Shonnah Hughes is the CRM Technical Lead at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, a Salesforce MVP, and a chapter leader of the Women in Tech Diversity User Group. She also hosts a Trailhead bootcamp teaching in-demand Salesforce skills to young women of color in Minnesota’s Mall of America.

Ten years ago, Shonnah Hughes had her first taste of Salesforce and her life hasn’t been the same since. “One day our company purchased a new tool and I needed to train everyone on the platform. I never would have guessed that project would become a life-changing-career-building opportunity.”

But Shonnah is building more than her own career on the Salesforce platform, she’s helping others find their path as well. “When I went to my first user group meeting I noticed that I was the only person of color in the room. This was something I wanted to change. I wanted to help other people, particularly women of color, enter the tech world.”

Shonnah had her next lightbulb moment after hearing Annie Shek-Mason speak about #Trailhead4All, the movement to teach in-demand Salesforce skills to diverse populations in our communities. “I had been attempting to teach Salesforce here and there, but Annie inspired me to focus my energies on teaching young women of color.”

Flash forward to today. Shonnah hosts a Trailhead Ranger Boot Camp for young women of color in the Minneapolis area. “Initially my goal was to target young women ages 10–18 who are looking to get into STEM or STEAM schools, but our age range is actually 10–40 years old because some mothers stick around to learn too!”

The group meets in the Mall of America every other month on Saturdays. Shonnah calls on volunteers from her local Minnesota User Groups to staff the events. She makes sure to have a few adult experts in class so each student receives the attention she needs. “We focus on completing modules and of course earning points and badges. Right now we’re walking down the Admin Beginner trail.”

But Shonnah is quick to note her goals beyond Trailhead. “I want to blend their online learning with live in-person Q&A and bring in experts in branding, intellectual property, and public speaking. I’d also like to get the girls working with more STEM and STEAM projects. Things like robotics, engineering, IoT. There’s a whole world of tech out there that I want these girls to see.”

Shonnah didn’t jump straight into her Ranger Boot Camp. “At first, I wanted to run a small test to see if I could teach a group of young people with Trailhead.” Shonnah started by teaching a group of students in her son’s 4th grade special education class. It was a wonderful experience. The students invited in their “buddies” from their mainstream classes. Together the students worked on the Quick Start: Build Your First App project. “It was great to see the kids so excited and engaged about learning.” The experiment was a success. Shonnah now had the evidence she needed to dive in all the way.

“In the end, I chose to focus on teaching young women of color because their representation is dismal in the STEM professions. The low numbers are due to a lack of exposure; how can you become interested in something you never get a chance to feel passionate about? I’d like to change that.” Shonnah also acknowledges the importance of reaching out to girls at ages when they’re making life choices that impact their education and future, “while they’re asking themselves ‘what do i want to be when I grow up?’”

This is the passion that Shonnah brings to every project she attacks, whether at work or as part of a volunteer program. “I would love to work full-time on my community initiatives for girls and technology but for now it’s something I make time for through volunteering. Everyone can find a way to give back to their community. Whether it’s helping out at one event or hosting a series of events, there’s plenty of opportunities to make a difference. That is after all what a true Trailblazer does.

Inspired to host a #Trailhead4All yourself? Shonnah has some tried and true tips for anyone looking to get involved:

  • My number one thing is to reach out to the community for people-power, knowledge and expertise. Team Trailhead can often help out with swag.
  • Connect with your local user group members to help co-organize. Have a core team to rely on is key if you hope to host regular, consistent events.
  • Make sure in advance you have an outline of the content you are covering. Something that everyone in your guest list can digest.
  • Don’t forget the small details. Invitation reminders, calendar holds, and waivers for photo releases and interviews.
  • Remember you are providing an important service to people in need. Make sure you have the time to dedicate yourself to hosting a Trailhead4All event. Try a single event rather than a series to start out. It’s okay to start small, every person you get onto Trailhead is a life altered.

“People in the #SalesforceOhana are lucky; we’re able to go into local classrooms and talk to students about our careers and personal journeys…if someone wants to know how to go down a similar path, we have Trailhead at our fingertips. Being able to see the joy students have while learning and knowing that we made it possible is such a gift and such a reward. It’s easy to teach with Trailhead and it makes a huge difference. I hope those who read this interview take that to heart.”

Inspired to host your own #Trailhead4All event? Join the Trailhead4all group in the Success Community, share your ideas on social with #Trailhead4All, and reach out to Trailhead with any questions.

This blog post was originally published on the Trailblazer Medium channel. Check it out for more stories like Shonnah's!