USC Marshall Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab held its first Lunch and Learn talk of 2017 Thursday at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center. The presentation featured Luz Rivas, the founder of DIY Girls, and was co-sponsored by USC Women in Computing, the Society of Women Engineers and Girls in Tech.
Rivas spoke about how her interest in technology developed when she was 10 years old and found out that programming could be pursued as a career. She continued to participate in technology-related activities in middle school and high school.
“My teacher told me that this was a career, and that I would be paid for programming computers,” Rivas said. “I had so much fun doing this, and that was the very first time I got interested in computer science and engineering.”
Rivas began her career as a hardware engineer for Motorola and has worked in the STEM industry for 15 years. While volunteering at a community center in Chicago, Rivas realized that kids weren’t exposed to computer science or any engineering-related subjects. That is when she took the decision to transition from her job as an engineer to work in an education field.
“I was a bit nervous about switching careers because I thought I would be an engineer at a big company and move up within the company,” Rivas said. “But then I made a decision and went to graduate school at Harvard and learned a lot about education and spoke to a lot of people about my interests.”
When Rivas decided that she wanted to start her own organization, she started preparing herself by enrolling in a yearlong leadership development program called Leadership L.A.
“I did other things, like volunteer to speak in groups, just to develop skills that I thought I didn’t have to be a leader or a founder of a social enterprise,” Rivas said. “The first thing I did for DIY Girls [was] start a Twitter account and interact with others who were interested in STEM.”
The DIY Girls is a nonprofit organization founded in September 2011 and believes in creative freedom, opportunity, relationships, empowerment and skill-building. Over 1,200 girls in Los Angeles have used the skills taught to them to create their own projects. DIY Girls offers after-school and summer programs that give girls hands-on opportunities with science, technology, engineering, art and math, also called STEAM.
After a year of planning, Rivas started a program for fifth grade girls at her own elementary school in 2012. Her first grant was funded by the Sparkplug foundation, but it was a $10,000 matching grant. She had six months to raise $10,000 and then the foundation would match it.
“First, I was a little disappointed as to how I would get $10,000 in six months,” Rivas said. “It was a challenge, but I started working towards it and connected with a lot of people.”
Rivas started the program with only $205 and no Wi-Fi at the school but still managed to hold the program twice a week for the girls. She brought tools from her apartment and asked friends for anything that they had. As funding started to come in, she started buying tools for her programs.
“I was also fundraising while the program was on and was multi-tasking because I would teach the kids and was working full-time, too,” Rivas said. “I didn’t wait until I had something to start, and I just thought that I have tables and chairs, I have 30 girls that come and a little bit of money to start with. And as I got started, people would come visit and donate more.”
On Oct. 1, 2013, Rivas decided to quit her full-time job and give all her time and attention to DIY Girls. They have grown five times since they started. However, in mid-Oct. of last year, Rivas decided to leave DIY Girls, as she was appointed the commissioner of the Los Angeles Board of Public Works by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, where she works now.