August 2023

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Experience the power of compassionate, whole-person care At UT Health Austin, our clinicians strive to create an environment of transformative healing by ensuring care delivery has a meaningful and lasting impact on patient health Amy Young, MD, a UT Health Austin obstetrician-gynecologist, aims to improve your health by not only addressing your physical well-being, but also helping you achieve your personal, emotional, and mental health goals. Find out more by scanning the QR code below.

What do you consider one of the most essential aspects of YPO’s mission?

To educate and learn with like-minded peers all over the world.

You’ve spoken about how (healthy) competitiveness is a good thing. What kind of advice can you give to young women who were brought up to believe women shouldn’t be “aggressive” or appear competitive?

There is a difference between being aggressive and being tenacious. One tramples on people while the other helps people by building and creating.

How do YPO’s values align with yours?

YPO embraces a learning mentality and extends a helping hand to inspire others to build and achieve great things, something I try to do every day.

For more info on YPO Austin, please see: or contact Monica McCall at
The world’s largest leadership community of chief executives, over 30,000 extraordinary global members, coming together to become better leaders and better people.


COUNT US IN The State of Women in STEAM




LEADING GREEN BY ECOBRANDI Austin’s Clean-tech Sector





Shonté Jovan Taylor, MSc., Ph.D.(c)


HER ROUTINE Diana Skellenger

52 I AM AUSTIN WOMAN Julie Mueller

6 | AUSTIN WOMAN | AUGUST 2023 August CONTENTS 24 20 52
50 18 19 24
16 FROM THE DESK OF Ana Peralta 18 PROFILE Gaby Mier 19 PROFILE Iris Davis-Quick
26 ON THE MONEY Credit Score Unlocked 46

See how the most compassionate and comprehensive high-risk pregnancy care helped make Katherine Ortiz’s dream come true. Learn more by watching “Hope Lives Here” at

“Even during our worst time they took care of us. We never considered going anywhere else.”
The Best Is Here.

Fee Free Banking to Fee Free Banking to me means: Worry Free, me means: Worry Free, hassle free! hassle free!

Taking all of the guess work out of having t double check to ensure that I'm not being charged any hidden fees. It means that I ca make transactions knowing that the dollar being paid is the EXACT dollar amount. Tho up and can be utilized for other things

-Partina Clemons, Personal Banker


MARCIE KAZEN Director of Events + Marketing

MICHELLE BERMEA Director of Advertising + Sales


CY WHITE Managing Editor

NINA GLORIA Production Coordinator

JAIME ALBERS Creative Director



Editorial: Brown Girl in Recover, Brandi Clark Burton, Tess Harmon, Jenny Hoff, Julie Mueller, Hayley Noble, Gretel Perera, Sandy Schwartz, Shonté Jovan Taylor, Msc., Ph.D.(c), Georgia Valles, Cy White

Art: Brown Girl in Recovery, Joi Conti, Sophie Epton Interiors, Madeline Harper Photography, Korey Howell Photography, Chalda Maloff, Gaby Mier, Julia Morton, Tom Morton, Leah Muse Photography, Ana Peralta, Annie Ray, Shirley Steele, Texas Immersive Institute, Universal Technical Institute Austin campus, Jessica Wetterer.


Tess Harmon, Lauren Howell, Haley Noble, Georgia Valles


This month, we asked our contributors: What is a piece of technology you absolutely can’t live without?


Photographer, “This Is Who I Am,” pg. 32

• She loves working with set designers.

• She obsesses over themed photo sessions.

• Her happy place involves thrift shopping. “I’m trying to imagine this, and not having technology around me seems incredibly peaceful.”


Writer, “Continuing a Family Legacy,” pg. 19

• She takes a book with her everywhere

• She is currently practicing how to draw.

• She writes in a journal every day.

“I am very attached to my Kindle e-reader. I think it’s a great device to take anywhere with you.”


Writer, “This is Who I Am,” pg. 32

• She is a massive Spice Girls fan.

• She loves to bake and make up new recipes.


MELINDA GARVEY Co-owner/Co-founder









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• She loves horror films.

“In every era of new music technology, it’s always whatever music device I have. For a while it was a Walkman portable CD player, then a low-budget mp3 player, and now it’s my phone.”


Writer, “The Power of Yet,” pg. 40

• She is a huge film buff.

• She loves her dog, Emmy.

• She has climbed the tallest mountain in the continental U.S.

“Modern coffee and espresso makers are a small luxury I’m so glad to have within the comfort of my home!”

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ENGAGING Luncheon Panel with former Austin Cover Women

CONNECT with 500+ of Austin's Top Female Leaders

Personal and Professional TRANSFORMATION SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE SALES@ATXWOMAN.COM Sept 8th 2023 JW Marriott Austin 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Doors open at 8 a m A p r o f e s s i o n a l d e v e l o p m e n t s u m m i t p r e s e n t e d b y A U S T I N W O M A N ALPHA SCHOOL

Can you believe it’s already August, dear reader? Where has the year gone? And why is it still so hot?! If you’ve made it this far in this unfathomable heat, I salute you. Speaking of things that are a little bit frightening and unfathomable... This new digital era where AI has become more sophisticated has made many people, creatives in particular, a little jumpy. Not that the anxiety is unfounded. With whispers of newsrooms shutting down entire sections of their outlets (some global newsrooms even firing upward of 90% of their writers and staff in exchange for AI-focused content generation and task completion), it’s easy to understand why people are just a bit wary of the direction technology is taking us. That being said, in the wake of all this fervor over a concept and technology that’s been around for more than 40 years, we can’t forget that advancements in technology do, in fact, breed innovation and allow for a future that’s both more efficient and, quite frankly, incredibly fascinating.

Aptly enough, for August, we at Austin Woman want to celebrate technology and recognize the women who are going beyond even our wildest imaginations to create some of the most profound innovations in tech and STEAM. (Can I just say it does my heart so much good to see art included in the conversation of sciences now?)

Every woman in this issue has an incredible story, and each story allows us to discover how they’ve made their mark in the tech, engineering, science, math and, yes, art spaces. Cover woman Kenda Dawwami is a paragon of resilience and uses her trials as a launchpad for change. A civil engineer by expertise and a real estate agent by trade, she’s married the two worlds to create Constructinople, a construction and development firm that goes above and beyond to ensure underrepresented communities (especially immigrant families) are able to find a safe place to call home. These women wouldn’t be who and where they are without the influence of their education. Taking a look at how technology, and specifically AI, is transforming education for the better at all levels, we speak to the founder of Alpha School, MacKenzie Price, and founder of the Texas Immersive Institute, Erin Reilly, to discover just how their educational institutions, and by extension their students, are revolutionizing how we interact with AI. In this issue, we also take a look at a short list of brilliant Latinas who are not only disrupting tech and STEAM fields; they’re fundamentally transforming their areas of expertise.

As a ’90s kid who grew up when technology’s influence accelerated at an alarming pace in the span of 10 years, this has been one of the most fascinating and, honestly, fun issues I’ve had the honor to work on. I hope you get as much enjoyment out of it as I did. (Speaking of innovation in various fields, have you gotten your tickets for Uplevel Her yet? wink-wink)

Editor’s Picks: Technology-inspired albums

12 | AUSTIN WOMAN | AUGUST 2023 Publication of Austin Woman would not be possible without the support of our monthly advertisers and sponsors, who believe in the impact we are making in the Austin community. The team at Austin Woman is grateful for these businesses that have shown their commitment to the advancement of women in Austin and hopes you, as readers, recognize their efforts and support these businesses.
Editor’s LETTER
Now by Clarence Clarity
the Quiet Comes by Flying Lotus Full Moon by Brandy
ATXWOMAN.COM | 13 THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2023 PROGRAM BEGINS AT 7:00 PM SCAN TO SPONSOR TODAY! THE LONG CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS H-E-B TERRACE AND LAWN CO-CHAIRS PERLA CAVAZOS & CELESTE QUESADA Join us for an evening of philanthropy, live music, local food vendors, and dancing under the bright Texas stars in support of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. We are thrilled to bring our diverse community together and adorn the terrace in pink again this year! Visit to learn more. @ppgreatertx #ANightUnderTheStars PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF GREATER TEXAS PRESENTS C M Y CM MY CY CMY K PPGT23-014-AE-Ad-7_75x5_125 6.6-01.pdf 1 6/6/2023 12:56:59 PM

Healing for the Modern woman

Natalie Raphael, spiritual guide, feminine empowerment coach and founder of Modern Woman Yoga shares her insight on self-healing.

“Give Me An A!”

Seventeen female filmmakers put their emotions over the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade into the short films that make up Give Me An A!

FLIT: Bridging the Gap Between Community & Local Businesses

Ana Peralta brings her tech experience to FLIT, an online platform designed to connect Austinites with local community vendors.

16 Candles: Juice Consulting Celebrates its Sweet 16 PR and marketing juggernaut Juice Consulting celebrates 16 years of supporting and uplifting the arts in Austin.

14 | AUSTIN WOMAN | AUGUST 2023 Check out what’s happening over at! FOLLOW US @austinwoman LIKE US austinwoman C onnect WITH US Don’t forget to visit and subscribe to the Austin Woman YouTube channel! “Healing for the Modern Woman” photo courtesy of Natalie Raphael. “Give Me An A!” photo courtesy of Give Me An A! “FLIT: Bridging the Gap Between Community & Local Businesses” photo courtesy of Ana Peralta. 16 Candles: Juice Consulting Celebrates its Sweet 16 photo by Dave Pedley.

The Kind Leadership Program

The Kindness Campaign has launched the Kind Leadership Program to empower the next generation of kindness-centered leaders.

The Kindness Campaign (TKC) stands as a leading national nonprofit, passionately dedicated to nurturing compassion and fostering positive change throughout the world. Rooted in the belief that emotional health is the foundation for positive change, TKC is dedicated to making accessible emotional health tools for all individuals—in the classroom or at home. At the heart of this transformative organization lay the newly launched Kind Leadership Program, tailored to empower high school-age students driven to make a difference in their communities. The comprehensive, self-paced program spans four years, enabling students to progressively develop essential leadership skills and traits that align with TKC’s Pillars of Emotional Health: selfimage, emotional awareness, empathy and community.

At a crucial stage in their development, high school students often grapple with issues of identity, purpose and influence. The Kind Leadership Program recognizes this and seeks to empower these young minds with the tools and skills needed to become empathetic and bold leaders in their community. The program’s curriculum is thoughtfully designed to address the unique challenges adolescents face, focusing on emotional intelligence, effective communication and community engagement. Through interactive workshops and activities, students are encouraged to explore their individual strengths, build strong interpersonal relationships and develop resilience in the face of challenges.

One of the program’s most impactful aspects is its emphasis on real-world application. Participants are encouraged to actively engage in community service projects and charitable initiatives, providing them with hands-on experience in making a difference. This practical exposure not only reinforces the importance of kindness but also instills a sense of fulfillment and purpose in the students.

By nurturing the values of empathy and compassion, the Kind Leadership Program aims to create a ripple effect of positivity and kindness within communities. As these young leaders emerge, they become role models who inspire others to follow their path, thus spreading the message of kindness far and wide. For high school students seeking a purpose-driven journey that brings about positive change, the Kind Leadership Program offers an unparalleled opportunity. By visiting, students can take the first step toward becoming a part of this transformative movement and contribute to a kinder, more compassionate world. With the support and guidance provided by TKC, the next generation of leaders will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on the world, one act of kindness at a time.

Photos courtesy of The Kindness Campaign.
Scan for more information about The Kindness Campaign.

Crossing the Finish Line

Ana Peralta’s extensive career in tech led her to found a company that helps small businesses.

With more than 10 years of experience in tech, Ana Peralta has worked across several industries as a user experience (UX) designer, with a specialty in customer engagement and usability success for web development.

So, when she noticed she had difficulties reconnecting with mobile vendors after meeting them at pop-ups, she knew she had the tech background to help communities better follow and support their local businesses. In the fall, Peralta plans to launch FLIT, an online platform designed to connect Austinites and small nomadic businesses through publicizing vendors’ events on an active map.

Peralta has learned much from both her career in the tech field, as well as her experience as the founder of a small business. She offers advice for young women who are interested in creating something of their own in the tech space.


I think it’s easy to get scatterbrained, especially when some of these projects are not overnight executions. But the proposition of any idea should be the foundation and the first thing you figure out. Once you’ve defined your product, it really helps you save time and money down the road. When you define your true north, and you stick to it throughout the process, it really will help you become a better creator. It helps you sell; it helps you pitch what you’re making; it helps your product’s message. And that helps your end user buy in, adapt to your idea and helps them understand how it differentiates you and your product from anything else.


In tech, there are many roles involved in creating one thing. You can have a designer, product manager, developer, software engineer. I think it’s very smart to learn even a little bit about how other people speak and how their roles operate. This improves the dynamic of your team and improves the dynamic when you hire or oversee freelance workers. When you understand other disciplines’ languages, it makes you a stronger communicator. You get your point across because you speak in terms they will understand, and then there’s less confusion later. I think it makes you a better decisionmaker. All these new skills that you acquire will eventually be integral to your business growth.


It’s very important to be able to empathize so well with your end users, to the point where you think like them. This takes time, but with enough research and interviews directly with your end audience, you’ll be able to gather the information you need to understand what you’re creating. I would really choose authenticity in what you’re making because it really does speak volumes when someone understands where you’re coming from. It’s important to ask well-rounded questions: How do your users define quality? How do your users define success? What will they be relieved from by using your product? What will they gain? Thinking of those crucial points is where I think a digital experience usually becomes most successful.


Hitting a snag can actually help you reassess, regroup, reevaluate and plan the next move. I think when you take breaks and you hit those bumps in the road, you realize that what you’re making could be better, and you can find a strategy that’s more on point than the original plan. It’s not unheard of in tech that you have to fail quickly and recover quickly. That’s really what keeps the momentum in innovation and iteration. Starting over isn’t always a bad thing. Because you don’t start from scratch, you really start from experience. But perseverance is what makes you cross the finish line. I think those who are committed are the real winners, the ones who don’t give up.


I’ve had to learn this the hard way. Putting yourself out there is a very fruitful, advantageous thing to do. I think it’s really great when you can share what you’re making with others [and] open up about your struggles. When I have done so, I’ve met someone with the answer that I was looking for, or they knew of a connection that they could direct me to. Once I got over being shy and keeping all my ideas close to my chest, folks have offered questions and opportunities and even ideas that I couldn’t have thought of by myself. Networking and making connections has really built a support group that has helped me in areas where I’m outside of my skill set.

From the DESK OF
Photo courtesy of Ana Peralta.
Find out more about Ana Peralta and FLIT: | @foundonflit
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Creating a Sustainable Future One Building at a Time

Sustainable architect Gaby Mier promotes healthier buildings and people.

Have you ever stopped to gaze at the Austin skyline and wondered what went into creating all those impressive buildings? Recently named the greenest city in America by Architectural Digest, Austin is known for its innovation when it comes to architectural design and sustainability. In fact, the city is the birthplace of the U.S. Green Business Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, the most widely used green building rating system in the world.

One of the key players working on sustainable architecture in Austin and beyond is Gaby Mier. This native Texan lives and breathes the creation of healthy, sustainable buildings. Mier is currently the director of business development at Glumac, a global building design consulting firm with an office in Austin focused on creating sustainable, resilient buildings that provide healthy, productive and equitable spaces for all communities. She recently completed a master’s degree in sustainable design and has been in the Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) industry for over 15 years. Designing buildings at the intersection of sustainability and human health is her passion. She was one of the early adopters of the LEED program and has always prioritized the environment in her work. “I have sought to be involved in the future of design that builds healthier buildings and healthier people,” she explains. “My job is to promote and sell services to those looking to focus on highly sustainable projects. We are sustainable engineers and create buildings that will be LEED Platinum, the highest level possible.”

341,994 square feet

Start Date/End Date: February 2015 / Est. October 2019

Architect: Perkins Eastman

Mier believes that issues like climate change, air pollution and waste reduction being top of mind makes sustainable architecture and construction more important now than ever. Additionally, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 calls for making energy efficiency and clean energy increasingly more cost-effective. “These issues are driving new conversations in and around sustainability and, I argue, responsible design,” she notes.

What makes Mier’s work particularly unique is her focus on health and wellbeing. “Building sustainable spaces improves the overall health of people. It’s all about how you make them feel and how they react to the space you are designing.” She does this by going beyond the five senses to determine how to affect people’s physiological responses to a building. There is currently very little research on this topic, but she is leading the effort. Her recent master’s thesis won commendations for addressing why humans respond to and perform better in certain environments, and how designers can utilize some of those reactions for the better. Her design guidelines and principles are currently being used to “grade”

existing spaces based on nine senses taught in the Montessori system: sight (visual), touch (tactile), hearing (auditory/acoustic), smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory), thermic (temperature, related to tactile), baric (weight), stereognostic (tactile and muscular in the absence of sight or sound) and proprioception (movement and posture). “I hope my work will help continue the conversation around humans, sustainability and how intertwined they both are beyond our current understanding. I consider this movement to be about the design standards for the human experience to create newer, emotionally and physically healthy spaces in the built environment.”

Mier is also committed to boosting women in the architectural field. She is an active member of the Women in Architecture Committee through the American Institute of Architects Austin Chapter. “This industry is very traditional, and most big firms still have that imbalance on their board. For me, it’s important to be part of women getting more involved in this field.”

She points out that women make up just over 35% of the professionals in the ACE industry but hold only about 10% to 15% of the leadership roles. As someone who worked and pursued a master’s degree while pregnant, focusing on women’s issues is very close to her heart. “We assume the way things are will be like that forever, but we are starting to see opportunities for growth and the potential for a leadership seat at the table,” she states. “This is important to me because I have a young daughter and want to tell her I was part of the change.”

GLUMAC AUSTIN’S AUSTIN DOMAIN SENIOR LIVING PROJECT This high-rise senior living project includes three residential towers located above a common podium and a 180 space underground parking garage. Each unit is served by heat pump fan coil units bringing in outside air from a rooftop dedicated outdoor air system. Lighting systems also incorporated daylight harvesting and the use of wireless controls. Photo courtesy of Glumac. Learn more about sustainable architecture in Austin at

Continuing a Family Legacy

Iris Davis-Quick speaks about her experience working in a family-owned business and contributing to the legacy.

Iris Davis-Quick grew up in the design-build firm world. She is the third generation to work at Austin-based CG&S DesignBuild company. As a majority family-owned business started by Davis-Quick’s grandparents in 1957, then sold to their children in the 1990s, CG&S has not once strayed from the familiarity of family. The business has kept its family ties for generations.

Continuing the family legacy and calling back on her younger self, who used to fill in during the summer, Davis-Quick is now the market manager for CG&S Design-Build and works under her mother, Dolores Guerrero-Davis. Davis-Quick now holds the beacon in the female-owned company.

“CG&S has always been a part of my life, since both my parents work here,” Davis-Quick says. “We as kids used to spend a lot of time at the office”

She has vivid memories of spending time with her parents at the company, whether sitting with her mom in the office or working summers answering the office phones and doing administrative work. However, she didn’t grow up thinking this is where she would work.

Before working at CG&S, Davis-Quick worked in call centers for several major corporations, which provided her a stable income and scheduling freedom, but was not something she loved. She revealed that she “left that job in pursuit of something more fulfilling,” and CG&S happened to be looking for help. Their business manager at the time wanted to offload the marketing component of her job and enlisted Davis-Quick for help. After some training, the initially temporary job became full-time.

Joining CG&S in 2011 allowed Davis-Quick and her mother to team up creatively and professionally. “My mom and I have always been a duo,” she says. “Even in childhood I was her right-hand little lady.” So when it came to working together professionally, it came naturally to the pair.

Despite changes in leadership and ownership, the company has not lost its most important factors: family and quality service. “The care for your employees, the people you work for and the people you work with is just as important as the profit you make,” Davis-Quick says. The family has created a legacy in the design and construction business. As GuerreroDavis revealed in her August 2022 profile, she is proud to keep the business in the hands of her family, as it is a challenging achievement.

“CG&S is my family’s legacy.” Davis-Quick expresses. “There aren’t many original Austin businesses left who have lasted throughout all the change. I’m so proud and honored to work here.”

Under her mother’s leadership, Davis-Quick has found new learning opportunities. The pair have worked countless hours together on the execution of different tasks within the company such as events and, as Davis-Quick describes, “anything [my mother] needs assistance with.” As their time together progresses into newly reinvented ideas and executions, Davis-Quick gains great inspiration from her in various ways.

“She sets a fantastic example of being a level-headed person,” DavisQuick says. “Not only is she a great listener, but she also has the remarkable ability to take in the entire situation and articulate it clearly. Dolores serves as an excellent role model for leadership. The way she collaborates and works with others has always been in the form of a partnership. She creates a safe space where everyone feels comfortable approaching her for opinions, seeking advice or simply asking for help.”

Davis-Quick has been at the company for 12 years, but she still has so much she wants to accomplish. In her experience, CG&S is a great place for her to learn how to be a great leader, and with the help of previous generations, she is on the right path.

“The people here at CG&S have taught me valuable lessons about work ethic, leadership and responsibility. I’m thankful CG&S has a strong leadership team and so proud it’s led by my mother, a woman I look up to and aspire to be like.”

Photo by Annie Ray.

Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

While there continue to be strides in diversifying STEAM & tech fields, the numbers tell a different story.


According to the June 2020 “Austin Area Technology Talent Labor Market Study and Strategy” report conducted by Alexander Research & Consulting, women made up 23% of computer and mathematical occupations in 2018 (3% lower than the national average of 26%). Meanwhile, women made up 46% of Austin’s employed population.


In a March 2023 report titled “The State of Girls and Women in STEM,” compiled by the National Girls Collaborative Project, women with STEM professions comprise about 42% of careers in computer and mathematical sciences (26%) and engineering (16%).

2On Women Impact Tech’s 2023 list of 100 progressive companies that prioritize inclusive hiring practices, two companies represent Austin: Bumble and OJO Labs.


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Latinas have continued to set a high standard for ingenuity and innovation in tech and STEAM fields.

In the world of tech, Latinas have certainly staked a claim. They’ve excelled and revolutionized every corner of the industry. Just like the culture itself, Latina influence is eclectic and varied. From gaming to travel, engineering and computer sciences, there’s no area of tech and STEAM these women haven’t influenced. However, it’s an unfortunate yet unsurprising reality that women continue to be far underrepresented in tech and STEAM fields. According to a recent study by Built In, women compromise 25% of computer-related jobs. Of that percentage, Latinas represent 2% of the industry. That being said, these women aren’t playing the odds; they’re playing to win. The women listed, while not an exhaustive representation, are kicking the door down and throwing stones at that glass ceiling.


Gracie Arenas Strittmatter, Supervising Director, Tiburon Technical Operations at EA Sports

As the supervising director of Tiburon technical operations at EA Sports, Gracie Arenas Strittmatter is no stranger to the ever-changing landscape of gaming. As games become more visually and thematically complex, the people behind their creation are even more crucial to the commercial and critical success every company craves. Bring in Arenas Strittmatter, who’s worked on some of the most iconic franchises in gaming including Star Wars, Madden NFL and NBA Live. Arenas Strittmatter also understands what it means to have to make a mark. Growing up in a Latino home and as the first woman to graduate university in her family, she advocates for women of color, and particularly Latinas, to advance in both their education and in the tech and STEAM fields. As part of her intentional advocacy, she serves as global co-chair for EA’s Hispanic/Latino Employee Resource Group, Somos EA and has volunteered with ACM SIGGRAPH for nearly 20 years. She volunteers in the community to introduce students to careers in games and serves on the industry board for the Texas A&M Department of Visualization.

Carolina Barcenas, Head of Platform Data Science at Airbnb

Carolina Barcenas is a seasoned senior technology executive who has helped organizations transform divisions to accelerate innovation, incubate artificial intelligence products, manage risk in ecommerce portfolios, contribute to the design of platforms to support artificial intelligence and develop strategy.

She is currently the head of Platform Data Science at Airbnb. Previously, she was at Visa for seven years in various leadership positions, including serving as the senior vice president of Visa Research, where she led the organization responsible for innovation in AI, blockchain and security.

Barcenas is one of the most senior and most experienced Latina executives working in the area of AI. She serves on the boards of various organizations, including L500, a new private network of Latinas focused on empowering and elevating more Latinas into executive roles. Originally from Mexico, she graduated from the Tec de Monterrey and has a master’s and Ph.D. from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

22 | AUSTIN WOMAN | AUGUST 2023 The Short LIST

Rosandra Silveira, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Global Consumer Channel Sales and Outlet at Dell Technologies

Rosandra Silveira, a valued executive at Dell Technologies, has built a steady career within the technology industry, with a special emphasis on driving business transformations and building strategic partnerships. She currently spearheads the Global Retail Sales division as the senior vice president. Silveira’s journey with Dell, which spans more than 16 years, began in Brazil where she held the position of general manager for Consumer and Small Business Sales.

Hailing from a small town in Brazil, Silveira’s story showcases her commitment to her work and her ability to adapt to changing roles and responsibilities. Her 25 years of leadership experience have provided her with a broad understanding of the technology industry, helping her effectively manage diverse teams and navigate different market scenarios.

Beyond her corporate work, Silveira offers her guidance and mentorship to panels and groups focused on the professional development of minorities. As a co-founder and board member of L500, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Latinas into executive roles, she exemplifies her commitment to fostering an inclusive work environment. Additionally, she is an executive member of the Forbes Council for Business Development, providing her insights and knowledge to the respected network of business leaders.

Elsa Zambrano, Senior Vice President, Global Talent and Culture at NXP Semiconductors

With a career spanning 30-plus years focused on driving business results in the technology and service industries, Elsa Zambrano has led global HR organizations in 21 countries with more than 60,000 employees, supporting business GMs with $20 billion-plus global organizations. As senior vice president of Global Talent and Culture at NXP Semiconductors, most recently, she developed and implemented flexible work and well-being strategies to address the effects of the pandemic on NXP’s global workforce. She also partnered with senior executives to define NXP’s purpose, evolved values and behaviors to energize the workplace culture and engage the team.

Zambrano joined NXP in 2019, leading the global country HR teams and Operations HR. Prior to that, she held various HR leadership positions with ISS, Sitel, Dell and Applied Materials. She has implemented enterprise-wide, centralized HR structures and created centers of excellence, operating in numerous business environments, including high-growth, turnaround, acquisition integration and restructuring.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from San Jose State University and her master’s from the University of San Francisco. She currently resides in Austin and is a board member of the Andy Roddick Foundation.

Mónica Talán, Founder, CryptoConexión

With more than two decades of experience in strategic communications and public relations, Mónica Talán is a dynamic entrepreneur and award-winning leader in the field of communications and innovation. She is the founder of CryptoConexión, a Spanish-language platform that educates and empowers Latino audiences on the topics of crypto, blockchain, NFTs and AI. Launched in October 2021, the platform has already gained traction and recognition in the industry, thanks to her vision and expertise.

Talán is passionate about leveraging technology to create impactful and engaging communication strategies that drive awareness, behavior change and consumer engagement. She has completed several MIT Executive Education online programs, including Artificial Intelligence in Business, Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain Technologies, and has applied her knowledge and skills to various projects and initiatives. She is also a champion of diversity, gender equality and entrepreneurship, serving as an advisor, mentor and speaker for various organizations and programs, such as Money 20/20, Amplify USA, Latitud, Google Launchpad and Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab.


Art as a Time Capsule

Julia Morton’s lifetime of art, fashion design and curation led her to open a gallery in East Austin featuring digital artwork. It explored a new terrain of visual art where artists work in collaboration with AI.

Julia Morton has been surrounded by art her entire life. Growing up in New York City, she visited museums with her parents, listened to her mother practice her docent lectures and found the love and appreciation for art her parents instilled in her.

“I sort of grew up in that environment of thinking about art as something that elevated life,” Morton says. “It wasn’t just an object; it was something that actually added to the atmosphere of your existence.”

After graduating from Pratt Institute with a degree in fashion design, Morton opened her own boutique in the East Village, Einstein’s, which sold avant-garde clothing. By moving to the East Village in the 1980s, Morton joined a movement and a league of artists who were pushing the edge of modern art, such as JeanMichel Basquiat and Keith Haring. This period deeply informed her perception of art.

“At the end of 20 years of fashion, I sort of look back on my history and recognize that I understood something about art that you can’t get from a book, you can’t get from a classroom,” she says. “When you live through a movement like that, you get to see how art actually happens. You get to see who makes it, who doesn’t. You get to understand it in a different way.”

So, Morton began sharing that understanding and writing about art for publications. As a fashion designer, she recalls getting tasked with covering the “worst” assignments, which ultimately led her to discover computer art—art created by humans working in collaboration with AI. Morton was captivated and recognized how digital art does not conform to the elite art establishment, but says more about our present existence.

Photos courtesy of Julia Morton.

Art is a way we create our own identities. It is a nurturing and supportive and mothering experience. When we have a work of art, we get to know it; we hang it on the wall. If we have it for years and years, it changes to us over time. It’s there with us in the good moments and the bad. It begins to absorb that like a sponge, and it feeds it back to us.

“I started looking at art to understand what it was we were recording about ourselves and our time. As an art writer, you look back in time all the time. So, you’re always looking back at old art movements or old historical things and trying to understand what their lives were like, based on the images and symbols they give you. Art is a kind of time capsule. It holds the truth of our existence against all the pressures that will come to re-edit and delete and cover up and pretty out the truth.”

In 2011, Morton and her husband moved to Austin and opened the Generative Art Project, a gallery in East Austin featuring digital art. She became evermore fascinated with the concept and how generative art could be used to reveal more about the world around us. Artists she featured in her gallery have used AI and computer programs to depict the sound of an endangered animal in the Amazon rainforest; illustrate the confluence of music and visual art; and visualize even their own dreams.

In curating her gallery, Morton better understood what people love about art.

“Art is a way we create our own identities. It is a nurturing and supportive and mothering experience. When we have a work of art, we get to know it; we hang it on the wall. If we have it for years and years, it changes to us over time. It’s there with us in the good moments and the bad. It begins to absorb that like a sponge, and it feeds it back to us.”

Morton’s gallery grew in popularity and drew in the interest of businesses such as Apple and Google, who wanted to include the work in their spaces. She even planned to create a digital art museum, but when COVID-19 hit, she was forced to shut down.

Now, after an extensive career in art, design and curating, Morton says she is bowing out of the art world. She plans to publish her memoir and write books about her time in the East Village to “plant the seed” with her writing to encourage artists to find the same togetherness she found in the ’80s.

Though Morton is leaving art, she still hopes that Austin will eventually have a digital art museum, given generative art’s unique power to help us understand our surroundings. “It’s so much more than just art,” she reveals. “It’s this sort of awakening of our awareness of potential.”


Credit Score Unlocked

With today’s higher interest rates, your credit score matters more than ever.

With higher interest rates, it’s more expensive to buy a house, a car or take out any loan. The better your credit score, the better chances you have to snag the lowest rate available. So, let’s discover what it takes to achieve a good credit score and why it matters.


A credit score is a three-digit number that reflects your creditworthiness and how likely you are to repay your debts. It’s like a financial report card that lenders, landlords and even potential employers use to evaluate your financial responsibility. The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to be approved for loans, credit cards or favorable interest rates.


Credit scores typically range from 300 to 850, with higher numbers indicating better creditworthiness. While there’s no magic number that defines a “good” credit score, generally, a score above 700 is considered excellent, while a score above 650 is seen as good. However, it’s important to note that lenders may have varying criteria and standards.


Now, let’s demystify the factors that influence your credit score. Several key elements contribute to the calculation, including:

1. Payment History: Timely payments are crucial. Consistently paying your bills on time helps boost your credit score and demonstrates your reliability as a borrower.

2. Credit Utilization: This refers to the percentage of your available credit that you’re currently using. Keeping your credit utilization low (typically below 30%) shows responsible borrowing behavior.

3. Length of Credit History: The longer you’ve had credit accounts, the better it is for your credit score. It demonstrates your experience and ability to manage credit responsibly. So, if you’re looking to close a card or two, don’t close your oldest ones. At the minimum, charge something small to it monthly like your phone or internet bill to keep it active.

4. Credit Mix: Having a healthy mix of credit accounts, such as credit cards, loans, and a mortgage, can positively impact your score. It shows that you can handle different types of credit responsibly.

5. New Credit and Inquiries: Opening multiple new credit accounts within a short period can be seen as a red flag. It’s wise to limit new credit applications, as excessive inquiries can temporarily lower your score.


So, why does a good credit score matter? Well, it opens the door to numerous financial opportunities. Here’s how it can benefit you:

1. Easy Loan Approvals: Whether it’s a home loan, car loan or personal loan, a good credit score enhances your chances of approval. Lenders have confidence in your ability to repay and could offer you better interest rates and loan terms.

2. Lower Interest Rates: With a good credit score, you’re likely to qualify for lower interest rates on credit cards, loans and mortgages. This can save you thousands of dollars in interest payments over time.

3. Rental Applications: Many landlords check credit scores when evaluating rental applications. A good credit score improves your chances of securing your dream apartment or home.

4. Job Prospects: Some employers consider credit history as part of their hiring process, especially for roles involving financial responsibility. A good credit score reflects positively on your character and integrity

5. Negotiating Power: A solid credit score empowers you to negotiate better terms, such as lower interest rates or higher credit limits, when dealing with financial institutions.

Your credit score is a powerful tool that can unlock a world of financial possibilities. By understanding the factors that influence your score and practicing good credit habits, you can pave the way to financial freedom. A good credit score not only grants you access to better loan terms and lower interest rates but also boosts your confidence and opens doors to new opportunities.

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This is WHO I AM

Kenda Dawwami, co-founder and co-president of Constructinople, takes pride in herself and her life’s work. STYLING BY ASMA PARVEZ, WITH ASSISTANCE FROM MAYA KANAWATI AND TERESA TEST. MAKEUP BY FARAH SILAT. SHOT ON LOCATION AT W AUSTIN.


The people of Syria live this truth every day. The conflict in Syria had been brewing for the better part of 40 years. The unrest came to a head in March 2011, sparking the current conflict that is ongoing more than a decade later.

For Kenda Dawwami, co-founder and co-president of construction and development company Constructinople, this reality has lingered in her mind since she made her escape from the ravages of the conflict in her home country more than 10 years ago. However, sitting in Rumaan Mediterranean Cuisine, one can’t help but feel entranced with her poise, with the elegance in how she carries herself.

Now in an era of global unrest, Dawwami’s mission of ensuring those who need it most have a place to call home is more pertinent than ever.

“I was born and raised in Kuwait, and then I moved to Syria, so I’m originally from Syria,” she explains. “Growing up between Kuwait and Syria had a profound impact on shaping me, shaping my personal and professional journey. Being exposed to two distinct cultures and environments has given me a deep appreciation of the diversity and the ability and the power of intercultural understanding. Living in Kuwait has exposed me to vibrant and cosmopolitan society; living in Syria instilled in me a strong sense of resilience and the importance of rebuilding in the face of challenges. This is a big journey between Kuwait and Syria, and this is what shaped who I am now. I’m celebrating [turning] 36 this month.”

This resilience has been a hallmark of Dawwami’s life. No matter the challenges, no matter the barriers, she steps wholeheartedly into her purpose and clings to her “why.” Prior to 2012, when she made the U.S. her new home, she was on track to get her degree in civil engineering from the Al Ba’ath University in Homs, Syria. The war put her plans on hold, but her dreams were never deterred. Instead, with her new perspective, her dreams took an alternative shape. She applied herself with great enthusiasm and vigor, enrolling in English classes to gain greater control of a language she’d begun learning at university. With her background in civil engineering, she embarked on a new journey: real estate. She again applied herself, proactively enrolling in classes to obtain her Texas real estate license. In December 2016, she had her license in hand, and in January 2017, she closed her first sale.

“Studying civil engineering back home, and in that time witnessing the destruction caused by the conflict, has always inspired me to do something in construction,” Dawwami reveals. “Building houses for people, it’s always been my dream. I felt a strong desire to contribute to the building and rebuilding process. Construction and development offer the opportunity to rebuild not only physical structures, but also communities and hope. You don’t have these desires right away because you are [living in] this conflict with all this chaos. But when I got to the U.S., this was the number one thought. Thinking about real estate and construction, with building houses [I’m] trying to help other people to have a home, to find community.

“This is what makes you feel safe, to have a house with four walls,” she emphasizes. “This is our struggle. [For instance], the earthquake in Turkey. People lost their houses; they built tents, in that weather. It was cold, snowing. We tried to help them just find houses. Even here, in the U.S., they need this, they need affordable homes. This is why we have to build affordable houses for people. This is why we specialize in affordable housing.”

Dawwami’s tireless drive to ensure everyone gets the housing they deserve reached its zenith when visiting a friend who had also been displaced by conflict. Her friend and her four children were relocated to the U.S. under horrible living conditions. Dawwami put her life’s purpose and calling to work, jumpstarting a campaign to collect gently used appliances and furniture to donate to more refugees displaced and relocated to the States.


The most fulfilling aspect is witnessing the impact of my work on others, the lives of people and communities, seeing people settle in houses they can call home. Yes, it’s truly gratifying for me.

Kenda Dawwami

A at Lamppost: A Case Study by Humbition and Diversitile

A at Lamppost is an affordable housing complex in Northwest Austin partially funded through the 2018 Affordable Housing Bond, Affordability Unlocked. The development has 17 multi-bedroom familyfriendly townhomes across eight buildings on one acre of land, increasing the density of homes without compromising standard of living. It offers home ownership to families making 80% or less of Austin’s median family income, with homes available for about $275,000 compared to the city average of $600,000.

The project became the first built under the city’s Affordability Unlocked Ordinance, which waives or modifies development restrictions to increase the number of low- and moderateincome housing units being developed. The ordinance and project were both in response to the city’s affordability crisis. It was also the first affordable housing development by a private developer to offer ownership. The Capital A Housing and Constructinople teams provided buyers with homeowner education and loans to close on the units, recognizing that buying a home wasn’t just limited to the pricing, but also required education. The development launched in 2021 and officially sold out in 2022.

A sign of higher powers at work, it turns out that Austin would become the perfect place for Dawwami to exercise both her immense intellect and even greater capacity for compassion. Despite having voluntarily pulled out of the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program in 2016, the following year, Austin welcomed 315 displaced peoples from various countries, the majority of whom came from Syria. With the help of Refugee Services of Texas and CARITAS of Austin, and with assistance from nonprofits such as Syrian American Refugee Aid, Austin came to epitomize the booming words of Emma Lazarus’ eponymous New Colossus:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

With this same Brobdingnagian spirit, Dawwami yearned to do more than take donations. With her real estate license, years of engineering experience and a deep knowledge of affordable housing, she co-founded Constructinople. Affectionately called “Nople,” the company is so much more than a construction and development firm. Dawwami is rigorously intentional about helping families, particularly immigrant families, not only find houses to live in. She is on a mission to make sure that everybody has a home

“Because we are specialized in affordable housing, we sell houses for people, not for investors.” Her voice is strong and deliberate, an aspect of her personality that unfolds the more she talks about her unwavering passion for providing homes for underrepresented communities. “The most fulfilling aspect is witnessing the impact of my work on others, the lives of people and communities, seeing people settle in houses they can call home. Yes, it’s truly gratifying for me.

“We have one affordable project called A at Lamppost. We built 17 units of affordable housing there, and I visited every family. When I saw them furnish their houses, they were so happy, and I felt happy with them. Because I know every family, and I know they fought to have this house.”

Fabiana Meléndez Ruiz, director of marketing and communications at HEXAH, a collective of industry leaders and partners creating connected and complete communities, understands all too well the complicated


and oftentimes convoluted nature of affordable housing. “What makes affordable housing ‘affordable’ isn’t just the funding, but the city codes,” she explains. “The city codes basically impact construction, right? So if city code is written a certain way, the minute you build something that’s too high, then it can no longer qualify. There are limits on every little thing. So Kenda’s talking about A at Lamppost, which is something they built. They’re beautiful homes. There were 17 of them for ownership, not even for renting.”

Olivia Hughes, one of the residents of A at Lamppost, has firsthand experience with Dawwami’s unerring desire to ensure that all families have a safe place to call home, and further, that they know and believe they deserve a home to call their own.

“We are a young couple looking to raise a family, but buying a home, for two people with fairly nascent careers, is extremely difficult in Austin,” she says. “Kenda made us realize how important it is to own a home and how affordable it was with the city program. She guided us through every little detail, and honestly, without her, we would have never been able to close on our dream house.”

The strict codes are meant to keep affordable housing just that, but it does make for some significant challenges for Dawwami and Constructinople when it comes to finding the necessary funding to ensure their builds meet all the standards. It’s something Dawwami also makes a priority so that no family has to worry about aspects of the homebuying process they might not understand.

“The biggest challenges for the company were the financing, how to keep a good base client and how to earn [that client’s] trust,” Dawwami reveals. “To have good management, especially in the beginning, the cost estimate, how you have your financials, all of these things, it was a big challenge.”

Unsurprisingly, Dawwami was also confronted with the heavily male presence in the construction world.

“It’s a male-dominant field, so when I entered this field, I did encounter some challenges,” she recalls. However, her tone lacks any of the (justified) vitriol that often accompanies recollections of any form of discrimination or undeserved bias. In fact, Dawwami speaks of her challenges with an almost wise fondness. “I firmly believe that every obstacle presents an opportunity for growth,” she says. “I embrace those challenges as motivation to prove that gender doesn’t limit one’s capability. By demonstrating my expertise, my dedication, my determination, I was able to earn the respect and recognition from my peers in the industry. In the beginning, you have to fight to present yourself to be on point, to have your skills ready. This was challenging for me, but then when you have all the respect from your peers, you become confident.”

Indeed, Dawwami is that “mighty woman with a torch.” Even when the waves crash at her feet, she stands tall, chin up and voice strong. As with most women who find themselves grappling with complications and barriers, she wraps her experience and poise around her because there are people who depend on her to be a guide, a beacon in heavy fog. She fashioned Nople in her image—a pillar of information, aid and hope. To call Constructinople a “construction” company does it a great disservice.

“The problem with financing houses isn’t just that it’s expensive and that people don’t understand the requirements,” Meléndez Ruiz insists. “You have someone who’s low income and has been low income their whole life, and maybe their parents didn’t own, so they don’t have someone to tell them, ‘You need a letter, you need all of these financial documents.’ Kenda has sat down with families and written the letters, the documents, and they walked them through it. I don’t know any other contractor or firm that would do that.”


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“We spent nights,” Dawwami adds. “Not our working hours, we spent nights working with the bank, with the city to just get the approval for the families because we want these families to have hope. We tell them, ‘Okay, you’re gonna get this program from the city, and the city can give you 15% down payment for your house. Just get this program, we’re going to help you.’ This way makes it less of a burden.”

Just as she has given families a greater sense of hope for their futures, Dawwami also has some very ambitious goals for Constructinople, where she can take it and how it can have even deeper impact in the future. “When it comes to Nople, my biggest dream is to establish 100 multi-units and take on large-scale projects to keep the firm one known for innovation, sustainability and social impact. This is important for me, the social impact, because like you said, we are not just a company. We want to sell houses, we want to build houses. I’m a realtor, and I work on both sides. I want my clients to be happy, and at the same time, I give advice to all people who want my advice, not just clients. I can deal with both customers and clients. So yes, this is my dream.

“I want [Nople] to be the voice of the younger generation, to inspire and empower women all around the world. This is my future goal, my future plan. I want to present women as [they] should be [represented]. You can be an elegant, smart, intelligent and at the same time hard-working person. You can sit with any man and prove that we are equal. We both have the same skills; we’re just different genders.”

Yes, war is a destructive force, with the power to destroy everything that we as humans hold dear: shelter, food, family, hope. However, people like Kenda Dawwami have shown through action and intentional advocacy that we are capable of truly magnificent things when we put our hearts to it. Dawwami wears both her passion and her dignity openly, and is as comfortable advocating for underrepresented communities in Austin as she is posing for a photoshoot, in front of a cozy fireplace at W Austin, in the elegant robes of her culture. Her conviction about her life’s mission is as strong as her proclamation of self.

“My name is Kenda Dawwami. I’m a mom of two little girls, Lobana and Talia. I am a civil engineer who is trying to navigate through diverse cultures and challenging circumstances. THIS IS WHO I AM.”

Advocating for immigrants is such a big part of Kenda Dawwami’s mission. She gives her opinion of Austin’s work to provide care and shelter for its immigrant population.

“In 2016, Austin welcomed more than 20 Syrian families coming from a war zone or from Egypt, Jordan or the border of Jordan. Austin welcomed them, and it was a very good treat for these immigrant families. We can face some gaps, [could make some] improvements. We can try to improve this kind of help for these immigrants by enhancing language [comprehension], job training and access for affordable housing programs so after a certain number of years, these families can have a small house; they can resettle in these houses. I think in every country there are good and bad things, and especially on immigrant issues. But in Austin, I find it peaceful, a good place to start for immigrant families.


The Power of “Yet”

As many dream about the future, there are those building it in the present.

Technology has become an ever-changing, ever-improving form of study and practice in today’s world. We’ve seen things like the iPod evolve into the iPhone, standard vehicles evolve into selfdriving cars and on-screen video games made into virtual reality experiences. It’s a fast-paced industry that students and educators have tapped into to look forward into what’s big, what’s next and what they can do with it when given spaces and time to focus.

Two students at UT Austin’s Texas Immersive Institute (TXI) were recently nominated for the 2023 Yugo British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Student Awards shortlist for their immersive projects. These projects allow students to combine technology and design to create a showcase.

Graduate students Brynn Jorgenson and Madison Phelan were each given this opportunity by joining TXI at UT, a program that allows them to look toward the future and where they are given the tools to do so.

“TXI is one of the reasons I went to UT Austin,” Jorgenson says. “It’s this wonderful intersection of technology, creativity and storytelling. Being able to think about new media spaces was really important to me.”

TXI students are given the creative freedom to apply their personal skills and interests to their work with the program.

“I loved being able to connect with audiences and build something out of that,” Phelan expresses. “I was able to marry the two backgrounds I have studied in my undergrad with Texas immersive.”

Both students were the creative directors for their projects, Jorgenson’s entitled “The In Between” and Phelan’s, “Roses of the Rubble.” Their direction, along with the help of fellow students, actors and educators, earned them both a spot on the BAFTA shortlist. To receive these nominations came as shocking yet thrilling news.

“I was very excited, but it was very unexpected,” Jorgenson says. “Texas Immersive is very new, so to make the shortlist was beyond any of my expectations.”

“It was a lot of hard work, and it was very reassuring to realize, ‘Wow, we did something’,” Phelan says. “Getting on the shortlist alone just felt like a big hug.”

Looking forward, both students realize what they can take from this experience when it comes to later projects.

“This has motivated me to apply for awards in the future and try to put my work out there, because you never know what could happen,” Jorgenson says.

TXI’s founder and director, Erin Reilly, has a passion for allowing students the direction and space to explore the technology of the future. When observing how communication and technology were quickly changing, and realizing many students may not have access to the tools of new technology they need, she knew TXI could be an amazing opportunity for hands-on experience.

“I’ve always been a futurist when it comes to the ways we are engaging as audience members, and how we are shaping new forms of storytelling that push beyond the limits of television and film, advertising and journalism,” Reilly says. “These all have a past, but where is that future of storytelling? That’s what the Immersive Institute does.”

TXI is excelling and giving students more experience with their future world at a college level. Meanwhile, another school has decided to start as early as kindergarten.

The most recent report card for the nation’s education system, administered annually by National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), recently revealed an alarming truth. For middle school-aged children, math scores are the lowest they’ve been since 1990, reading scores since 2004. On average, 13-year-olds who took the NAEP Standardized Test scored 256 out of 500 in reading and 271 out of 500 in math, a number that’s declined from averages of 260 and 280, respectively, since 2020.

Founded in Austin, and with another campus in Brownsville, private K-12 institute Alpha School has decided to address this steady decline in educational standards with its revolutionary use of AI and tailored lesson plans. Alpha has crafted a different approach to learning, focusing on each individual student in lesson design and what each student may need to succeed, whether that’s a quiet work space or working with peers. They prioritize not only traditional academics, like math and science, but also real-world skills, like public speaking.

The In Between Roses of the Rubble Photos by Erin Reilly.

Founder of Alpha, MacKenzie Price, first realized the need for a particular new kind of learning system when her own daughter told her she was bored of school.

“Our school system is just not quite built in a way that helps kids really unlock their potential,” Price says. “I had this wake-up moment, where I realized, ‘I’ve got to do something, and it’s not within this traditional system.’ I decided to put my sleeves up and do a lot of work and ended up founding Alpha, which is a K-12 alternative education school.”

Alpha makes commitments to students and families when it comes to their experiences. The first is something you might never hear from a traditional education system: Your student will love school. Sure enough, surveys from the students show that 96% love attending Alpha.

“We don’t make it that kids love school because they’re just at Disneyland,” Price explains. “We make it because it turns out when a kid is challenged and connected with what they’re learning, they get invigorated and really excited about going to school.”

Another commitment Alpha makes is based on “two-hour learning.” Through each personalized lesson, students take two hours in the morning to learn curriculum that is based on their level of difficulty. The rest of the school day is then dedicated to real-world application. “This frees up the other four hours of the school day for us to work on helping kids become limitless,” Price says. “We do that based on workshops and project-based learning, where we help kids work on things like having a growth mindset. Learning how to create grit, learning how to have endurance, public speaking, working on entrepreneurship activities, all the things that gets kids really excited and connected to also understand, ‘Oh, this is why math is important.’”

The technology Alpha uses, including artificial intelligence and certain apps, not only proves to be essential in learning, but also softens the task of teaching. Where, typically, teachers are given a class of students who are all taught the same material at the same level each day, Alpha’s technology creates targeted lessons to better help students in areas they are strong in and aids with anything they may have difficulty with. The teachers, or “guides” at Alpha, are then able to focus on personal interactions to learn students’ interests and use them to provide motivation.

Founder of Alpha, MacKenzie Price


Alpha School has a proven track record of ensuring their students both learn at their pace and faster than most students in traditional educational environments. Here are some stats:

Alpha students learn two times faster than in a normal classroom, using AI and a personalized app-based system to learn their core curriculum (math, reading, science, history, etc.).

Alpha students have documented an impressive improvement curve. Students who come to Alpha scoring in the 25th to 35th percentile in subjects like math catapult into the 90th percentile within a year.

As a student body (average), Alpha students score in the top 2% on Texas MAP scores across the board (all subjects, all grades). In addition, 100% of Alpha students studying computer science scored a 5 on the AP exam (versus 27% nationally).

Photos courtesy of Alpha School.

“They can be working with the students one-on-one to learn what makes them excited and what would help their brain get excited to go learn something,” Price explains. “That is what teachers got into this business to do. They got into the business to impact young people and to change their lives. They didn’t get in the business to just grade papers and design lesson plans; they got in it to impact these children.”

Given these tools and access to such a new way of learning, Alpha students excel. They are able to combine academics with what they love and have accomplished great things so young. For instance, an incoming senior to Alpha who showed a passion for mountain biking. He raised $350,000 to build a mountain bike park in Texas, securing the land while still managing to earn an impressive 5 (the highest score) on his AP exams. Or the group of middle school students who wrote their own book about mental wellness for young people. After competing in a Shark Tank-style pitch session in front of local business leaders, the students received funding to release the book on Amazon.

At Alpha, the future for these students has, indeed, become limitless.

“That’s what we want, for our children, to be limitless,” Price expresses. “I think parents should ask what they believe a school should provide for their children. That’s where we get excited about it. We should be creating limitless kids who are excited, passionate about what they do and have really figured out how they can go unlock their potential.”

Innovative new programs, like TXI, and the introduction of a new way of learning, like Alpha, prove that the changing art of technology is something to be embraced, not afraid of. By evolving with the world around us, the sky is truly the only limit.

Photos courtesy of Alpha School.
That’s what we want, for our children, to be limitless. I think parents should ask what they believe a school should provide for their children. That’s where we get excited about it. We should be creating limitless kids who are excited, passionate about what they do and have really figured out how they can go unlock their potential.
MacKenzie Price

From Rooftops to Roadways

Federal incentives are poised to turbocharge Austin’s clean-tech sector.


People who want to drive electric vehicles

Homeowners interested in a home energy audit, solar power and/or batteries, air-conditioning, heat pumps or water heaters

Interested in community solar programs

Nonprofits and houses of worship that own their buildings

Commercial businesses and tech companies

State, local and tribal governments

Clean tech innovators and entrepreneurs

Job seekers in clean tech and energy efficiency

If so, then you (and they) will be interested in the exciting details within these boring-sounding pieces of legislation.

Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act aka the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL)

CHIPS and Science Act (CHIPS)


These landmark investments are driving the clean tech adoption curve, from early adopters to early majority, by allocating $500 billion in incentives to increase the use of clean energy, reduce waste and grow the U.S. green economy while helping us reach our national and local climate goals. They offer financial assistance for individuals, businesses and nonprofits to adopt energy-efficient appliances, conduct home energy audits, upgrade energy systems and invest in solar panels, battery storage and clean vehicles.


Of particular interest is the Federal Income Tax Credit (ITC). These tax incentives ensure a minimum of 30% reimbursement for solar panels, design and installation costs, batteries and financing, benefiting homeowners, business owners, nonprofits, houses of worship and tribes.


For Austin, the state of Texas and the nation, this will mean more green jobs and more innovations in deployed solar, wind, energy storage (batteries), EV charging infrastructure and energy efficiency. It could also help us achieve our goal of reaching net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, codified in the Austin City Council-adopted Austin Climate Equity Plan.

Austin Energy is working toward 100% carbon-free generation by 2035. Last year they achieved 50% power generation from renewable sources including wind, solar and biomass. Factoring in the energy we get from nuclear, we already have 77% carbon-free energy.

Leading Green BY ECOBRANDI


Solar has recently been credited with keeping the Texas electric grid flowing with energy during these record heat and consumption days. Austin’s generation portfolio has 116 MW of distributed solar (~70% residential, ~30% commercial). Tim Harvey at Austin Energy said that even with our existing grid, we could more than triple the amount of distributed solar.

It is anticipated that the amount of distributed (rooftop) solar will be boosted significantly by property owners taking advantage of all the incentives. On top of the federal tax rebates, Austin Energy currently offers a $2,500 rebate for its customers who complete their solar education course and install a qualifying solar photovoltaic (PV) system on their home.

EcoConcept in Action: Evaluate if solar is viable for you. If you own the property and your roof is mostly free of shade during the day, especially on the south-facing roof (west is second best), you might be a good candidate to take advantage of the solar rebates.

Austin Energy Solar Panel Rebates and Guidelines

Homeowners Guide to Federal Tax Credits for Solar PV

Federal Solar Tax Credits for Businesses Federal-Solar-Tax-Credits-for-Businesses-4-23.pdf


Austin added a record number of EV drivers last year, bringing the cumulative EV registrations to 28,162. Those drivers can access more than 1,500 PlugIn Austin charging ports at station hosts all around town, including a growing number of fast chargers. Nearly 3,000 home charging station rebates have been issued as well.

EcoConcept Action: Investigate Buying an EV or E-Ride

When making your next mobility purchase, consider a fun and lowmaintenance EV vehicle, e-bike or scooter. Austin Energy’s extremely helpful site,, not only explains the available rebates and location of chargers, but also displays a daily feed of all EVs currently available at local dealers.


Training the next generation to lead these industries that will grow the green economy is essential. Four local initiatives helping younger people in clean tech careers are:

Pathways to Clean Energy Careers Program by Solar Austin

Austin Energy’s Plug-in EVerywhere offers subscription access for only $4.17 a month ($2 per hour for non-subscribers) and 30 Plug-in Fast DC fast chargers for $0.21 per minute.

This year Austin Energy increased its rebates on e-rides (electric bike, scooter, moped, motorcycle and other electric two- or three-wheel vehicles).

EcoBrandi is a huge advocate for the use of green energy and green businesses. One of her many hats is helping people get solar on their homes, businesses and houses of worship. Reach out if you need some guidance to

Tesla Start Manufacturing at ACC

CleanTech Fellows at UT McCombs School of Business

Austin Civilian Conservation Corps

For more information on clean energy technology, read EcoBrandi's full column on

Images by Brandi Clark Burton.

My Rock Bottom

Brown Girl in Recovery talks about her lowest moment and how she began her path to healing.

Warning: Story briefly discusses an eating disorder and attempted suicide.

Hello there. I am Brown Girl in Recovery, sharing with you my fifth column about my experiences with alcoholism, mental health and ultimately, sobriety. At this point in my journey, I was in my mid-20s and had moved back to Austin for love.

I continued to drink and party, but I wasn’t quite an alcoholic yet. I did have unhealthy coping habits, though. I turned to alcohol too much as a way to unwind, to find comfort and to simply forget about things like not being far enough in my career, my sick dad and my somewhat rocky relationship with the person I loved. This person and I ended up getting married a few years later. I was 28. I was hopeful for what the future held. I couldn’t wait to start a family. But those dreams ended. Our marriage started to crumble pretty quickly, and into year two, I was drinking heavily in order to cope. Soon after, with no hope for reconciliation, I filed for divorce. It was a few months before our three-year anniversary. I was devastated, a complete mess. As a result, my drinking took a turn for the worse. I hit my rock bottom. What that looked like for me was drinking all day everyday from morning to night, binging and purging, taking pills (that were prescribed to me), all while holding down a job.

I lived with my youngest sister while I tried to sort out the mess that had become my life. As I continued to spiral further and further down, I convinced myself that being alive wasn’t worth it and that the people in my life would be better off without me. I attempted suicide twice in the span of a month, and I was put on a psych hold and had to go through detox twice. I should have probably gone through a rehab program, but I didn’t have the time or resources; I needed to keep working while I finalized my divorce and got back on my feet. (My employer at the time was very understanding, for which I’ll be forever grateful.)

My first stay in the hospital was shocking and rough. My youngest sister drove me, after I told her I took a bunch of pills and drank a lot of vodka. I was put in the ER overnight to stabilize before I was put in detox. Everyone in the detox unit saw a psychiatrist once a day for 10 to 15 minutes. My psychiatrist was an older Indian woman who immediately reminded me of my mother-in-law, which was not a good thing. She was cold, stand-offish and, I felt, judgemental. I recall her asking, “So why did you do this?” I didn’t really have an answer at that moment. I left detox after several days, still partially in denial of what I had done but deep down wanting to get better.

About a month later, I ended up back in the hospital because of another suicide attempt. I had made some sort of peace with ending my life. I made the mistake (or maybe it was a blessing?) of calling my parents and one of my sisters to say goodbye, that I love them and that this was all for the best. They immediately called 911. Officers and medics came to my door; I stumbled to open it; they took me away to a hospital. While in detox for the second time, I saw another psychiatrist. This one was so different. He was Indian as well; he was also caring, kind and nonjudgmental. He insisted I start going to Alcoholics Anonymous—it was actually one of the

requirements of him releasing me from the hospital. He emphasized that I had my whole life still ahead of me and that I would be okay. I was 31 and didn’t see it like he did, but I tried to believe him and I listened.

At the same time, I was also diagnosed with major depressive disorder, so I was beginning to seek therapy and medication for that as well. I almost gave up in frustration, but I knew I had to do it. I couldn’t continue this cycle of destruction. I eventually came out through the other end with a lot of medical intervention and the support of my dear family, who initially had no idea of the struggles I was facing but who were there to pick up the pieces with me. I couldn’t have done it without my two sisters, my mom, my dad and eventually, Alcoholics Anonymous. Starting my life over while learning to live a sober existence and treat my mental health for the first time was difficult, to put it mildly. I still refer to my life as pre-sobriety and post-sobriety because my world is so different from then to now. It had to be in order for me to stay sober.

In the next issue, I will explore my first few years of sobriety. Until then, I hope by sharing my journey and reflections I am able to give other Brown women a space to reflect, perhaps nod along and feel less alone, and realize life is going to eventually be okay.

To find out more details about Brown Girl in Recovery’s experience in detox programs, read her full story at

Photo courtesy of Brown Girl in Recovery.

Breaking Down S.T.E.A.M.



delves into the cognitive effects of women participating in STEAM fields.

While studying neuroscience at UCLA, I noticed a significant gender disparity among the students, which was even more apparent as a woman of color. My observations were validated when, years later, a female neuroscience professional advised me to pursue medicine due to the stress and discouragement women often faced in science. Absorbing her words, I made the conscious decision to embark on graduate studies in neuroscience. Her advice has remained with me, unconsciously and consciously guiding me through the challenges of my own STEAM journey.


It is crucial to emphasize the significance of women seeing themselves in STEAM fields. Research demonstrates that when we envision our future selves, we are empowered to make more profound and lasting choices. Witnessing women in these roles, either through mentorship or representation, activates our mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are specialized brain cells that unconsciously respond to observing others and enable us to empathize and genuinely experience their actions. Furthermore, encouraging girls to imagine themselves in STEAM roles (such as playing with a NASA Barbie) can empower them with confidence, self-esteem, resilience and determination to navigate the emotional and physical challenges of pursuing careers in traditionally male-dominated industries


Consider the experience of Eileen Pollack, one of the first women to earn a bachelor’s degree in physics at Yale University. She abandoned her dream of becoming a theoretical physicist after facing the challenges of discrimination, rejection, isolation and depression. Neuroscience reveals that isolation, loneliness and rejection are processed as both emotional and physical pain responses in the brain. It’s a protective mechanism to avoid situations or individuals causing harm. Consequently, this continuous activation of “unconscious pain” is one reason why women run from pursuing certain fields or industries. Moreover, this neurological response hampers the ability to overcome negative emotions and impairs focus, attention and executive functioning necessary for high-level cognitive tasks like research, calculations, reading and retaining scientific materials.


Most of my work as a math teacher isn’t even math. It’s helping them to believe that they can do math. -José

Promoting a shift in beliefs is crucial not only for young girls and women, but also for boys and men. It is essential that we foster the belief that girls and women can make significant contributions and excel in STEAM fields. Research reveals a concerning trend, with studies showing that female applicants are often judged more critically by STEAM faculty compared to their male counterparts, despite having similar credentials and experience. However, research organizations like CATALYST have discovered that companies benefit greatly from having a higher representation of women in their teams. This diversity fosters enhanced creativity, leading to better financial performance and cost efficiency, as demonstrated by their higher percentage on boards.


STEAM, the evolution of STEM, introduces art as a vital component that broadens and diversifies entry points into these fields. By positioning art alongside other STEM disciplines, we foster an environment where women can blend creative, technical and methodical talents. This integration empowers a new generation to embrace a path that unites artistry with innovation.

The Thinkery museum in Austin masterfully combines art, science and role-play to provide children with a captivating experience that reveals the interconnectedness of these fields. Art intertwines with science—it embodies math, physics and biology. Engaging various brain regions associated with these processes, art sparks heightened levels of creativity, cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills.


In male-dominated industries, subconscious worries about their reduced status due to increasing representation and elevation of women stem from default thinking patterns. This pattern is driven by an instinctive position that activates the primitive threat brain, aiming to maintain status because it is perceived to yield the greatest benefits, such as mates, food and more Furthermore, the female brain possesses designated regions that foster unique perspectives and add value, often eluding our male counterparts. Our brains are naturally wired to be intuitive and future-oriented, enabling us to identify trends and find novel solutions. This is attributed to a thicker prefrontal cortex and enhanced interhemispheric communication through thicker nerve fibers, allowing effective collaboration between both sides of our brains.

Research in behavioral science suggests that promoting and educating women in STEAM fields with a positive focus on outcomes, such as higher incomes, reduced pay gaps and improved cognitive flexibility and creativity, can greatly enhance their confidence and inner motivation. To effectively recruit and retain more women in STEAM, it requires an emphasis on positive outcomes and the collective effort of influential individuals such as policymakers, media, universities and career advisors. Evolving STEAM industries to reach their fullest potential demands diverse perspectives and collaborative forces.

To go more in-depth about the science behind women participating in STEAM fields, read the full story at


Building Blocks

A look into building success at work and peace at home with Diana Skellenger.

CEO and founder of Skelly Build, an Austin-based construction company founded in 2017, Diana Skellenger has built a name for herself in a male-dominated industry. The business has a foundation of accurate communication and good quality while being open and honest with its customers. Skellenger started the company in her 20s with the support of her husband, Sean Skellenger, who is now COO/CFO of the company, and much has changed since the company’s origins. Skelly Build has successfully grown and put up beautiful homes all around Austin, including renovations to the Skellengers’ own condo located in Downtown Austin. Not to mention Diana has three children, her youngest being born just this July. Though woman-owned, Skelly Build is not a design company, as one might assume.

“We are not design-build, we are purely build,” Diana says. “It is a common misconception that because I am a woman, people think we would design too. We stick to build, construction and hammers.” Diana shares the personal and professional routine that has helped her gain success in this male-dominated industry.

What was the company like in 2017?

“There was always a constant grind that you had to put in when creating a company. It requires a lot of time and effort. You’re marketing, finance, CEO, sales and project manager, working 60- to 80-hour workweeks. I had to put in the time and effort to create something successful.”

How are you different from starting the company in 2017 to now?

“My schedule now is different. It’s adjusted with my lifestyle. As my husband started working with me as our CFO, he helped implement processes, and I’m more on the creative side. [My first] priority is family; I preach that as a business owner. I wake up between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. to start the day, with an hour and a half of quiet time. A lot of my meetings are super high level, and after, there are a lot of to-do’s. We typically end our day around 4 p.m. Our schedule has improved a lot.”

Before After
Photos by Madeline Harper Photography.

What is it like being a woman in construction?

“I think being a woman in this industry is very interesting, and it has a lot of advantages. A lot of construction companies are generational and men-owned. I think Austin is an amazing place to be as a woman-owned business; people want to work with a woman-owned business. Ten of our 14 employees are women! The biggest thing in any service industry is trust. Though there are always challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field, we are held to higher standards in construction, so the women in my company are always ready to learn and get higher education in construction.”

How do you relax and spend your time outside of work?

“We love to travel. Our kids have been to Europe quite a few times for their age. We want to expose them to different cultures, languages and foods. It’s extremely important to Sean and me, because there is just so much in this world to explore. Here in Austin, we love to swim; we are super active people on the weekends. We have soccer and swim practice; then we do more activities. Sean’s and my mindset is very go-go-go. Our kids also don’t like to sit around; they like to be active.”

What are your tips for business owners?

“My number-one tip for business owners is to get up early. Start work early before everybody else. Also, hire good people, and value your employees. They turn into your brand, too, and they are a representation of your brand. Personal projects give us the perspective that we need to manage client expectations. If you don’t have any real-life experience, then you don’t understand what your clients are going through.”

All construction by Skelly Build.

Photos by Sophie Epton Interiors.
Before After

Beyond the Comfort Zone

Professional growth led Julie Mueller to career college and campus president roles.

When I was in my late 20s living in Chicago, I was painfully uncomfortable. I was saddled with $35,000 in student loans after finishing graduate school; I was hardly making any money as a full-time social worker; I had zero free time and zero social life because I was burning the candle at both ends, working two jobs, nights and weekends to make extra money; and many of my friends were getting married when I wasn’t even dating. I was so miserable that I was compelled to stretch beyond my comfort zone and apply for a heavily male-dominated career and technical education position.

Back then, I was not inclined toward anything related to science, technology, engineering or math. I did not know the first thing about working with tools or engines. No one in my family was mechanically or technically inclined, so I did not grow up around anyone with a skilled trade. Also, I attended an all-girls Catholic high school. The only skilled training offered was learning how to cook and bake in home economics class!


I decided to “go for it” in 1998 and applied to be the student services director at Universal Technical Institute (UTI) even though I did not feel qualified. I got accepted, and the job was perfect for me. I enjoyed counseling students—helping them with housing, financial needs, improving their study skills and keeping them engaged in school. In the late 1990s, only about 2% of the campus student population was female.

I am thankful I took a giant leap of faith and moved beyond my comfort zone 25 years ago. Otherwise, I would not be serving as president of the UTI Austin campus and leveraging my prior experience as president of the UTI Lisle campus near Chicago.

The UTI Division operates in nine states and is one of the leading providers of career and technical education in automotive; diesel; energy; aviation maintenance; robotics and automation; heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) and nondestructive testing programs. Fortunately, more women are pursuing skilled trade opportunities now, and the percentage of women attending our campus has increased.

Launching a new campus in a new market was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I was a one-woman army for

months after moving with my husband to Round Rock and working remotely. I recruited, hired and trained all 35 Austin campus employees with tight timelines and a limited budget. I overcame significant supply-chain challenges and navigated difficulties with contractors and regulatory entities.

Since our Austin campus opened on May 16, 2022, we have successfully launched our programs and hosted major graduation ceremonies that several hundred family members and friends attended. We have collaborated with more than 300 employers to fill high-demand jobs and hosted numerous job fairs. We have welcomed high school students for Women in STEM events, automotive skills competitions and Summer Ignite sessions for high school juniors. The Ignite program is free and enables students to earn credits toward future enrollment at UTI.


Witnessing our students’ achievements firsthand is genuinely gratifying. I know that the work my team and I are doing makes a positive difference in the lives of our graduates and for generations to come. I am honored to lead a campus that makes such a meaningful impact.

I thrive on helping high school students and adults achieve their career goals, improve their employment opportunities and enhance their quality of life. Many UTI students become the first members of their families to earn a certification or an associate degree. Military veterans can attend UTI to advance their careers by accessing their Veterans Administration GI Bill benefits.

I have overcome countless obstacles as a petite woman leading a skilled trades school without previous technical knowledge or experience. I am often questioned about my qualifications. I constantly encounter biases, which makes me hyper-aware that I must do everything possible to maintain my credibility.

I am incredibly proud to have been nominated and selected in 2018 by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to attend a STEM Summit at the White House. I was chosen because of my work with UTI’s STEM programs directed to high school students, veterans and others seeking to explore new career and technical education opportunities.

I do not believe in barriers or limits for myself or others. I believe that disappointments and challenges are opportunities in disguise that pave the way for us to reach new heights.

Photo courtesy of Universal Technical Institute Austin campus.
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