The desire to educate the next generation is in Terysa Ridgeway’s DNA.

Her parents were teachers. She recalls during the summer months living in Louisiana, her mother would bring home a computer. At the time, Ridgeway was just 7 years old and had an inquisitive spirit.

“She gave me the opportunity to figure out how to turn it on,” Ridgeway, now 39, told AFROTECH. “Nowadays, a 6 or 7-year-old plugging something into an outlet is probably unheard of. But I mean from everything from plugging it in, to turning it on, to figuring out how to work on it was like all up to me. And I feel that retrospectively looking at it now as a mother, that was probably the best thing she could have done because like I was building problem-solving skills.”

The fire Ridgeway felt during those summer months continues to burn in her as a technical program manager at Google. She also is the author of children’s series “Terysa Solves It,” written to expose young girls to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) pathways.

Terysa Ridgeway
Cameron Theyard

“One of the reasons why I targeted that age group as my market for my children’s books is because I feel that age is just naturally inquisitive,” Ridgeway said. “I have a 6-year-old and a 5-year-old right now. Every other question is ‘Why?’ or them trying to figure something out. So I think that age naturally has that skill set. So it’s just kind of like really building it up and using it for something good.”

What’s more, Ridgeway has furthered her impact with the creation of Alilo the Explorer, a toy robot designed to teach children 3 years and up to code by building on “foundational problem-solving and critical thinking skills through basic algorithmic programming,” according to information provided to AFROTECH.

With Alilo the Explorer, children will be able to connect puzzle pieces and will code to enable the robot to follow the path they created, or they can utilize its push-button manual option.

Cameron Theyard

“I have puzzle pieces that have an infrared sensor in them,” she said. “So you connect the puzzle pieces, and the robot will follow the path that you create for it. There’s even more in depth, telling a computer what to do or algorithmic programming.”

She added, “Then for those that may be a little bit older or maybe want some more advanced things, I have block-based programming, which is basically coding. The difference between text-based coding and block-based coding is that children don’t have to necessarily worry about the syntax of coding because that usually is the biggest gap between block-based coding and text-based coding, it’s understanding ‘Where do the semicolons go?,’ ‘Where do I put this bracket?’ and things like that. So it erases all those barriers and allows them to program the robot to sing songs and go different directions, and do lots of different things. I’m very excited about it.”

Ridgeway collaborated with toy brand Alilo to create the product because parents may be looking to keep their children engaged beyond storytime. The educational toy is projected to become available in October 2023 with both “plugged” and “unplugged” activities through an exclusive mobile app on Android devices. In the future, she plans to make the apps accessible on Apple devices and Google Play.

Additionally, Rideway expresses parents and children should not be intimidated by the product as it will be easy to operate, fulfilling her mission to make coding accessible and enjoyable for all.

“Teaching children to code is like giving them a superpower: It unlocks endless possibilities and creativity,” Ridgeway expressed. “With the release of ‘Terysa Solves It presents Alilo the Explorer,’ I hope to further inspire a new generation of coders and show them just how exciting and fun the world of programming can be.”