Community and uplifting through jewelry

For Patricia Wei ’23, small business Empowered Codes serves as an outlet to combine her love of STEM and jewelry to empower students. Her interest in jewelry began when she followed the journey of Valeria Sours Murillo ’21 as she launched Moonphase, a small business dealing with handmade wire her jewelry.

One of Wei’s main muses was her CS 161 class. Her first design was inspired by the many times she drew red-black trees in her algorithmic analysis class. From there, Wei was initially unsure how to proceed with the process of implementing her own ideas.

“I went to a jewelry store, and being a novice, I didn’t even know that different wire thicknesses were needed. That’s how my business started,” she said.

Earrings of red and black beads hang against a lush background.
Image of red and black tree earrings. (Photo credit: Patricia Way)

Around this time, Wei also began considering starting a jewelry business. She met Shani Shay and learned about her mission to help incarcerated youth through her college prep course ‘From Jail to College’. When Wei learned about a fundraiser Shay was organizing to give her incarcerated youth access to technology, she decided to use her business to support the program’s efforts. Her 50% of Empowered Codes profits will be donated to the Incarceration to College.

Wei said the name of her business represents both her love for her community and her use of knowledge for social justice.

“I am really proud of the name Empowered Codes because it encompasses what jewelry making is to me. It gives you confidence and lets you experience the love of the community,” Wei said. “For me, education and computer science is about feeling empowered to create the life you want and learning new skills along the way.

Empowered Codes helped Wei build a community on campus. After hosting his first jewelry workshop with First Generation and/or Low Income Partnerships (FLIP), Wei expressed her joy at sharing a creative and welcoming space with her students. .

“For most people, it’s the first time they can touch different colors of beads and play with different designs,” Wei said. “It feels so healing for your inner child. It’s wonderful.”

Since the first workshop, Wei has been able to lead workshops on-call at community centers and dormitories.

Three Ujama residents wearing beaded bracelets and holding their fists in a circle.
An image of a Ujamaa resident wearing a bracelet he made while attending an on-call jewelry workshop. (Photo credit: Patricia Way)

April Martinez, 23 learned new skills and appreciates the enthusiastic encouragement Wei shared throughout the workshop.

“Jewelry making has become a fun activity that you can do for money,” says Martinez. “Patricia always gives helpful tips and takes great care when creating any piece of jewelry, from bright earrings to beautiful bracelets.”

Way’s attention to workshop and community inspired Javier Omar Luna ’25 to start their own small business.

“Patricia herself is also a movement in how to put love into practice. Jewelry making is one of them.

The Empowered Codes workshop sparked an interest in jewelry making and eventually decided to start their own business named Cielo Oro. Luna said, “Since her workshop, I have shared her love and love for making her jewelry by teaching others and giving her jewelry as gifts, just like she does.” I have been spreading joy,” he explained.

After gifting the red-black wooden earrings to Cynthia Lee, a computer science professor, Wei’s earrings eventually ended up in the hands of the so-called “father of algorithmic analysis,” Donald Knuth himself. Reportedly, he wanted to share Wei’s craft with Robert Sedgwick, one of the creators of Red Black Wood.

Cynthia Lee's tweet about meeting Donald Knuth. Lee wears red and black wooden earrings.
Screenshot of Cynthia Lee’s tweet where she met Donald Knuth wearing a red and black tree made by Patricia Way. (Photo credit: Patricia Way)

Ms. Wei reflected on the unlikely journey of the red-black tree earrings and encouraged her students to pursue their passions and creativity.

“You never know how the seeds you plant one day will blossom. Trust the process and keep putting your heart into everything you do.” “You never know what’s going to happen,” he continued.

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