We had the good fortune of connecting with Loretta Williams Gurnell, B.S., M.Ed. and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Loretta, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
After spending time as an higher education and nonprofit leader and being the first Black woman in both positions in the early 2000s, I realized that although we’ve come a ways in our societal racial and gender divides, we still had much more room to grow. Some of my greatest moments were when I was able to bring together tasks force teams of professionals that were older than me, different race/national heritage, gender, and political views for a common goal. Building a community of trust was my common goal no matter my position. In addition, raising money to support college student’s dreams of earning degrees or bridging the gap for more inclusion of multicultural programs and benefits in the workplace, education, and corporate America, was my drive. However, when I decided to leave my administrative position in higher education to pursue a STEM secondary position in urban education, little did I know of the divides that were in marginalized communities such as Blacks and Hispanics and the greatest divide, girls/women in STEM. The middle school level is where I saw the most division and lack of confidence and opportunities for girls. So, I started there. I knew if I could impact this demographic sooner than later, then life for them, their families, and the communities they reside in would begin to change from the inside out. Almost five (5) years later and nine (9) graduated SUPERGirls who are all attending a four-year college and ivy league institutions on scholarships and many with first and second-year college classes and serviced/mentors more than 1265 girls across 7 different school districts and two (2) states, I knew I made the right decision.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
The business of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation (SGSF) is a premier organization that’s committed to closing the gap for more women and girls of color in STEM, Innovation, and Leadership initiatives. Led by a STEM professional with over 20 years of program and business development and supported by a board of directors, volunteers, sponsors, and school partners, SGSF’s unique ability to bridge the gap between industry and the career workforce pipeline for schools is incredible. With partnerships like Ion Houston, SUPERGirls experience hands-on makerspace and mentored by design leaders where technology meets ideas to solving some of the world’s greatest problems with safe water systems, climate changes, digital means, and healthcare/food supply. In addition, SUPERGirls are mentored by leading leadHERs in diverse industries such as engineering, business, law, environmental science, computer science, health care administration & research along with community development and financial planning. As SUPERGirls matriculate from 5th – 12th grade, their level of exposure, access and opportunity, and insight into the STEM world changes their lives forever because while in the 11th and 12th grades, SUPERGirls are mentored, developed, and trained on how to land paid project-based internships prior to earning scholarships to some of the nation’s top colleges, universities, and certification programs. And having seen this all start from an idea to having monthly table talks with girls to boost their confidence and self-worth to SUPERGirls leading UX Design teams to develop instruments, apps, and programs to serve marginalized communities, I believe this is what makes us not only unique but sustainable for generations to come. “Although the path is not always straight, the reward is worth the wait.” Therefore, how did I get here? Well, with a faith that’s unshakable, a drive that’s intentional, and a business sense that’s scalable, we produce. We develop partnerships that matter and grow and are profitable for each. It is very important to me that we have mutual agreements that build Blacks, women, and minority-owned businesses or led so that our SUPERGirls see, learn, and experience what success looks like early so they can begin to design and fulfill their road to success through the pathway of STEM. Nothing or No one worth leaving a legacy for is easy but worth it. Consequently, the challenges I’ve faced have been all worth it because my family and I are stronger than ever before. We’ve sacrificed as a family to see that this legacy outlives everyone currently involved. As a leadership team, we’ve gotten clear on our mission and do not sway from it. As a community organization, we are not afraid to ask the hard questions while showing up in spaces and places that are not traditionally populated with the demographics we serve. Yet, I know everywhere we land we will add value and commit to speaking up so the girls and women we serve will SHINE (Showing How Impact Never Ends) in their schools, among peers, colleagues, and the families and communities they thrive in on a day-to-day basis.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Interesting question. I had a childhood friend visit after her successful healing of breast cancer. The only thing I wanted to do was to love each other and laugh a whole lot. We did that by having no specific agenda but walking carefree with no time constraints on Post Oak, taking in the shops, and juice drinks. We ventured to the park, Discovery Green, and found ourselves loving the outdoors, people watching, the water shoots, and children playing on the slides and obstacle courses, all pre-COVID-19. We even took in the Chocolate Factory in Rice Village where we discovered diverse groups enjoying the treats, time to unwind and reminisced on our childhood days, and where we are as professional women. To wrap things up and make the best of our three (3) days together, it would have been easy to have her stay at our home but we decided to get a hotel near the medical center and Hermann Park for the weekend so there would be just “girl talk” and “women time” to relieve, become refreshed and rejuvenated to live life on a whole new different level. We did that and grabbed our meals to go, enjoyed time around the pool, and vowed that life from now on would be lived intentionally by putting us on the top of our list.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
What a great way to start this journey of sharing. Thanks for asking this question. The first shoutout goes to my “dudes”, as I affectionately call them. These three are my rock and will forever have my back in all that I put my hands, heart, and resources too. We are known to the world a the #STGCrew. They are my husband of 20 years, Severen T. Gurnell, an educator and coach, and our two (2) teenage sons who are simply AMAZING and perfect for this journey. They push me into greater and expect much from me. This is a natural fit because I expect the same from them. The second shoutout is to SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation’s (SGSF) founding board of directors. Their commitment to me and the idea I had to birth SGSF, will forever be a gift to my journey. Having successfully led nonprofits, teams and departments was a good way to launch my career but starting from scratch, a nonprofit, and getting people to believe your vision was less than a miracle. Almost five (5) years later, the idea is now a mission-led organization IMPACTing more than 1260 girls across seven (7) different school districts and two (2) different states. Therefore, I would say SGSF is a viable imprint to what can be done when you lead with “Vision is intentional!” – Loretta Williams Gurnell
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/loretta-williams-gurnell-a6811535/, https://www.linkedin.com/company/SUPERGirls-SHINE-Foundation/
Photos by Dacia Idom and 86-2019311 and 2816 photos by GImages4Life Loretta’s personal image – by photosae