Q&A with LeeLee James, Twirling Tech Goddess
University of Colorado computer science student, former professional ice skater, ballroom competitor, fashion diva, YouTube star…LeeLee James has many titles. None are more apt, perhaps than “Twirling Tech Goddess,” her YouTube handle and vlog, where she demos DIY wearable tech projects and makes STEM learning fabulous and accessible to people underrepresented in tech. (Left: Photo portrait by @freeda_be.)
Have you found a community in Boulder to help foster your creativity and science exploration?
The ATLAS Institute [at CU] has been transformative for me. It’s a place conducive to experimental and experiential tech application and productivity. So, there are a lot more artsy-fartsy folks there and a lot of visibly queer and trans people. I’ve gotten probably six or seven people from that building into the ballroom community now, as well, so now we have our own little group of queer, BIPOC techies.
Fashion is clearly important to you. Do you have a favorite place to shop in Boulder?
I do lots of Goodwill shopping and am very into upcycling as often as possible. I do love Nordstrom Rack [at Twenty Ninth Street], too, because they have an inclusive selection of women’s shoes that go up to size 14.
Are there science-related attractions you'd recommend to visitors?
The Boulder Public Library’s BLDG 61 Makerspace has a soft spot in my heart. There are always workshops and competitions and all kinds of community activations that they do. You could screen-print your matching vacation T-shirts! On CU Campus, you can check out the Blowing Things Up (BTU) lab, where there are always projects going on that you can watch or even do a project of your own [check the BTU website for visitor information].
On the far side of the engineering building is the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program (ITLP) lab, and it is amazing. They have an entire wall of 3D printers, an entire manufacturing setup, metalsmithing and manufacturing lab downstairs that has windows everywhere. You can just watch all of the structural engineers at work. On top of that, they have instructor-led classes which you can sign up for on their website in advance.
If you had an afternoon off to do anything in Boulder, what would you do?
I’d go hiking. Red Rock Trail from Centennial Trailhead is what I call my “love hike.” If you drive up Mapleton Avenue to Centennial Trailhead, it's like the hike begins before you're actually even on the trail.
Afterward, it's very accessible to just drop down into Pearl Street and grab a bite. I’d go to Trident Booksellers and Cafe, which is the best coffee shop in, dare I say, all of Colorado. The tea selection is stellar for the tea girlies. And there's a nice selection of books as well, with books on art, gender, sexuality and feminism. And then the back patio is an entirely other experience of its own, especially when they have live music.
If you had friends or family visiting, where would you take them in Boulder?
I always take them to The Root Kava Bar. It's become this cool, funky speakeasy-style, safe place for all the artsy, kind of grungy, nerdy folks. There's no alcohol sold, but they're open till 3am. You still get that little bit of nightlife and socializing. There are video games and board games everywhere, and all kinds of eclectic, cool people.
Do you have ideas about how someone can visit Boulder responsibly?
I think that when you go places, the point is to have those places leave a mark on you, and so I would encourage visitors to let themselves be marked on by the cultural experience of being in Boulder.