The National Council for Women & Information Technology (Ncwit) awards the Aspirations in Computing Award to young women at the high school level for their achievements in computer science and technology. Anjalie Kini ’19 and Kaitlin Lim ’20 were the recipients of the Massachusetts Regional Affiliate Award for this year’s program.
Maria Litvin, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, & Computer Science, believes that the award is a way for students to gain recognition for their work in the field of computer science.
“I think that in our school, we have a large number of phenomenal computer science female students, of course boys as well, but I want them to be recognized for what they have done, what they have achieved, and not just for themselves but usually there’s also a service component of what they’ve done for others. I want them to get the recognition and also have them connected to the network of women in technology,” said Litvin.
Kini, who has prior experience in both math and science competitions, applied for the award after hearing about it from friends and computer science teachers. Kini says that beyond the award’s more practical benefits, it also helps to create a community within the recipients.
“I think that winning the award is useful in finding internships and opportunities, but also, there’s a ceremony in April where all of the Massachusetts winners can come together which is really fun because you can talk to other girls in tech, and make new friends, it’s a good community to be a part of,” said Kini.
Lim is excited and surprised to have won an award of distinction, and, like Kini, sees the award as an opportunity to branch out in the STEM community.
“Another cool perk of receiving a distinction from this competition is that you automatically join this Facebook group of past winners. It’s a cool space where a lot of students ask questions related to computer science or IT, detail their experiences about being a woman in a male-dominated field, or pitch possible meetups or conferences. Overall, I think it’s really cool that an initiative like this exists, because it really helps women in computer science and IT build each other up,” said Lim.
According to the winners, the application process for the award program was not too difficult, yet it still allowed them to showcase their skills and past achievements in computer science.
“The first part [of the application] was a form where you listed all of your credentials. I think they wanted your G.P.A. and they wanted what school you went to, basic information like that, and then afterwards they had you fill out a lot of information about what your previous experience was in STEM… There was another part where they asked you longer questions, like what kind of change do you want to implement in the world using STEM, those kinds of questions that are more open ended. They also asked you what programs you were involved with within STEM, in your community or in your school,” said Emmeline Song ’20, who received an honorable mention in the competition last year.
Another necessary part of the application is a teacher recommendation. Nicholas Zufelt, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, & Computer Science, feels that a teacher’s recommendation is important for students applying for the Aspirations in Computing award in order to help combat traditional gender stereotypes about women in technology.
“The award itself is specific to women, it’s the National Center for Women & Information Technology, so one of the reason that I tell people they should apply is because I like to seek out strong coders who don’t come from a traditional coding appearance. The group of people who have traditionally been coders doesn’t necessarily include everyone, and I would like to change that in whatever way I can, so that’s the main reason I tell people to apply, and when people apply, I feel as though I have to write a recommendation letter for them, and I am honored to do so,” said Zufelt.
Litvin emphasizes the importance of the program as a way to connect aspiring women in technology to internship and job opportunities and promotes the award program through the Computer Science Club, math classes, and informational posters.
“When you win, it is something that is prestigious, something that others will value that you have done. So if you are applying for internships, they will also connect you… so if this is your interest, computer science and technology, then it is good to be recognized and not to have to prove to everyone that yes I have done this and that. This award is like a stamp of approval from a national organization,” said Litvin.
While some argue that there is not a clear criteria or assessment system on which the regional and national awards are given to applicants, Zufelt believes that students do not have to already be highly skilled programmers in order to win an award.
“For a lot of these students, they are high schoolers, and they are new at computing, but they’ve done it well. Maybe they haven’t built the next Facebook yet, but they have ideas about what they want to do, so that’s part of it, the aspirations piece. Another piece that really speaks to the legitimacy of [the award] is that you have to have a teacher recommendation, and… I don’t write recommendations for everyone… because it’s easy to tell your own story, but when someone else is telling your own story it adds a lot to the credibility,” said Zufelt.
Kini plans to use her award as a way to meet new women in technology, along with applying what she has learned to areas of STEM research she is interested in.
“I think that the most interesting part of computer science is not necessarily learning or winning awards, but applying it to a field that you are interested in, which for me is bioinformatics… I want to major in computer science, plus poly-sci or econ or math or something, but definitely go along a path of computer science,” said Kini.
Editor’s Note: Kaitlin Lim ’20 is an Arts Editor for The Phillipian.