Tag Archives: Choctaw

Sara-Jane Small Wood | Promise Zone and President Obama

“There’s nothing holding you back except what’s in your mind”-Sara-Jane Smallwood, Promise Zone Coordinator and Policy Director.

Sometimes you speak with someone that has so much positive energy that it’s bound to rub off on you. Despite a massive headache during this conversation, I came away feeling energized after speaking with Sara-Jane Smallwood.

Sara-Jane Small Wood, Promise Zone Coordinators

Sara-Jane Smallwood

Sara-Jane is one of those people that had a clear goal from a young age and pursued that goal and was able to realize that goal: returning home to work for her tribe. She did so in a big way, working on a very high-profile program that eventually resulted in a visit from President Obama to Choctaw Nation. Continue reading

Justin Wilson | No Other Choice

Justin Wilson

Justin Wilson is an upbeat guy. You sense his energy from the moment you start a conversation with him. Or more likely, when he starts a conversation with you. When you learn about his life, it’s amazing to think how he can be so upbeat. But then you realize, it’s because he had no other choice.

Justin Wilson

Justin Wilson, Choctaw

Justin Wilson is Choctaw. He grew up in Southeast Oklahoma. His father died when he was three and his mom wasn’t around much. He was living on his own at age 14. He excelled at school. He realized it was his way out of the life he experienced as a kid. Having just listened to an amazing episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, I knew exactly what Just meant. The episode is titled “Carlos Doesn’t Remember” and I realized that Justin was very similar.

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Natives in Tech | Erin Spiceland

Erin Spiceland’s challenge to NextGen Natives: “Google “[Natives in] tech…; and see Native people in every field, no matter how much of a walled garden exists. They did it, you can do it.”

One of the goals for NextGen Native is to connect Native people across a variety of professions, and to tell the story of these people to place their experience in context i.e. being Native person in the 21st century. Perhaps no one best exemplifies this to date than Erin Spiceland.

Erin Spiceland is Choctaw, and grew up in South Georgia. Her family ended up there after her grandfather settled down in the area after serving in the Navy. She is a software engineer  working in for a technology company in Huntsville, AL. If there is one area that every community needs to be part of in 2016, it’s technology.

Natives in tech

Erin Spiceland, one Native in tech

Specifically, preparing people to work in technology by teaching them to code. Erin has worked hard online to promote Natives in tech, and she has done so by example. But even more, in the same conversation Erin talks about the importance of coding, she talks about learning her language, and teaching it to her kids.

Erin’s journey is about more than just coding. Erin lost her mother at a young age after a battle with Leukemia. It was difficult for her to move on after the loss, but she found strength in her faith and realizing that her life did not have to be defined by what she lost.

In this episode we discuss:

  • Math and music: the connections between the two.
  • How Erin wanted music to be a major part of her life and influenced her academic future.
  • The benefit of having a support system that allows someone to challenge themselves.
  • How studying computer science in college is behind the curve when it comes to what actually occurs in the real world.
  • What is an algorithm (never be afraid to ask questions).
  • How Erin ended up at Nodesource.
  • Different resources for learning code: Khan Academy; Code.org; Coursera;
  • Erin’s perspective of being a woman and being a Native person in a technology company. And how she enjoys surprising people when she tells people what she does.
  • Natives in tech, what a variety of Natives are doing in different industries.

I learned a lot from Erin, and she pushed me to understand things just a bit beyond my grasp. In addition to learning my language, I think I’ve been inspired to learn some kind of coding program, too.

For more background, here is Erin’s bio:

Erin Spiceland is a Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Choctaw and Chickasaw classically trained musician living in Huntsville, Alabama. She works as a backend software engineer at NodeSource. When she’s not hard at work writing code, she can be found under a pile of beadwork or practicing the Choctaw language with her two daughters. She also loves kayaking and Star Trek.