By: Paige Kieffer and Gabby Landsverk
Sun Sailor Newspapers
Minnetonka High School seniors Charlotte Thomasson and Sierra Schultz were named as runner-ups on March 14 for the fourth annual Minnesota Aspirations for Women in Computing awards.
Award honorees will be recognized during an April 19 ceremony at the Vadnais Heights Commons and will have access to job shadow and internship opportunities, college scholarships and an assortment of prizes.
Advance IT Minnesota, the high-tech talent incubator run by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, chose the winners and runner-ups for this prestigious honor based on their interests, accomplishments, and community involvement in computing and technology, as well as for their aspirations in computing and technology-related fields.
The awards program honors young women in grades 9-12 for their computing-related achievements and interests, and was started to encourage young women to consider careers in technology, reducing the significant gender and talent gap in the field.
The National Center for Women and Information Technology created the national awards program in 2007 to encourage the computing aspirations of young women, introduce them to leadership opportunities in the field and generate visibility for women’s participation in computing-related pursuits. In 2012, Minnesota became a state affiliate, offering young women the opportunity to be recognized at the state and national level.
While women today comprise more than half of the U.S. professional workforce, they play only a small role in inventing the technology. And of the 1.2 million expected openings for computer specialists by 2022, the current number of American graduates can only fill 39 percent, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.
All 96 Minnesota Aspirations for Women in Computing Awards applicants were invited to participate in the Sustaining Passion, Ambition and Resolve for Career Success program. Beginning with an event at Microsoft in Edina last December, the program provides an opportunity for the young women to connect with mentors, develop new tech skills and participate in activities led by local women in the technology industry. Additional events will occur in April, May and June.
“The support for Aspirations and the Sustaining Passion, Ambition and Resolve for Career Success program is unbelievable,” said Russell Fraenkel, director of IT career pathways and partnerships at Advance IT Minnesota. “It demonstrates to the award winners and other girls with budding technology interests that Minnesota really wants them to succeed, ideally attend college in this rich education state and work for a local company intent upon contributing to the vitality of a strong state economy. These young women are amazing and I’m proud to have crossed paths with them.”
About Charlotte Thomasson
Minnetonka High School senior Charlotte Thomasson said her interest in technology was sparked during her sophomore year by her math teacher Nathan Van Dyke.
He convinced her to join his Technovation team that competed last May at the Technovation Minnesota Appapalooza at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Technovation is a global competition for girls ages 10 to 18. Thomasson, along with fellow runner-up and teammate Sierra Schultz, presented their app they developed, “ShelterMe.”
The purpose of the app is “connecting homeless people with homeless shelters and food banks but also connecting those who want to donate,” said Thomasson.
The team won an award for “Best Technical App” at the regional championship competition.
Her junior year, Thomasson was a founding member of the school’s Student Technology Help Desk, a panel of students committed to helping their fellow students resolve technology issues.
She was also a part of The Minnetonka High School Computer Programming Club for the past two years and volunteers at an Excelsior Elementary teaching coding class after school.
“I loved sharing this with the younger students and helping promote their
interest in computer sciences at a young age,” she said.
Last summer, she was accepted to do Student Technology Internship with Minnetonka School District’s technology department. There she helped the staff get computers and other technology throughout the district ready for school to start, including hanging Wi-Fi access points, imaging computers, downloading new software, replacing faulty parts and setting up classrooms.
“Minnetonka High School has provided so many opportunities for me,” Thomasson said. “They are always so encouraging and they really want to promote the computer sciences.”
Thomasson believes that while she does see that their is a gender gap with men and women in technology fields, she said that we should promote a computer sciences education equally.
Thomasson said that it’s important to have both men and women exposed to the computer sciences, especially from an early age and that opportunities in technological fields are available for everyone.
Thomasson said that she is planning on attending the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in the fall and majoring in physics, computer science or electrical engineering. She said is interested in making custom programs to model business data.
About Sierra Schultz
Sierra Schultz, a senior at Minnetonka High School, has been exploring technology since she was young.
“I started when I was six years old. My dad bought me a computer game and instead of installing it for me, he showed me how to do it,” Schultz said. “It was like magic.”
Her interest in video games persisted, and in ninth grade, Schultz decided to find out just how the magic happens. She started taking free, self-led classes in coding online and taught herself HTML and CSS.
“I didn’t have a lot of time, but whenever I had a few minutes, I’d do a little bit (of coding),” Schultz said.
Last May, she and a few friends, including Thomasson entered into the Technovation competition, which challenged teen girls to identify a problem in the community and work together to solve it by designing a new app.
Schultz’s team created “ShelterMe,” which helps people in need locate resources near them, such as housing or food assistance. She said the idea came from her previous volunteer work at ICA Food Shelf.
“I saw there wasn’t a lot of communication between shelters or from shelters to the community,” Schultz said. “People don’t necessarily know what resources are available to them.”
Schultz and her team won “Best Technical App” at the regional championship competition.
She’s at it again this year, this time with an app, so far unnamed, to help people find and compare local parks.
Along with her work in the competition, Schultz is also applying to be a tech ambassador to encourage and support other young women in coding and computer work.
Schultz also spent last summer as a student intern in the Minnetonka Public Schools Technology Department, assisting with various projects such as re-installing access points and re-imaging hundreds of laptops and computers.
Schultz is currently taking AP Computer Science at Minnetonka High School and said there’s a noticeable gender gap in the classroom.
“It’s a little weird; there’s only two girls in the class compared to 26 guys,” Schultz said.
Schultz plans to attend the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities next year, with a planned major in computer science and a possible minor in neuroscience.
She is currently a student researcher at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research at the University of Minnesota, using MATLAB and SPM programs to analyze gray matter concentrations in Ataxia patients.
In the future, Schultz would enjoy working in a field that allows her to focus on programming, while also being involved in neuroscience.
Her dream job, Schultz said, is to work in mobile development, designing and working with cellphones and other portable technology. Someday, she’d also like to own a business.
For now, Schultz is grateful for all the support and opportunity she has had in her endeavors. She sees a bright future for young women in technology, she said.
“On the top layer, you see guys everywhere. But what I’ve found, especially this year, is that once you go below the surface, we’re definitely there,” Schultz said. “It’s a smaller population, but there’s so much support and talent.”