Young people are an important part of the conversation in tech [Angelika Modawal on Champions of Change for Tech Inclusion]

On July 31, I attended the White House Champions of Change for Tech Inclusion event at the White House. At the event, I heard the Champions and prominent members in the tech community describe their “spark” moment: a moment when their interest in IT was nurtured through a mentor, experience, or event. I consider going to the Champions of Change event one of my “spark” moments, extending and enhancing my perspective of IT. However, to truly understand why the Champions of Change event has been so influential to me I must give a little background on my personal experience with the tech community and the context in which I visited the White House.

In an overcrowded, no air-conditioning high school classroom, a spark was first ignited. My English teacher asked us to stand in a circle and pitch a 30-second question of interest on any topic. The question was to form the basis for our senior year-long research paper. The week before I had been only one of two women for an IT career day presentation. In the Q&A session, the other female in the room asked the men presenting if IT was a male-dominated field and if so, why? They replied that many women choose children over a career or may not be interested in IT. I was itching for a better answer.

I began writing my year-long research project, exposing myself to scholarly research for the first time. I spent late nights copiously reading 20 plus-page research papers sponsored by the National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT), Catalyst, and the Anita Borg Institute, and written by Catherine Ashcraft, Joanne Cohoon and Lucy Sanders.

It is through my extensive research on women in IT that I learned about NCWIT’s Award for Aspirations in Computing. I applied and was awarded the Cincinnati Tri-State and Ohio Affiliate.

Around the same I was proposing and defending my thesis, my high school, Clark Montessori became a finalist in the White House Race to the Top Commencement Challenge for its emphasis on child-driven real-world project curriculum. Arne Duncan, the United States Secretary of Education, spoke at graduation and praised Clark for its unique culture and teaching model that promotes critical thinking and innovation.

When Ruthe Farmer posted about a White House opportunity for the Champion of Change Events in the Aspirations Award online community, I jumped on the opportunity and quickly submitted my request.

At the first reception at Google hosted by DC Innovates, it was empowering to see so many successful executive-level minorities and women lead the conversation on how to bring tech to DC, particularly to low-income neighborhoods. I heard an excellent and engaging presentation of the tech ecosystem and how it relates to successful innovation in DC. I could relate to the speech and ideas based on my experience going to school in a predominately African-American lower-income area. In the Q&A panel, project-based learning in education was mentioned, and I felt proud to understand how project-based learning fits into tech inclusion, education reform and empowering minorities in tech.

During the Champions of Change event, I saw my high school research paper on women in IT come alive. I participated in and observed the conversation on tech inclusion. It is extremely uplifting to be surrounded by true champions of change; those who are genuinely passionate, curious and excited about tech and as a result are extremely affluent and successful. The energy they bring to the table is contagious. It is interesting to hear tech executives and innovators give their perspective to the gender and computing research I have read based on their industry experience. At the Facebook reception, I continued to make connections with my high school and senior research paper on women in IT.

I met staff of the Department of Education who work with Arne Duncan and helped recognize my high school as leader in education. It comes full circle that a small high school in Cincinnati with a group of dedicated students can make an impact - echoing the concept of US 2020. (US 2020 is an initiative that will start tech mentoring locally with the goal that 20% of the workforce will participate in tech mentoring by 2020).

At the reception, I also ended up talking to Baratunde Thurston, the MC of the Champions of Change panel. He asked me “are you an entrepreneur” which alludes to “what are you contributing to tech?” I realized for the first time that I am a part of the conversation in tech and have an important voice as young member in the tech community. I can relate to the characteristics, experiences and mindset of the Champions of Change and other influential members in tech. Much like them, I am what success looks like.

Angelika Modawal is a student at the University of Cincinnati and  a 2010 and 2011 Ohio Affiliate Award winner of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing, a talent development initiative designed to increase female participation in technology careers by providing encouragement, visibility, community, leadership opportunities, scholarships, and internships to aspiring technically inclined young women.  Since 2007, NCWIT has inducted more than 2,500 young women into the Aspirations in Computing community and is helping to usher these women into technology careers.