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Robin Thorne was one of only seven women in her chemical engineering program at Drexel University.
The group remained close knit, “which was powerful,” said Thorne, who was a single mom raising her young son when she decided to enroll in college eight years after graduating from high school.
Thorne recalled the days of bringing her son to the library with her to study, where the women would take turns watching him.
“We stuck close together,” Thorne said.
Throughout her education, not only were there very few women in her classes, but there were hardly any women of color in leadership positions, she said.
“There was only one woman of color that was a doctorate candidate, and I used to look at her like, wow, how did she do that?” she said.
After starting her career in manufacturing as a process engineer and then moving on to regulatory compliance, Thorne founded her own company, CTI Environmental.
It was during a demolition project that Thorne realized she had an entire curriculum at her hands, and the power to start changing the industry from the inside out.
In 2019, DemoChicks was born, a nonprofit dedicated to introducing young girls to nontraditional careers, varying from demolition, architecture, engineering, and more.
The girls in DemoChicks’s monthly online program receive hands-on experience while interacting with industry leaders, learning about chemical engineering through making slime, discovering geotech with sand, water, and dirt, or even understanding architecture through marshmallows and toothpicks.
“One of the things that we talk about with DemoChicks is ‘see it, be it,’” said Thorne, emphasizing the organization’s stress on exposure to representation in largely White, male-dominated industries.
DemoChicks’ online program, which tends to gear toward kids in grades K-8, allows girls to enroll in the entire 10-month program, or just attend individual workshops.
For college-aged girls, the nonprofit also offers a scholarship program, and as of this month, a mentorship program that connects women in the industry to college students.
Thorne is also working with women in Long Beach City College’s trade programs for DemoChicks’ membership program, with plans to offer networking events and even financial literacy workshops.
“No person is an island, right? We were born to engage with others, and I think it’s really important to support each other and nurture each other, because it’s challenging,” said Thorne. “Once you realize that you’re not the only one going through something, it empowers you or uplifts you.”
Thorne also plans to introduce a workshop to Long Beach Unified schools later this month.
Since the organization’s founding, all of DemoChicks’ initiatives have been spearheaded solely by Thorne with the help of a couple of volunteers, and she would love to be able to expand her staff, to allow the nonprofit to grow further.
While Thorne envisions an organization that has an established curriculum for schools across the United States and even internationally to utilize, first and foremost, her goal is to inspire girls to pursue their dreams.
“If they do decide to go the nontraditional route, I want them to feel supported, I want them to know that they have a whole movement behind them,” said Thorne. “When women come together and unite, it just makes a powerful situation.”