InventHer targets teens to grow number of minority women in STEM

Today high school girls from across Memphis will meet, learn from, and work with local women in STEM fields at the second annual InventHer STEM Conference.

Sheleah Harris launched the InventHER Conference in 2017. Her goal was to create a one-day, hands-on experience for young women of color to engage and explore opportunities in science and technology and connect with women already excelling in STEM careers. 

“We have a lot of great women in STEM in Memphis,” Harris said. “I wanted to try and get as many of those women in the same room with these high school girls. Many of our girls, especially minorities, have a lack of access and exposure to STEM.”

Harris is also the executive director of Living Grace, a nonprofit that supports youth suffering from homelessness in the Memphis metro area.

The National Science Foundation recently found only 12.6% of bachelor’s degrees and less than 10% of master’s degrees in science and engineering were earned by minority women.

Harris wants to see Memphis do better. 

“Memphis is in this Renaissance period,” Harris said. “We are redefining who we are. We have a lot of momentum right now. So, I think it’s important to highlight Memphians doing great work, like the women who are coming [to the conference]. I want to make sure that they are elevated.”

Nearly 100 girls will gather Downtown at the ServiceMaster Global Service Center. They will engage in three rotating sessions, lunch, and a community service project.

Later, they will hear from keynote speaker, Audrey P. Willis. Willis serves as the first Manager of Innovation and Performance Analysis under Mayor Lee Harris for Shelby County. 

Participants were chosen based on recommendations from their schools. The conference will count as a field trip and is co-sponsored by Code Crew and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Willis believes the InventHER conference is the right type of event for Memphis. 

“Memphis is really a tech hub. We just have to embrace it,” Willis said. “There are hundreds of tech jobs and [several of those jobs] will not mean you have to write a line of code. The tech space is so wide and so deep, you can really find your space anywhere!”

Harris and Willis both want to change the current narrative about girls and STEM by encouraging the young attendees to take math, science, and technology courses in both high school and college.

Willis, a Memphis native, hopes her story will inspire the young attendees to consider a career in STEM, despite any challenges they may face.

“I’m from Memphis. I went to a school that was closed because it was under-performing,” Willis said. “I think my story will resonate with the students. They will see that if I could do it back in the 1990s when technology was not as advanced, they can do it too. I’ve laid out the pavement, now you have to build a bridge.”
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Ashley Foxx Davis is an author, educator, artist and Memphis native. She's been featured in Glamour, Ebony, and Essence magazines;;; and Find her at