I could’ve stopped and said “maybe this book isn’t good enough.” But I still continued to go through the process and I just did it myself.

What’s next?

I’m not sure what I want to do first, but I’m deciding between creating an app surrounding the book, or having an education-technology startup to get minorities and everyone interested in STEM. But I’m not sure which route I’m going to take first. In general, I do want to have my own education-technology startup. There’s a lack of awareness. A lot of people don’t think it’s cool, so they’re not even interested in it.

Another issue with STEM is that there’s not enough STEM mentors, so that kind of stops people from pursuing it—if they don’t have anyone to go to. So I want to have something surrounding that. But I’m not sure yet.

Mikhail Klimentov

Mikhail Klimentov is a contributor to The Renewal Project.