Tag Archives: girls

Code Crush

March 5, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mornings spent building mobile applications. Afternoons brushing elbows with corporate leaders. Getting a behind-the-scenes look at the role technology plays in places like the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo. This isn’t your typical summer camp, and not just because it’s happening during the school year.

More than 70 girls from three states and 34 schools applied for the chance to join Code Crush for the last weekend of March. University of Nebraska-Omaha’s College of Information Science and Technology faculty and staff geared the five-day event to cultivate an interest with information technology among 8th and 9th grade girls.

The girls spent four days and five nights exploring the many faces of information technology through hands-on workshops, field trips, and panels. The middle-school students also got their first taste of college life thanks to staying on the UNO campus. Meanwhile, event organizers hoped the inaugural Code Crush would help debunk some myths surrounding the IT profession.

Code Crush is part of a larger effort by UNO to attract more participation from underrepresented groups in IT—particularly women. Hesham H. Ali, Ph.D., professor and dean in the College of Information Science and Technology, says that women make up only 12-13 percent of IS&T students. He says numbers are slightly higher at the graduate level thanks to a boost from international enrolees.

Researchers at UNO are working with community groups, schools, and the National Science Foundation to figure out the cause of this considerable gender gap. Ali attributes misconceptions about IT careers as a major factor. “Still there is that image of IT professionals working alone in a dark room writing code,” he says. “People think there’s no interaction or opportunity to make a social impact. Really it’s a lot more than just writing code alone. If we can just get that information out, it might have an impact on changing the image.”

“IT has a great potential to impact society,” adds Deepak Khazanchi, associate dean and professor in the College of Information Science and Technology. “It already has. If you look at the internet, ATMs, even computers in cars—it’s pervasive.” But, Khazanchi says people don’t realize how much technology is a part of everyday life and that by working in the field, they can in fact make a significant difference.

That sentiment is exactly what drew Westside Middle School 8th-grader Ketevan Mdzinarishvili to Code Crush. Computers, she explains, help people to shape a better understanding of the world around them. “The complexity of every microchip shows…there are many possibilities in this world. And I want to explore all of the ones which I am able. Any chance I have to learn about a new career field I would like to take,” Mdzinarishvili says.

Mdzinarishvili, like all the Code Crush students, was accompanied by a teacher who wrote a letter of recommendation for her during the application process. The event was completely free to students. Mentors received a stipend to attend, thanks to funding from industry partners, and attended some sessions with their students. Sessions even included a bioinformatics exercise where students extracted DNA from strawberries while their teachers learned how to incorporate new activities into their curriculums.

“Part of the myth has to be resolved at the teacher’s level,” Ali says. “They are the ones connecting students, so talking to counselors, teachers, advisors is really important.”

Secondary Coordinator of Excellence in Youth programs at Westside Middle School Kristen Job, who is Mdzinarishvili’s mentor, says she’s excited about the opportunity for not only her student but also for herself. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to program and code,” she says. Computer programming isn’t offered at the middle school level, so it’s a chance for both of them to learn a new skill that can be shared when they return to school.

Such real world examples are important for encouraging other women to explore IT careers, according to Kate Dempsey, Research Associate in the School of Interdisciplinary Informatics at UNO.

Dempsey works in the field of bioinformatics, which she describes as a combination of biology, math, coding, and computer science, with a little bit of physics and theoretical science thrown in the mix. Dempsey talked to the girls about her work but also about all of the great female scientists that came before her.

“It’s so important to me to get the word out that there are amazing female scientists out there,” she says. “They’re just not as well known. The more that you learn about these important women in IT and sciences, it kind of drives you to say, ‘Well I can do it, too.’”

The women who do end up enrolling in UNO’s College of Information Science and Technology tend to excel, Ali says. In fact, the top student for the past several years has been a woman. But misconceptions about IT careers can stop some women from pursuing that course of education before they even get to the door.

“Research has shown that diversified groups are more productive and more creative, particularly in IT,” Ali says. “We need to have teams that come from different ideas and backgrounds so they can contribute in a more productive and creative way.”

20140219_bs_8357-small

Restoring Hearts Celebration

October 4, 2013 by
Photography by Mitchell Warren

In the spring of 2013, young men and women from Omaha Home for Boys programs spent 18 weeks learning, laughing, and collaborating on the restoration of MishMash, the Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail motorcycle rebuilt as part of the nationally recognized Helping with Horsepower™ Bike Rebuild program. With the steadfast support of Jeremy and Mike Colchin, the father-son duo from Black Rose Machine Shop, MishMash was transformed into a stunningly patriotic motorcycle.

By late spring/early summer, MishMash was ready to travel around the state of Nebraska (and western Iowa) to spread the word about the Home and share a message of hope. MishMash heralded the Omaha Home for Boys mission and message at parades, fairs, football games, various community events, conferences, and concerts. One would be hard-pressed to find someone who hadn’t seen the motorcycle or heard about the youth at the Omaha Home for Boys and this life-changing project.

Several months later, the raffle winner of MishMash—Jeff Waddington of Bennington—was selected to the roaring applause of more than 450 Restoring Hearts with Bike Parts™ Celebration attendees. Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin delivered a breathtaking, inspirational speech to supporters, community members, and friends—some old, many new—of the Omaha Home for Boys.

RHBP3_2

Matlin touched on the difficulties of growing up as a young child “who just happened to be deaf” with big dreams of being a star—fueled and supported by long-time friend Henry Winkler. It was a message that resounded well with youth, staff, and supporters alike—you can be anything you want to be, and anyone can make their goals and dreams into realities with hard work and dedication.

Youth also took to the stage, joining Mike DiGiacomo and Mary Nelson, hosts of KMTV-Channel 3’s The Morning Blend, to share their thoughts of the Helping with Horsepower™ project, along with their own dreams and goals.

It was a celebration as much about MishMash as it was about the youth at the Home—and a celebration everyone involved will remember!

With the help of supporters, the Home raised more than $30,000 from the bike’s raffle, selling more than 1,700 tickets. Funds will be used to facilitate the programs at the Omaha Home for Boys—directly and positively impacting the hundreds of youth touched by our programs.

Become a Home Partner and Supporter

With the success of this year’s Restoring Hearts with Bike Parts Celebration, staff at the Omaha Home for Boys are in full gear to prepare for next year’s Helping with Horsepower Bike Rebuild program. Stay tuned for more information to become a sponsor, donate to the bike rebuild project, and buy tickets to attend next year’s Restoring Hearts with Bike Parts!

To become a sponsor for next year’s bike rebuild, please contact Trish at 402-457-7165 or PHaniszewski@omahahomeforboys.org. For more information about Omaha Home for Boys, visit omahahomeforboys.org.

Hustle and Sew

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you looked at 46-year-old Tamara Heasler, you’d probably assume that she’s a loving wife and mother who runs a cute, little boutique in the Old Market. And you’d be right. But what you might not assume is that said boutique sells sexy lingerie and adult toys. Or that Heasler had a wild past—you know, the kind of past some of us wish we could boast to our children someday because it would make us seem a little less square.

Drinking, stripping, moving across the country on a whim—Heasler’s done it. “I think it’s important to take risks,” she says. “I started taking risks at a young age.” That’s probably also why Heasler remembers her 20s as a blur. “I’m glad the liver can repair itself because I was a party animal,” she adds.

You know how people joke that it’s only a matter of time before they start stripping to pay the bills? Yeah, Heasler wasn’t joking. Her life was lacking two things—excitement and money. Where better to find both than through stripping?

It didn’t help that she also had a sister to compete with. “My sister was an exotic dancer in a Los Angeles club called The Classy Lady. My thought was if she could do it, so could I,” she says. “I guess you could say it was sibling rivalry.”

Boomers in Fremont, 20’s Showgirl in Omaha, and Mickey’s Razzle Dazzle in Council Bluffs all got a show of sexy Tamara. And no, she wasn’t embarrassed to use her real name (Yes, we’re throwing shade at you, Tasty Melons).20130430_bs_2913_Web

In the early ’90s, Heasler decided she needed a change of scenery and took off for San Antonio, Texas. “I didn’t know anyone who lived there. I just answered an ad in the paper for a roommate.” A bold decision, yes, but it was one that eventually led her to where she is today.

For three years, Heasler lived in San Antonio and bartended. “I grew tired of the bar business. It’s a trap. Once you start to live on tip money, it’s hard to get a 9-5 job and make the same kind of money.” But she couldn’t shake the nightlife.

In Dallas, Heasler found work as a house mom at a gentlemen’s club. If you’ve never heard the term, house mom is fairly similar to a woman who cares for the girls in a sorority house—except, in this case, the girls are strippers. Heasler loved being a house mom because she could work day shifts and care for anywhere between five and 20 girls who reminded her of her younger self.

“Many of the girls in the exotic dancer industry are paying for college [or] are single moms. I support them.”

“I spent lots of time in the dressing room or running errands for the girls or managers. The club paid me to work, and I received tips from the girls at the end of their shifts. The girls took good care of me [and I them].”

It was there that she stumbled upon a new business opportunity—sewing clothes for strippers. Back in her stripper days, Heasler had sewn on the side, making her own garb. It only made sense that she could help out the girls under her care.

After giving birth to her son—“I guess I did it all wrong. I was supposed to get married first, [but] that damn biological clock started ticking”—Heasler moved back to Omaha to reunite with her “stable” family. She started bartending at Mickey’s Razzle Dazzle once more, but this time, she also worked from home, making and selling clothes for local exotic dancers. In time, she had enough pieces to display her products in local strip clubs.

When she turned 35, Heasler knew it was time to get serious about her career. “I knew I couldn’t work in the bar business forever, especially because tips dwindle when you’re not a young, attractive woman anymore.”20130430_bs_2879_Web

In Dallas, she had seen many sexy clothing stores selling shoes, clothes, and lingerie. Her plan was to open a store very similar in Omaha. In 2004, she did. Basic Tease became the hot spot for local strippers, bartenders, go-go dancers, and waitresses to purchase sexy clothing. Heasler made a large percentage of the inventory, so the girls knew they had unique pieces.

As a former stripper, Heasler loved talking with the girls who came into her shop. “I always told them to have a plan,” she says. “I didn’t want them to fall into that bar-business trap. Many of the girls in the exotic dancer industry are paying for college [or] are single moms. I support them.”

After marrying her “wonderful husband,” Brian, in 2009, Heasler moved Basic Tease from its original location on 120th and Blondo to the Old Market and expanded its concept from just sexy clothing to include adult items, pole dancing classes and parties, and boudoir photography. Are you clutching your pearls yet? You don’t need to. Heasler just wants a comfortable place for women and couples to shop for their sexy needs.

“I love having the store,” she says. “It gives me an opportunity to have my own retail outlet for all of my artistic projects.”

Lessons in Transforming Lives

Photography by Ken Merchant

When a group of Omaha Home for Boys and Jacob’s Place residents helped put the finishing touches on a customized 1999 Harley Davidson motorcycle this May, they accomplished something bigger than themselves.

As participants in OHB’s Horsepower Bike Rebuild Program, the youth worked four months under the supervision of adults to outfit a bare-bones bike with all custom features. That bike, dubbed Mish Mash, is being raffled off this fall and will be awarded to a winner at Omaha Home for Boys’ September 26 fundraiser, Restoring Hearts with Bike Parts. Fittingly, the motivational speaker for the 6 p.m. Hilton Omaha event is actor-producer-director-author Henry Winkler, who earned fame playing the motorcycle-riding character The Fonz on the 1970s TV mega-hit, Happy Days. (Editor’s Note: Marlee Matlin has replaced Henry Winkler as the guest speaker for the event, as Winkler had another obligation come up.)

Leading up to the event, the bike is being showcased at parades and shows to help boost raffle sales and raise awareness about Omaha Home for Boys’ and Jacob’s Place’s mission, serving youth. Founded in 1920, OHB is a residential program that provides at-risk boys and young men ages 10-18 with family structure, positive reinforcement, and educational support to help them become successful, independent adults. It’s sister program, Jacob’s Place, has a similar mission serving both young men and women ages 17-21.

OHB events manager Trish Haniszewski says the bike rebuild program, which originates out of Mitchell, S.D., is intended to empower youth through structured, hands-on work rebuilding old or damaged bikes.

She says the work the Omaha youth put into salvaging their bike “is symbolic of ‘refurbish a youth, refurbish a life.’” The person she recruited to be the program’s bike mechanic facilitator, Jeremy Colchin of Black Rose Machine Shop, found the experience more meaningful than he expected.

“I learned it’s not so much about getting this bike done…The time with the kids and teaching them something and working as a team and the pride in this they feel as a group is what’s important.” – Jeremy Colchin, Black Rose Machine Shop

“The joy I had after the first night of working with the kids was like nothing I ever experienced before,” says Colchin. “I didn’t expect to get attached to these kids.”

His father, Black Rose owner Mike Colchin, also mentored the youth.

Jeremy says the connection with some youth was immediate and with others, gradual. “You gotta pull them in…We seemed to pull them in in a good way, and that’s what matters. They were having fun when they were here,” says Colchin, who met with the youth Tuesday nights from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Howe Garage on campus. “Every single one of them has been extremely polite and fun to be around and easy to work with. It’s promising.

“I learned it’s not so much about getting this bike done; it’s about using [the process] as a tool for kids. In the big scheme of things, the bike’s the side note. The time with the kids and teaching them something and working as a team and the pride in this they feel as a group is what’s important.”

Colchin says the experience reminded him of when he began working under his father at age 16.

Getting the bike tricked out offered many teachable moments. “I thought it was a real interesting way to use what I know to work with these kids and teach them not just about motorcycles, but about how life works,” Colchin says. “That not everything is straightforward. You have to learn to work around problems, work with other people, and have fun doing it. If I can help someone [teaching them] that, that’s a great thing.”

The initial plan was to rebuild a beat-up bike. But when a junker couldn’t be found, the new emphasis became customizing a used one. Learning opportunities still presented themselves.

“When you customize a bike, you run into issues and problems you need to work through and take care of, and we’ve really done a good job accomplishing that,” says Colchin.

Ten to 12 youth participated each week in the bike build, including several girls. Besides taking ratchets, wrenches, and soldering irons to the bike, they came up with a new paint design. Flames on the gas tank include personalized names and sayings from the youth.

Program participant Tony, a Jacob’s Place transitional living resident, says, “It’s been a lot of fun. This was the first time I’ve actually worked on a motorcycle. I’ve always loved taking stuff apart and putting it together just for the heck of it—figuring out what makes stuff work. It’s been a very cool experience.” Tony, 18 and soon to enter the U.S. Marine Corps, says he and his teammates take pride in the work they did.

Of the lucky person who will win the bike in the raffle, Colchin says, “They’re going to be in possession of a Harley that’s customized in a way most guys wish they could afford to do.”

Raffle tickets for the motorcycle will be sold June 28-Sept. 26 and are available by calling Trish Haniszewski at 402-457-7000 or online at omahahomeforboys.org. Tickets to the Restoring Hearts fundraiser can also be purchased on the organizations’s website.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.