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12-yo student uses drone business to promote diversity


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    LAWRENCEVILLE. Georgia (Gwinnett Daily Post) — She’s only 12, but Alexandra “Alex” Simpkins has a firm plan for what she’d like to do with her life. And she’s got the business to show it.

Simpkins, a seventh-grade student at Richards Middle School in Lawrenceville, says she wants to inspire others to seek careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, and she’s using the drone business she started to help do it.

For years now, while many of her classmates spent their weekends relaxing or hanging out with friends, Simpkins spent her weekends perfecting her craft of video production through a business where she uses drones to film events.

“What motivates me is being able to see a smile on people’s faces when I can help them receive video,” Simpkins said. “I just really love what I do. It’s really fun.”

Her efforts recently paid off when her business, SkyCorp Network, landed a contract with the Center for Children and Young Adults little league football to be the league’s exclusive video/film person.

Other recent projects include filming the City of Forest Park Holiday Parade and working with former Atlanta Falcon Dunta Robinson’s little league football team. She also filmed the Youth Holiday Bowl in November that included 6-and-under through 14-and-under teams from all over the country at the Panama City Beach Sports Complex.

“We haven’t seen anybody, especially at her age, or even some professionals who are older that can control the drone like she does,” her mom, Laqwacia Simpkins, said. “It’s almost like watching a real NFL game. It’s really cool.”

Like the teams she films, Simpkins has a group of people backing her up. She works along side her best friend, Dominique Pretlow; grandmother, Alfreida Butler; her mom, who is a former collegiate athlete in track and field; and dad, former Green Bay Packer Maurice Simpkins.

“I will say that as a former NFL player I have seen shots from different angels and views and we would really love to see Alex and her team provide as close to an experience as you would see on a Sunday or Saturday with the drones,” Maurice Simpkins said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2016, 8.6% of graduates with a bachelor’s degree in computer and information science were Black and a little more than 10% were Latino. Further reporting in the Los Angeles Times, stated that part of the problem for the lack of diversity in the tech industry is not just education, but of access and support.

“(Minorities in STEM are) very underrepresented I think because a lot of them are not exposed to it,” Laqwacia Simpkins said. “And so the fact that Alex is exposed to it at such a young age will make a big difference, especially for girls her age who are Black and read this story are going to be inspired to see what STEM is all about. And it might not be what she is doing. It might be something else.”

Simpkins’ parents are both entrepreneurs. They own an IT consulting business, A.M. Simpkins Associates, and run a nonprofit, the Andrew Simpkins Innovation (ASI) Foundation, in Lawrenceville. Through their nonprofit, they teach children how to use coding, drones and robotics.

“When we started it about five or six years ago, Alex was always right there with us, ever since she was 8,” Laqwacia Simpkins said. “First she was a student. A couple years after that she started teaching her own classes and gravitated toward drones. My husband is a big IT person. He always made sure that the kids were involved in something IT because that’s his passion. So as a mom I try to support their endeavor as much as I can and we tried to invest in what she wanted.”

Alex Simpkins said one day while her dad was coaching a little league football team, he noticed the video they had of the games were recorded on phones and were often shaky or of bad quality.

“I knew how to fly drones,” she said, “so I figured I should help him. That’s kind of where the business started.”

Maurice Simpkins said he believes STEM is the way of the future. That’s why he tries to empower all four of his daughters and other young girls through the ASI Foundation to show them “that STEM is cool.”

“If we don’t get them into it now, they’re going to get left behind. Growing up, we lived in the information age. Our kids are going to live in the data age,” he said. “So we need people who understand data, who understand the science and technology behind artificial intelligence, robotics and engineering.

“Alex is pretty much inviting what we started the nonprofit for. She started from the ground up and has pretty much taken it on. … Our nonprofit was geared toward underprivileged and underserved communities so we’ve got a great deal of minorities of different ethnicities that are coming into our program who were previously unable to have that type of access given to them without a cost.”

Moving forward, the family hopes SkyCorp Network will become what it alludes to in the name — a broadcasting company that uses drones. Alex Simpkins said her dream is to attend college in New York. She would like to become a movie producer and have her own game design company.

“I would really like to inspire people to follow their dreams because it doesn’t matter what age you are or where you are right now you can always achieve whatever you want to do,” she said.

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