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Innovative class matches this high school senior with a future digital career path

Waukee High School Girls Track coach Erica Douglas finished a recent public speaking event by saying, “If you coach girls, you need to know how to talk girl.”

She told Clay & Milk a bowling coach stopped her after asking what she meant because he would say something and a boy would understand, but the girl would start crying.

“So that was the realization that I may know something that other people might not know,” Douglas said.

So she wanted to start a website to provide female athletes and coaches with information on leadership, communication and performance.

She just didn’t know about web design. unnamed (2)

The “Perfect Girl”

The Waukee School District offers an APEX (Aspiring Professional Experience) program that is a collaboration between education, business and the community. Courses are industry-driven based on economic trends with its curriculum developed by partnering with industry leaders.

It’s open to junior and seniors at Waukee High School but the class of 2016 also consisted of students from A.D.M, Johnston and Van Meter.

“So I reached out to a teacher (Scott Palmer) and said if he had a girl that was an athlete I think that would be a cool aspect of it because that’s the whole purpose of the website, to empower girls to be more than their sport,” Douglas explained. “Well he said he had the perfect girl.”

That girl was senior Emma Durflinger from Van Meter High School.

She Plays for real

The APEX program started in August of 2016 with each student being assigned a client to work for.

“So being one of the only girls in the class and being the only athlete really was given the ShePlays project,” Durflinger, 18, said.

Durflinger worked on the site all of first semester and the site launched on Jan. 1, 2017.

“She was amazing” Douglas said. “She enhanced what I was thinking.”

And it was a cause Durflinger believed in.

“I’m a strong believer for equality and especially in female athletics because I know what it’s like to be in it and treated not the same,” Durflinger said. “I have a little brother a year younger than me and doesn’t understand girls can be just as good as guys.” Primary-Logo-2C-1.png

Durflinger said she “always had a thing” for websites when she was younger but never thought she could make a career out of designing them.

“Until I went through this APEX program because for forever I wanted to be a psychologist,” Durflinger says.

This fall she will study Interactive Media Technologies at Indian Hills Community College.

A unique experience

Douglas ran track for Iowa State University and with her father being a coach, she spent her childhood around athletics. But when Douglas started coaching she realized her experience wasn’t what everybody goes through.

“I saw there was a need for education,” Douglas says. “How to not only coach girls in sports but also for the female athlete and the things that they go through but don’t vocalize themselves.”

Coach D Headshot
Erica Douglas

Douglas says jealously is a major issue within girls teams and dealing with it as a coach is brittle.

“They go through all these emotions and lots of times I see other coaches, well meaning people, diminish what they’re feeling,” Douglas says. “Instead of helping them learn what they are going through to cope with it and handle in a mature way. Buck it up, or we treat girls like we treat boys doesn’t help them any.”



Innovative class matches this high school senior with a future digital career path | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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