Solution Overview

What is the name of your organization?

Women's Audio Mission

What is the name of your solution?

Girls on the Mic: STEM Audio Training Pipeline

Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

Girls on the Mic increases gender/racial equity in the audio/STEM fields, providing hands-on creative technology workshops and mentorship.

Film your elevator pitch.

What specific problem are you solving?

Women’s Audio Mission was founded in direct response to the widespread and staggering gender inequality in audio and creative technology fields: 

  • Fewer than 5% of the people creating the sounds, music, and media in the daily soundtrack of our lives are women or gender-expansive individuals and fewer than 1% are BIPOC (USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, 2023) 

  • Women are nearly half of the US workforce but only 27% of STEM workers (, 2020). Non-binary worker numbers are so low that data has barely begun being collected. 

The voices of women, girls, and gender-expansive people are nearly silent in the soundtrack of our lives, leading to a lack of messaging that their voices and skills are important. There is a dire need for their ideas and perspectives to be better represented in our everyday lives as well as career opportunities that lead to economic stability. 

Underserved and under-resourced communities, however, are disproportionately impacted by the digital divide, access to STEM training/mentoring, and are often left behind in learning. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Title 1 schools that serve low-income, majority BIPOC students have extremely limited STEM opportunities despite the location being among the biggest technology hubs in the country.In these highly influential industries, not only are the voices of women and gender-expansive workers' voices missing, but they are being left behind in entering lucrative careers that can drastically improve their economic security. 

Audio technology careers span a diverse range of STEM roles, including recording engineers, music and podcast producers, film/TV/game audio supervisors, sound designers, acoustic engineers, audio/visual system engineers, venue and concert sound engineers, and many more. In California, the average salary for Sound Technicians is $77,000 and for Recording Engineers is $85,000. The average audio engineer nationwide makes $91,000, and more than 95% of these roles are held by men. 

WAM believes that if girls and gender-expansive youth are equipped with audio and creative technology skills and confidence and are shown how they can be used to amplify their own voices and ideas, they will demand space in these fields, create meaningful change in messages about women and gender-expansive people,become the next generation of creative technology innovators and leaders, and decrease the chronic gender inequity in these STEM sectors.

What is your solution?

By supporting and promoting people who have been traditionally excluded from these spaces, WAM is increasing gender and racial equity in these male-dominated fields. WAM is building a lifelong pipeline that supports youth engaging with audio technology for the first time, to adults using the tools in the studio and in workshops, to job placement in audio careers.

Using two subjects popular with youth – music and media – WAM’s free training program, Girls on the Mic, attracts and then redefines their relationship to technology. An all female and gender-expansive crew of instructors empowers them to see themselves in these roles, and learn how to use technology to express themselves and demand space in these fields. GOTM classes are free, making this training accessible, with a curriculum that is designed to be culturally and aligned with state standards to keep girls and gender-expansive youth engaged and interested in pursuing further STEM studies.

Each year WAM trains thousands of under-resourced youth and then provide a pipeline to our programs: 

  • A paid internship for college-age students that connects them to shadowing opportunities at WAM’s studio and partner companies, career counseling and mentoring from audio professionals, and eventual networking and job placements in the industry

  • For older adults at any stage of their career, there are adult education classes/workshops, training, and certifications to gain, hone, or perfect skills at many levels, including a formalized training academy.

  • All of this is done with close career partnerships with companies such as Dolby, Apple, and Another Planet Entertainment who often hire our graduates.

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

WAM’s constituents face substantial representative and economic barriers in entering creative technology industries. WAM’s goal is to make our programs accessible for all and to diversify the gender structure of these fields. Therefore, WAM first increases access to STEM programming to students from the most vulnerable communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, addressing education gaps and accessibility barriers at majority Title 1 school partners who serve marginalized communities. Girls on the Mic participants are disproportionately impacted by the digital divide and the lack of messaging that their voices and skills are important. Students are: 

● 96% low-income

● 93% BIPOC

○ 37% Latinx

○ 34% Black

○ 16% AAPI

○ 7% White

○ 5% Multiracial

○ 1% Native American/Alaskan Native

● 43% primarily speak Spanish

WAM instructors travel to schools in San Francisco and Oakland with equipment to deliver classes whenever works best for the school: this includes both OST classes and breaktime classes, and field trips to WAM’s studios for hands-on recording. The opportunity to visit WAM’s inclusive professional recording studios, surrounded by the latest technology, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the students WAM serves, and provides a welcoming, accessible, introductory environment.

WAM programs attract and recruit youth through a wide array of arts programming including music, songwriting, video games, podcasts and coding. The strength of GOTM is that it caters to both those interested in performance and those interested in behind-the-scenes production. Students receive hands-on experience on understanding the science of sound and learn how to make all of the media they regularly consume: music, podcasts, film soundtracks, etc. The program provides wrap-around support with dedicated near-peer mentors and provides opportunities for exposure to new careers and invaluable training and experience.

WAM staff strives to keep students engaged, and to ensure that they continue to feel heard and feel involved in decision-making of projects they then have an emotional stake in. Many GOTM projects are therefore completed in teams with student-chosen topics to develop leadership, communication, and team-building skills, with students rotating through production roles, ensuring experience in a leadership position. 

In spring 2023, one of GOTM’s high school classes created a unique final project: managing and assisting with the audio and lighting technology for the school theater club’s play, “The Iliad, The Odyssey, and All of Greek Mythology in 99 Minutes or Less.” GOTM students designed, recorded, and ran all audio for the school’s first play in 15 years. This entailed designing and recording audio cues, operating the cue board and software, and ensuring all sound effects ran smoothly the night of show. For the first time in over a decade, this high school was able to put on a play, inspiring administration to offer actual theater classes, rather than just an after-school club. 

This is just one example of how our program offers a relevant, community-building, hands-on experience for female and gender-expansive students to put their new creative technology skills to use and understand how it applies to their life and eventual careers.

How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Led by an experienced female audio engineer (30+ years in the industry) and a passionate staff representative of the communities they serve, each year, WAM provides direct services to 2,000+ under-represented women, girls, and gender-expansive people (96% low-income; 93% BIPOC) across Northern California in our world-class recording studios: the only professional  studios in the world specifically built and run entirely by women and gender-expansive staff.

In order to create a safe and inclusive creative environment for traditionally marginalized communities, WAM prioritizes recruiting and hiring BIPOC and female and gender-expansive staff and board members.

GOTM especially hires staff and instructors mainly from communities they serve, often from a pool of former WAM interns and GOTM participants, to help girls and gender-expansive students understand that they belong in these STEM-centered spaces.

 In addition, WAM’s leadership team is:

● 100% women

● 66% LGBTQ+ (including the executive director)

● 33% BIPOC

● 33% living with a disability

WAM’s Board of Directors is:

● 86% women

● 50% BIPOC 

● 18% LGBTQ+ (including the Board Chair)

WAM’s staff is:

● 100% women/gender-expansive

● 83% BIPOC

● 83% LGBTQ+

Feedback is collected all year-round from all program participants and implemented into programming plans each quarter, as well as an end of year evaluation to ensure their ongoing input is taken into consideration when planning future curriculum and events. GOTM student feedback is put into practice in real-time with project themes and topics being chosen and led by the students themselves, with careful guidance from instructors. 

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

  • Support K-12 educators in effectively teaching and engaging girls in STEM in classroom or afterschool settings.

In what city and state is your solution team headquartered?

San Francisco, CA, USA

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model that is rolled out in one or more communities

How many people does your solution currently serve?

Each year WAM provides 2,000+ girls, women, and gender-expansive people from under-resourced communities with free music/audio production, creative technology, and STEM/media arts education, training, hands-on experience, mentorship and career counseling. 1,500 of these students are youth. 

Over its 20-year history, WAM has provided training and mentoring to 25,000+ women, girls, and gender-expansive individuals  and scaled its award-winning programs across  the San Francisco Bay Area with a history of 50+ school partners.

Why are you applying to the Challenge?

WAM would benefit from MIT Solve funding and support as we seek to expand Girls on the Mic programming nationally. For this expansion, WAM specifically seeks support with:

  • An assessment of organization plans for scaling nationwide

  • Support refining a five-year strategic plan, currently planned to begin in 2024 (for 2025-2030)

  • A business plan to ensure financial strength during and after expansion

  • Access to a network of resources partners across industries and sectors intersect with WAM’s areas of service (legal, financial, business, real estate, entertainment)

Partnerships are essential to WAM’s work. To date, WAM has built strong relationships with companies like Dolby Labs, Apple, Another Planet Entertainment, the GRAMMY’s, and several studios including Record Plant and Oceanway at a national level – each of these is integral to providing shadowing/learning/career counseling and job opportunities to WAM program participants. The MIT Solve community would support WAM in diversifying its sector relationships and provide invaluable expertise.

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Terri Winston

How is your Team Lead connected to the community or communities in which your project is based?

Terri Winston, Executive Director of WAM, is an integral part of the national audio community, serving on the DEI Task Force for the Recording Academy. Raised and trained by an engineer father, she secured a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University and entered the audio industry as a recording engineer, producer, and musician. She spent decades as the only female engineer in the room. 

Winston founded WAM in 2003 while a tenured professor and Director of the Sound Recording Arts at City College, San Francisco to tackle gender inequity head-on. For twenty years, she has fought for a seat at the table so that the next generation of female and gender-expansive engineers wouldn’t have the same experience she did. Her tireless work has been featured in/by Forbes, Billboard, the Recording Academy (GRAMMY’s), AARP Purpose Prize, and in 2021, she and WAM were awarded a $1Million grant from MacKenzie Scott. 

Terri has also been personally responsible for placing over 1,000 WAM alumni into positions in the music industry because of her network and the trust she has gained in the broader audio and creative technology community. Because of the training WAM provides, coupled with Terri and WAM’s network in audio, there are now women and gender-expansive people managing studios in Los Angeles, making music for games at companies like Electronic Arts, working in audio for Pixar films, and in audio roles at Google, Facebook, dozens of graduates at Dolby, and many, many more. 

As a member of the LGBTQIA community, and as a woman who has spent her professional career in two industries where she was an outsider, Terri has dedicated her life to changing the face of sound and making the industry inclusive for those who have traditionally been excluded. Terri’s entire professional focus, and the very mission of WAM, is to serve under-represented communities through training, mentoring, internships, job placement, and exposure to valuable opportunities otherwise not extended.

Please specify how you first heard about Solve.

GrantStation funding newsletter

More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

The opportunity to train with dedicated mentors that look like them, both at school and at our recording studios surrounded by the latest technology/software is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most of our students. Not only did WAM build the first all-female and gender-expansive staff-run recording studio in the world, but we continue to be one of the few organizations of our kind that:

  • runs our direct services training programs out of the studio complex 

  • offer programs that address the entire pipeline and career stages of an aspiring audio professional 

There are many organizations dedicated to improving gender equity within STEM and making technology accessible to girls, but our unique model offers an inclusive and comprehensive pathway that we plan to make accessible and scalable across the country.

What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

In 2023, WAM’s impact goals are to: 

  1. Celebrate our 20th anniversary by strengthening our Bay Area relationships and programming

    1. Supporting three cycles of WAM Academy, WAM’s formalized certification training intensive for emerging audio professionals - includes Avid Pro Tools Certification and Dolby Atmos Certification in 2024.

    2. A major investment from Dolby Labs which will support upgrading WAM’s studio to Dolby Atmos certified facilities allowing WAM to record and teach advanced spatial audio techniques in a cutting edge 7.1.4 monitoring setup, making them one of the most cutting-edge immersive audio facilities in California. 

    3. Serving 1,500+ girls and gender-expansive youth with audio education classes

  2. Continuing to grow our presence in Los Angeles and Nashville through:

  1. Providing nine regional workshops in LA, Nashville, and virtually - including recording session intensives, sound for tv/film, Live Concert Sound, Electronic Music Production

  2. Hiring a series of new positions to support WAM’s local and national expansion

For the next five years

  1. Expand WAM into Los Angeles and Nashville, starting with a recording studio headquarters in each city

  2. Serve 10,000 people annually at the end of five years

How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

Indicator 1: 

  • Quality inclusive education, measured by number of under-resourced students served, types of opportunities given to them (trips to recording studio, relevant hands-on projects).

  • 2023 Target: 1,500 youth impacted each year, at least 5 community partner organizations, 3 academy training cycles for adults, 3 cycles of interns

Indicator 2: 

  • Gender Equity in audio/STEM fields, measured by number of women and gender-expansive people served per year, as well as job placements and certifications given. 

  • 2023 Target: 500 women and gender-expansive students/ program participants a year, including 30 paid interns, 20 job placements, 9 regional workshops

Indicator 3: 

  • Economic growth with inclusive workplaces, measured by the number of corporate partners, sponsors of inclusive events and conferences. 

  • 2023 Target: 20 industry touchpoints (shadowing opportunities, recruiter introductions, networking events) with students and interns, 40 shared job opportunities, $400,000 in corporate grants and event sponsorships

5-Year target: 2 new locations opened in Nashville and Los Angeles with widespread impact on audio industries

Describe in simple terms how and why you expect your solution to have an impact on the problem.

WAM envisions a unique pipeline that supports women, girls, and gender-expansive people at multiple stages of their life/careers, from engaging with audio technology for the first time through adults using the tools in the studio, to job placement in the audio/music/entertainment industry. By supporting and promoting those who have been traditionally excluded from these spaces, WAM is increasing gender and racial equity in these male-dominated fields. Not only does this diversify the field and the messaging of audio the public listens to every day, but it also promotes representation/belonging and economic mobility for women and gender-expansive people. 

To make our solution have the largest impact, WAM:

  • Engages with and retains girls/gender-expansive youth from under-resourced communities in developing an interest in the science of sound and learning creative technology skills, as well as a sense of belonging 

  • Trains and empowers adult women/gender-expansive individuals at any career stage, providing hireable alumni 

  • Connects women/gender-expansive individuals to vast and constantly growing network to boost careers and economic mobility, including audio projects with high-level producers/engineers, recruiters at large companies, and mentors in the industry–a key strategy to career success

  • Plans to open new locations in the audio industry hubs of Los Angeles and Nashville, replicating all programs and providing studio/training spaces.

  • Plans to lead global network-building efforts to mobilize and engage women and gender-expansive professionals, increase collective visibility, and strengthen communities– currently at more local levels

  • Advocates for the representation of women and gender-expansive individuals in the diverse field of audio and creativity roles

If your solution is tech-based, describe the core technology that powers your solution.

While WAM utilizes technology across its programs, technology is generally used in the program; there is not a specific, new technology that WAM will create with this support.

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Audiovisual Media

In which US states does your solution currently operate?


In which US states will your solution be operating within the next year?


Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?


How many people work on your solution team?

Full-time staff: 11

Part-time staff: 5

Contractors: 10

How long have you been working on your solution?

WAM was founded in 2003 and celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Selected accomplishments include:

  • Providing training/mentoring to 25,000+ women, girls, and gender-expansive individuals

  • Scaling youth programs across 50+ Bay Area school partners

  • Being featured in Forbes and Billboard, with award-winning curriculum  recognized by the White House Office of Social Innovation under President Obama

  • Winner of a Silicon Valley Innovation Award, NBCUniversal Innovation Prize, two Google RISE Awards

  • Placing 1,200+ alumni in creative technology jobs (Dolby, Sony, Pixar, Disney, Google, Facebook, ESPN)

  • Providing paid work/professional credits for 450+ women/gender- expansive engineers in studios

What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

Each year, WAM trains 2,000+ women, girls, and gender-expansive individuals from under- resourced populations (majority BIPOC and low-income) and we therefore aim to ensure our internal working is culturally respectful, working to deconstruct traditional power structures and decision- making, and increasing BIPOC representation in leadership (currently around 50% on the board and 33% of directors). 

WAM is committed to becoming a more inclusive and diverse organization and received funding this year from the Hewlett Foundation to conduct a comprehensive, large-scale DEI assessment of the organization that will then lead to an action plan. Previous DEIJ trainings at WAM has established the foundation for a more in-depth process this year with all staff on board to build trust, work together, and feel more confident in feeling supported at the organization. 

WAM has been building out its internal DEIJ structure for years, including multiple board, leadership, and staff group trainings,1:1 private interviews, and leadership coaching sessions, all in order to see these ongoing benefits:

  • Increased employee investment and engagement in mission and work

  • Fostering of creativity, innovation, and growth from diverse perspectives

  • Building a positive reputation in the community

  • Supporting impactful decision-making from all levels of the organization

  • Strengthened staff retention of BIPOC employees and preventing burnout

WAM is working with the local DEI consulting company Novalia Collective, chosen by staff. This year’s DEI goals include:

  • Organizational development to support increased equity, diversity, and inclusion

  • Developing clear supports for staff and program participants of color, trans and gender- expansive individuals, individuals with disabilities, and other groups who experience discrimination, exclusion, or oppression

  • Coaching for WAM staff in effective communication strategies with a DEI lens that will improve staff experience and program quality

  • Improved recruitment, hiring, and staff retention of diverse employees to provide quality programs to our program participants

Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

Through innovative, inclusive, and award-winning audio and creative technology programs that center underrepresented people, WAM has built a comprehensive pipeline that supports them at every stage of their life and career. WAM provides accessible direct services for its constituents that increases their long-term economic mobility, inclusivity/feeling of belonging in their field, and access to a network of dedicated mentors and job connections.

This includes free programming to students at K-12 school; free, sliding scale, and paid access to training for adults in audio certifications and courses; paid internships – supported by institutional funders – for recent high school and college graduates which include opportunities for paid work that provides them with professional credits; and fee-for-service studio rentals that provide work experience for women and gender-expansive engineers while providing earned income for WAM’s operations.

WAM has provided career connections and job placement to 1,200+ graduates in creative technology positions. All of this comes with the extremely positive reputation that WAM has built in the audio and creative technology industries over the past two

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)

What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

WAM has been operating since 2003 and has a proven financial track record, evidenced by strong multi-year support across different sectors. As a nonprofit, WAM’s funding model is supported by mostly institutional support, with six sources:

  • Foundation grants (mainly long-term funders)

  • Corporations (also involved in our programming)

  • Government grants (including city, state, federal, with many multi-year grants)

  • Individual donors (WAM members, or one-time/recurring donors, and our board contributes around $100,000 each year. These individuals are committed to WAM's mission and support with yearly donations, fundraising initiatives, and recruitment)

  • Earned revenue: profits from WAM studio recording sessions, education programs, events, and other services.

Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

In its 20 years, WAM has never carried a deficit and has shown consistent financial growth, even during the pandemic. Our funders include:

  • Federal, state, and local funding for various programs

  • San Francisco Department of Children Youth and Families ($930,000 over five years) 

  • Lemala Fund ($300,000 over three years for leadership capacity-building support)

  • The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation ($180,000 over three years for general operating support and $70,000 this year for DEI work)

  • Dolby Labs ($100,000 over two years and $300,000 for our national expansion campaign)

In 2021, WAM received a $1M donation from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott to seed our $9M national expansion to open locations in Los Angeles and Nashville in the next three years. WAM has begun the quiet phase of the campaign and has currently raised over 20% of its goal. In the past, WAM has completed a $2.1M capital campaign that allows the organization to own the professional studio facility debt-free in the middle of San Francisco.

Solution Team

  • Terri Winston Founder & Executive Director, Women's Audio Mission
  • Molly Woodbury Grants Manager/Writer, Women's Audio Mission
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