Like many rice students, sophomore Grace Wickerson is busy with studies and activities. Unlike many Rice students, two of the projects she’s busy with are a national non-profit organization and a start-up. Wickerson founded both, tapping into her passion for developing new things and combining it with her desire to help people.
Wickerson developed Kickin’ Violence as part of a Girl Scout Gold Award Project. The award is given to Girl Scouts who complete an 80-hour service project; Wickerson says only five percent of Scouts earn it.
In looking for a project, she realized that few high schools in her home state had programs that focused on healthy relationships, and those who were in unhealthy relationships often had no way to defend themselves. So, she organized a group and created a curriculum that could be implemented with volunteers. Kickin’ Violence not only teaches the values of self-discipline and respect for others, it teaches its participants Tae Kwan Do.
“Relationship violence affects young people,” said Wickerson. “And as someone who studied martial arts, I knew I could use that foundation to create something that would help others, not only defend themselves, but see what a good relationship could look like.”
That was in 2013. In the four years since, Wickerson’s non-profit has gone on to make increible contributions. In collaboration with the National Jefferson Awards Foundation's Lead360 Program, Kickin' Violence created care packages worth an estimated $750,000 dollars for domestic violence survivors.
“We created 87,000 care packages between March 2016-March 2017," she said. They included item such as full-size toiletries, a journal for survivors to record their feelings, and encouraging notes from the student Kickin' Violence chapter members.
Meanwhile, Kickin’ Violence chapters across the country use the curriculum she developed, and Wickerson finds herself regularly speaking out on the topics of domestic violence and female empowerment. In addition, chapters provide services for survivors of domestic violence.
“I love that this is youth run and youth led,” she said about her organization. “We just signed on a school district in Sarasota, Florida. We are starting to work with YES Prep schools here in Houston. Helping this grow has helped me learn about leadership and organization, and just putting in the hard work to make it happen.”
Wickerson said one of the challenges she faces is her own youth — or, more accurately, getting other people to understand how serious she is. But she knows the work she’s done speaks for itself.
“People sometimes go, ‘oh, it’s cute, you started a non-profit,’” she said. “But I can point to our growth and the money we’ve raised and say, ‘look what we’ve accomplished in the last four years. It doesn’t matter than I’m 19. I have actual proof that this isn’t a vanity project.’”
Kickin’ Violence taught Wickerson how to start a project and keep it growing. She used that experience earlier this year, when she and a fellow Rice student, Phillip Hedayatnia, a freshman social sciences major, developed a start-up, a web-based application that helps students showcase their experience for potential job recruiters.
“When you go to a conference like SWE (Society for Women Engineers), and you’re interviewing with recruiters, lots of times, they’re asking, ‘What’s your GPA?’ and not, ‘What projects have you worked on?’ ‘Why are you an engineer?’ And if you’re a student at a place like Rice, you have a built-in pedigree. But if you’re not, there’s a gap in how potential employers might see you in the screening process.”
Wickerson’s app allows students to build a CV that showcases projects and professional growth, as well as a way to include work samples. Recruiters can then search for the kinds of skills they are looking for and students with those skills will be displayed.
“We’re building out the technology on it now,” she said. “And we’re using machine learning to help us understand people’s individual strengths. Maybe someone was involved in a team project where things kept going wrong, but they kept at it until they found a solution. A traditional résumé won’t show that kind of grit and problem-solving.”
Wickerson hopes to launch the endeavor by early next semester. In the meantime, she’s enjoying the work and the collaborative process, and hopes her enthusiasm will get other students interested in the project.
“That’s the great value of being at a place like Rice,” she said. “The campus culture really encourages conversations that are basically, ‘I’m a Rice student like you, and I’m working on this thing. If you’re interested in that, too, let’s connect.’”