“There are so many brilliant women working in these industries,” says model and entrepreneur Karlie Kloss during an interview about STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art Math) in Los Angeles.
“Whether it’s in coding or in physics or chemical engineering. They are defying the odds and are the trailblazers that have pursued their academic dreams, and are working at JPL, or in the gaming industry, or in food science, or in so many other industries.”
Klossy, as she is colloquially known, is on a mission to celebrate women working in STEAM and is highlighting their stories to her millions of Twitter, Instagram and Youtube followers.
Kloss took a road trip through California recently to interview women who have risen to the top of the mobility, space, gaming and food sectors. While at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, she met with NASA astronaut Dr. Catherine “Cady” Coleman. Coleman has been to space three times and spent 6-months on the International Space Station. She told Kloss about the moment it dawned on her she could be an astronaut.
“The first American woman to go to space came to my school,” says Coleman. “And I remember being in the auditorium and just thinking, wow. Maybe I could have that job.”
“The saying, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ is so true,” says Kloss. “I want to bring light to these women because it shows all that can be possible with these skills, or with an understanding or passion around science and STEAM.”
Space is a topic close to the supermodel’s heart. Born to parents of Danish and German descent in Chicago, Kloss and her three sisters moved to St Louis when she was 3-years-old. She was a Girl Scout in her teens and also practiced ballet which she credits with teaching her discipline, consistency and the value of hard work. Her father, an emergency room doctor, was fascinated by space exploration.
“As a family, we would go to NASA in Florida on our vacation. We would have talks at dinner around shuttle missions or rovers or whatever latest thing was happening in NASA or at JPL,” says Kloss. “Space exploration is the cutting edge, the final frontier of understanding the universe around us. I always had that curiosity stimulated by my dad.”
Kloss says the STEAM interview series is an extension of the work she does teaching 13 to 18-year-old girls to code. Now in its fourth year, her ‘Kode with Klossy‘ camp has expanded to 25 cities. 1000 girls will learn to code for free this summer in 50 two-week summer camps taught by Teach For America instructors.
The 25-year old’s interest in coding was sparked by a 2-week class she took at the Flatiron School in Manhattan in 2014. Kloss found it so transformative she wanted to share the experience with other women, believing it could change the trajectory of their lives.
“I’m so proud of, and feel almost like a big sister, to see this gift that keeps on giving,” says Kloss. “Last week, for instance, I was at the college signing day in Philly with Mrs. Obama, with four of my scholars who are all going to top Ivy League schools to study computer science, and they had previously not been interested in computer science.”
The results from ‘Kode With Klossy’ are impressive. One of the first students who took the class won the 2017 TechCrunch Disrupt NY Hackathon beating 750 other engineers. Another is now attending Columbia University’s computer science program after also being accepted at NYU and Stony Brook. A Princeton student who went through the program started a club at a New Jersey library and is now teaching hundreds of other students to code each month.
Kloss, who was discovered by a modeling agent at age 13 and was on the cover of Teen Voge at 16, is also a student herself. She is enrolled in NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and takes courses while working and traveling as a model. She spent her teens and early twenties rising to the top of the fashion world, working on campaigns with Dior, Louis Vuitton, Versace and Oscar de la Renta, and was a Victoria’s Secret angel from 2011 to 2014. Kloss was named Global Ambassador for Estee Lauder in April this year and says she feels an affinity with the entrepreneurial female namesake of the company. She appears in print ads for the brand, as well as utilizing her Klossy Youtube channel to share content from Estee Lauder headquarters in New York.
Having built a platform to connect with millennials over the last five years, Kloss is now bringing her projects in media, entertainment, philanthropy and fashion together in her own company named ‘Klossy.’ She also recently joined media company Oath’s 12-member board of advisors which includes a JP Morgan finance executive, a firefighter and professional athletes. Oath is the parent company of HuffPost, Makers, RYOT and Techcrunch and is a subsidiary of publicly traded Verizon Communications. Kloss says she is energized to be part of such a diverse group tasked with driving change and creating contemporary media brands.
“It is so important to have diversity of thought, having women, having men, having people of all different ages and backgrounds and life experiences,” says Kloss about board representation.
Statistics support the need for increased diversity on boards. Just 23.6% of S&P 100 board directors are women. The numbers are even more dire when digging into data about STEAM fields. Only 12.2% of Information Technology company board of directors are women.
Research from Accenture on gender imbalance on boards states that ‘professional technology experience is a differentiator for women.’ A report from the U.S. Department of Commerce notes women held 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015, but only 24 percent of STEM jobs.
Kloss believes that helping women learn to code and gain an education in computer science will have downstream impact in giving women a seat not just at the boardroom table, but also in other influential rooms.
“I’m honored that we have the opportunity to help provide that learning and open doors for women,” says Kloss. “To have women at the table in the engineering firms where the algorithms of our future, that will really shape our future, are being developed, is important.”