Emory University Presses Pause on Cybersecurity Program for Black Moms Due to COVID-19 Concerns

For 28 years, Georgia-based nonprofitWomen In Technology (WIT)has built a reputation for helping women navigate careers in tech. WIT was expected to kick off its inauguralcybersecurity educational programfor single mothers at Emory University in the Atlanta area on March 25, but as COVID-19 forced Americans to self-quarantine and caused major shutdowns, WIT decided to postpone the program.

Key Takeaways

  • The program was slated to be one of the very first of it’s kind, addressing the needs of single mothers to get jobs in tech.
  • The total cost committed to the program was $200,00 for the 21 students to complete instruction in person within 12 weeks.
  • Should COVID-19 prolong social distancing, it could become challenging to fund and expand future cybersecurity training programs through the partnership.

Andrianna Hamwright, 31, is a single mother of a 10-year-old daughter. Hamwright is a data analyst for a finance company and has been recovering from mental and physical abuse inflicted on her by the father of her child. Though she had a respectable job, the relationship with her ex damaged her self-confidence. 

This all changed when she learned about WIT’s program. In February, she was invited to go to a food pantry thanks to a single mothers program that her apartment complex operates. There she met a woman who was inviting single mothers under the age of 35 to apply to WIT’s cybersecurity program.

“I said, ‘Lord, this is it. This is what will take me back to that level, to take me back to together,’” said Hamwright. 

Intrigued about the opportunity, Hamwright said she texted 80 friends, all of whom were single moms, encouraging them to also apply. None of her friends responded, but she applied anyway.

“This program is about empowering women. I saw that they held forums and that they had mentors to teach you and motivate you,” said Hamwright, who researched WIT before her interview. “I even felt empowered from the interview process. If I could be that empowered by having the interview, what would happen if I completed the program?”


Designed to break existing barriers that prevent single mothers from having careers in the tech industry, the cybersecurity educational program was structured to be a 12-week program that ran every Saturday at Emory University. “We wanted to focus on helping those that are in need and trying to improve their lives and that of their children,” explained Penny Collins, WIT CEO and founder. 

Twenty-one mothers (98 percent of whom were Black), were accepted into the cohort out of 74 applicants in Atlanta. Now, because of coronavirus, the future of the program is in jeopardy.

“We’re restructuring everything,” said Collins. “We can’t do events and programs and all of that right now.”

WIT had partnered with Emory University to lead the training, and had a partnership with Uber that would provide the mothers free transportation to and from campus. They even had deals in place with the nonprofit Sheltering Arms that would extend childcare and development centers for participants.

Each student in the program was expected to receive a laptop, free childcare, and boxed lunches provided at no charge for the duration of the course. Upon completion, each participant would be awarded a Fundamentals of Cybersecurity and Information Security Certificate from Emory.

Should it remain unsafe to meet in person, WIT has asked Emory University to create an online course. They are also working on a pre-course guide for the mothers, to keep them engaged and prepared for the training.

“Their communication is so good. They update weekly or twice a week,” said Hamwright, who is excited and confident that the cybersecurity training will take place. “Last week we got our student IDs and access to Emory’s student portal. The program is still going on, but it’s just slower right now.” 

As the women wait to begin the program, WIT is working to help them in other ways during these difficult times. 

“Single mothers need a lot of support. Taking hard courses while being single mothers is hard,” said Collins. “With the virus, the children will be at home. It will be a distraction.”

To that end, WIT is finalizing an initiative that will pair the participants with mentors to check in with them until the program officially starts.

“We have 21 phenomenal women in the WIT membership that have volunteered to be mentors to these women,” said Collins. “They will need that support. They will need a technologist that can help them tutor.” 

With partnerships secured with tech companies and nonprofits in Atlanta, WIT is not concerned about funding for its inaugural program. However, should COVID-19 prolong social distancing, it could become challenging to fund and expand future cybersecurity training programs. 

“I want to have this three to four times a year,” said Collins. “We have $200,000 to offer these 21 single mothers to do this for 12 weeks. We have two semesters funded, but we need other funding centers.”

Collins remains hopeful that things will fall in place by April 25, a month out from the initial start date. But she says WIT is committed to moving forward with the cybersecurity educational program, no matter how long it takes.

“Nothing is going to stop,” said Collins. “We will delay the program until it’s safe.”