Amy Chou ’16 Breaks Gender Barriers by Winning Massachusetts Award for Aspirations in Computing

For Amy Chou ’16, a passion for computer science seemed only fitting after the time she spent participating in math contests throughout middle school. After taking an online course the summer before her Junior year, she joined Andover’s Computer Science Club and began participating in on-campus competitions. Last December, Chou was named state recipient of the Award for Aspirations in Computing after applying in the fall of 2013 and will receive her award on April 19. “Students who apply [for this award] who just have aspirations, but don’t have achievements, cannot get the award. In Amy’s case, she has significant achievements already, and she continues on this path,” said Maria Litvin, Instructor in Mathematics and Faculty Advisor to the Computer Science Club. Established by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, an organization that aims to correct the gender imbalance in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, the Award for Aspirations and Computing was created to “[honor] young women at the high-school level for their computing-related achievements and interests. Awardees are selected for their computing and IT aptitude, leadership ability, academic history and plans for post-secondary education.” Chou first realized her passion for computer science in middle school after her dedicated involvement in math contests. Chou, however, soon found herself intrigued by the world of computer science, seeing the parallels between her math contest skills and the skills needed to solve computer science problems. “I took an introductory online course in computer science, and I thought that it was really close to math, which I really liked. The problem-solving part just wasn’t very different… It’s the same feeling I get when I solve a contest math problem, the fact that I know that I can improve in it keeps me going. This year, I started doing a computer science research program at MIT, which is a really big resource for me to go to,” said Chou. Chou found support from her parents, both of whom work in STEM fields, her mother a professor of math education and her father a computer engineer. They encouraged her ventures into computer science because back in her home state of Montana, people — especially girls — were not as interested in STEM fields as students at Andover are, said Chou. “There were definitely fewer resources [where I came from], but [at Andover], it’s not so much the material resources that have helped me, but more the people and the community. There just weren’t as many people who were interested. I don’t know if I would have met a teacher who was as helpful as Ms. Litvin had I stayed back home,” said Chou. Recently, there has been an emergence in computer science competitions specifically aimed toward girls to help reduce the gender STEM gap. Only 27 percent of computer science professionals are female, according to the US Department of Commerce. Chou will be the first girl in ten years to enter an off-campus computer science competition when she participates in the high school programming contest at St. Anselm College this Saturday. Chou believes that more girls have been becoming actively interested in not only computer science but also math and other STEM fields, and Litvin has also seen an upward trend in her classes. “I think girls want to look at the class and see more girls in it, so you see more girls taking these classes, and you think that’s good. A few years ago, I sometimes would have a class with just one girl [or] not a single girl. Now we may have three, four, maybe even five girls. The numbers are going up, and we are thrilled,” said Litvin.