Empowered Codes: Community and upliftment 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 Sawers Murillo ‘21 creating Moonphase, a small business with handmade wire jewelry.

One of Wei’s primary muses was her CS 161 class. Her first design was inspired by drawing a red-black tree multiple times for the algorithm analysis class. From there, Wei initially didn’t know how to go about the process of executing her idea.

“I went to the jewelry store. I was so new that I didn’t even know you needed different thicknesses for the wire. I ended up not buying the right tools, but I gave it a shot — and that’s kind of what started my business,” she said.

Red and black bead earrings hang against a leafy background.
An image of the Red-Black Tree Earrings. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Wei)

Around this time, Wei also began to explore the idea of starting a jewelry business. She met Shani Shay and learned about her mission of helping incarcerated youth through the college readiness course Incarceration to College. As Wei learned about the fundraisers Shay organizes to help incarcerated youth access technology, she decided to use her business to support the program’s work. Fifty percent of Empowered Codes’ profits are donated to Incarceration to College. 

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

“I’m really proud of the name Empowered Codes because it encompasses what jewelry making is for me. It’s not just about jewelry. When you give earrings to someone else, you’re making them feel confident and experience community love,” Wei said. “For me, education and computer science are about feeling empowered to create the life that you want to make for yourself and learning new skills in the process.

Empowered Codes has helped Wei build community on campus. After hosting her first jewelry workshop with the First-Generation and/or Low-Income Partnership (FLIP), Wei expressed joy in being able to share a creative and welcoming space with students.

“For most people, it’s the first time they’re able to touch beads of different colors and play around with different designs,” Wei said. “I feel like it’s very healing for your inner child. So it means a lot to be able to share what I love doing with other people and it’s always so awesome to see what people make.”

Since this first workshop, Wei has been able to lead workshops at community centers and dorm on-calls.

Three Ujamaa residents wearing beaded bracelets with their fists in a circle.
An image of Ujamaa residents wearing the bracelets they created while attending the jewelry workshop on-call. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Wei)

Senior April Martinez ‘23 learned a new skill and appreciates the enthusiastic encouragement Wei shares through her workshops.

“Jewelry making has become a fun activity to do when I have the resources,” Martinez said. “Patricia’s always giving out helpful tips and shows true care when making any piece of jewelry, from her bright earrings to her beautiful bracelets.”

The care and community of Wei’s workshops have even inspired Javier Omar Luna ‘25 to start their own small business.

“Patricia herself is a movement in the way she practices love; jewelry-making is one of those practices. Empowered Codes spreads the love and care that Patricia radiates in her everyday life,” Luna said.

An Empowered Codes workshop got them into jewelry making, and they eventually decided to start their own business, called Cielo Oro. Luna explained, “Since the workshop, like her, I’ve been spreading the love and joy of crafting jewelry by teaching others and giving jewelry away as gifts.”

After gifting a pair of red-black tree earrings to her computer science professor, Cynthia Lee, Wei’s earrings ended up making their way to the so-called “father of the analysis of algorithms” himself, Donald Knuth. He reportedly wanted to share Wei’s craft with Robert Sedgewick, one of the creators of the red-black tree.

A tweet from Cynthia Lee meeting Donald Knuth. Lee is wearing the red-black tree earrings.
A screenshot of a tweet from Cynthia Lee meeting Donald Knuth while wearing the red-black trees made by Patricia Wei. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Wei)

Reflecting on the unexpected journey of her red-black tree earrings, Wei encouraged students to pursue their passions and creativity.

“​​You never know how the seeds that you plant one day are going to bloom. Trust in the process and continue putting your heart into everything you do.” Although sometimes the process is complicated, Wei said to keep going — after all, “you never know how it’ll turn out.”

Originally posted 2023-05-10 04:56:58.


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