Announcing the 2021 Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards Honorees

Announcing the 2021 Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards Honorees

The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards (MNAiC) program is proud to announce the 2021 class of honorees.

Awardees from high schools throughout Minnesota were selected by national and state review teams resulting in:

  • 33 Rising Star Honorees

  • 43 Certificate of Distinction Honorees

  • 40 Top-Tier State and/or National Honorees

Three distinct virtual ceremonies occur from April through May to recognize the technology talents and interests of these 116 accomplished young women.
Family, friends, educators, business partners and sponsors will all gather to support and celebrate the award recipients remarkable I.T. achievements.

As determined by the bestowed award level, awardees are featured in local and statewide media and eligible for a range of Minnesota prizes including mentoring experiences, paid summer internships, cash rewards, swag, and trophies. 

Honorees also receive access to exclusive resources provided by the National Center of Women and Information Technology (NCWIT).




On behalf of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), and the impressive array of local sponsors and partners, the Minnesota State IT Center of Excellence congratulates all the award recipients for their outstanding achievements.   A higher education and career path to exciting technology-related opportunities awaits them!

Meet the Minnesota Aspirations for Women in Computing Awards Honorees

2021 Top-Tier Award Recipients.

Warsan Abdi

Junior at Rosemount High School

Warsan is a State Honorable Mention recipient. Since taking her first coding class in middle school, Warsan decided programming is what she wants to do for life. She enjoys learning new skills and loves to challenge herself. In school she is a member of the Muslim Student Association and volunteers at her local mosque on the weekend. During her high school years, she has completed more than 70 hours of community service. Warsan loves to help people in any way that she can. She wants to use this opportunity to stand out and make changes within the STEAM field, especially since there isn’t a lot of black Muslim representation. Warsan is well versed with JavaScript and spent her first summer in high school programming LED lights using a LilyPad Arduino kit at UCSD. Warsan loves to work with new people and enjoys environments that take her out of her comfort zone. She is excited to see where her future in computer science and engineering leads her. Warsan wants to gain more experience and plans to take advantage of the classes and other opportunities available at her school. She plans to attend college and major in computer science and technology.

Nicole Alexandru

Senior at John Marshall High School 

Nicole is a State Honorable Mention. Throughout her childhood, Nicole followed in the footsteps of her software engineer parents and was interested in technology from a young age. She took several IT classes during middle and high school. After a JavaScript class at a local community college showed Nicole the basics of website programming, she created a mobile application, OnTop, with two of her friends. This class nurtured her creativity when designing games and websites, which she applied through her design and UI work on OnTop. The app served as an online platform for extracurricular communication and was a semifinalist for the MNCup Competition and a finalist for the EMGirls Competition. Nicole has also interned at Technovation[MN], a Minnesota non-profit encouraging young women and girls in technology through workshops, competitions, and more. While working with young children in learning environments at a local nature center and at a tutoring center, she became curious about the cognitive and neurological processes involved in learning. Her curiosity sparked questions about how humans learn and how this understanding applies to artificial intelligence and machine learning, which are technology fields she would like to explore during college. She is a Senior Captain of her school’s Science Olympiad, President of Model UN, and participates in Speech, Debate, and Math League. She plans on pursuing a degree in computer science with a focus on artificial intelligence.

Baraa Al-Jasim

Senior at Blaine High School

Baraa is a State Honorable Mention Recipient. Baraa’s changemaking aspirations stem from her interest in innovative research. Her interest in programming began when her father introduced her to computer systems. She learned how to program to create a functioning robot, which pushed her to independently expand her knowledge in computing at the International Science and Engineering Fair. She has been participating in the fair for three years, working on programming a fully autonomous firefighting robot prototype that is capable of detecting and extinguishing a simulated fire and has the ability to send a warning email to designated people when it senses the flames. She was fascinated by the fashioning of complex puzzle-like objects of interlocking moving parts and watching them work in subtle cycles, playing out the consequences of programming principles built in from the beginning. Her skills have been recognized and awarded by multiple companies and branches of the armed forces including, the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Yale Science & Engineering Association, Intel, and the International Science and Engineering Fair. Baraa plans to further her knowledge in programming by continuing her research on implementing technology in the field of firefighting. She desires to be a part of something that helps society by contributing to innovative research now and in the future, developing a smarter future for our world.

Kaliana Andriamananjara

Senior at Great River Montessori School

Kaliana is a State Winner. In addition to forming, being captain, and working in design and building for her school’s All Girls Robotics team, Team Athena, for several years, Kaliana has learned and practiced Python, HTML, Scratch and some Java programming. She has been involved in robotics since 2012 and has volunteered at the University of Minnesota neuroscience lab for two years. Kaliana organized her school’s first Math Club, which allowed students to practice and learn math skills, and brought in professors of local colleges to talk about STEM areas, such as data analysis, medicine, programming, and the future of AI technology. She also founded the school’s Equity and Justice Library to allow students easy and quick access to books specifically surrounding equity and justice. She additionally tutors her fellow students in science and mathematics, for schoolwork and standardized testing.

Sophie Bingen

Junior at at Maple Grove Senior High

Sophie is a State Winner. She was also a State Honorable Mention recipient in 2020. Her passion for programming was ignited in 8th grade when she first took a coding class at Macalester College. Since then she has continued to develop her programming skills through self-study and additional classes at several institutions to learn Java, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, C++, and Python. Sophie was accepted to coding classes at the University of Minnesota where she worked to develop a website for a social cause. This summer she worked to develop a Python curriculum to teach young girls. At school, Sophie pursues her passion for STEM by taking Engineering classes as well as high-level math and AP classes. She dedicates her time after school and on weekends to the high school robotics team, Crimson Robotics. She started her robotics career in programming where she worked with Java, but she later transferred to mechanical. In her CAD Education work Sophie developed curriculum to teach CAD to inexperienced teammates. She also previously mentored an FLL team and worked to organize and attend different robotics community events. Sophie is a FIRST Deans List nominee. She has been a Girl Scout for 10 years, has earned the Bronze award, and enjoys volunteering at Girl Scouts and other community events. Sophie plans on pursuing Biomedical Engineering.

Katya Borisova

Senior at Minnetonka High School

Katya is a State Winner. She is a prominent member of technology and computer science in her school’s student organizations and in her community. As a member of FIRST Robotics, she is responsible for the wiring of the different electronic components and has held the titles of Web Design Lead, Electronics Lead, Operator, and Captain. Katya is also a member of her school’s Supermileage team where she assists in designing, 3D modeling, welding, and building a fuel- efficient vehicle. Within her community, Katya has introduced children to technology and computer science through her involvement at EPIC Summer Camps, Tech Academy, Code Ninjas, and FLL. In each of these organizations she served as a role model and taught students LEGO engineering and coding among other STEM-related topics. Katya is most proud of her current internship at Qrona Technologies where she was initially responsible for data acquisition software development for photocathode quantum efficiency measurements in LabVIEW and 3D modeling in SOLIDWORKS. Her most recent project is to develop process control software for a thin film deposition system using RS 232 and 485 serial interfaces in LabVIEW. Katya will attend the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering this fall and major in Computer Science. In addition to her course work, she hopes to gain more experience in computer science through student organizations, undergraduate research, internships, and similar community involvement.

Alexis Bunnell

Senior at Burnsville High School

Alexis is a National Honorable Mention recipient. She was also a 2020 State Winner and 2019 Rising Star. Additionally, she received the 2020 Target TWIST EPIC Award. Over the past four years, Alexis has grown into a pioneer for women in STEM within her district. She advanced her coding knowledge by learning visual basic and developing her own mobile apps and javascript applications in her college level coding classes. Alexis is extremely passionate about encouraging children, especially young girls, to find a love for STEM. Annually, she co-coordinates her district wide Family Code Night with her twin brother which brings in over 100 families. Alexis created her own Congressional App Challenge and Technovation Teams. In her free-time she is an active volunteer in her community with over 2,000 volunteer hours. Alexis serves as Executive of Student Council, Vice President of National Honor Society and Communications Director of Youth Service Advisory Council. She also holds leadership positions in BurnsvilleStrong, Math League, and Link Crew. Alexis is also the only girl on her school’s varsity tackle football team. It is clearly evident that she has applied her love of learning and developed a sense of self to envision a future where her aspirations are truly within reach. Alexis is grateful for the many opportunities that computer science has brought her and plans to attend the University of Minnesota and study neuroscience in the honors program.

Elise Buzzell

Sophomore at Henry Sibley High School

Elise is a State Honorable Mention recipient. She was also a Certificate of Distinction recipient in 2020. Elise’s passion for STEM began at an early age when she first participated in engineering challenges through Odyssey of the Mind. She continued with Odyssey for the next four years and participated in the World Finals twice. She has also gone to sectionals, regionals, and state twice in First Lego League. In the past five years, she has fostered her passion through programming courses such as App Camp for Girls, Rebecca Coder Dojo, Digigirlz, GWC Summer Immersion Camp, and Camp Explore. One of Elise’s significant accomplishments is her solo presentation at Technovation[MN], where she presented her first app and her process from concept to execution. She has also participated in the Technovation[Alexa] challenge and is looking forward to a third year in the 2021 Technovation challenge. Elise will continue pursuing her love for technology by majoring in Software Engineering with a Computer Science minor at Iowa State University. In her spare time, Elise enjoys competing in school sports such as golf, soccer, and winter guard, as well as dancing with a local dance studio for the past twelve years.

Maggie Cai

Senior at Mounds View High School

Maggie is a State Honorable Mention recipient. Maggie has a wide range of interests in math and science. Her fascination with computer science began the summer before her senior year after participating in a Machine Learning Camp at the University of Minnesota. Having known that doctors had misdiagnosed her late grandfather’s cancer, Maggie was surprised to discover, during the camp that artificial intelligence algorithms can be trained to diagnose cancer with higher accuracy than doctors. Seeing how computational technology could save lives like her grandfather’s sparked her curiosity to explore computer science in in depth and in breadth, to discover its influence on a variety of fields. This year, Maggie is taking AP Computer Science A at her school and is also taking computer science courses at the University of Minnesota. Additionally, she is a Technovation Girls participant, where she brings together her passions for computer science and entrepreneurship through the creation of an innovative app. Maggie plans to pursue a degree in computer science. With all the knowledge she gains from the diverse resources and student perspectives in college, she hopes to contribute to improving algorithm quality so that AI can be a reliable source in the medical field.

Lydia Chung

Junior at St. Anthony Village High School

Lydia is a State Honorable Mention recipient. She has been an active member of her FIRST Robotics teams since 5th grade, holding leadership positions at both the FTC and FRC level. She also gained valuable programming and business experience through the all-girls STEM program, Technovation. She currently holds leadership positions in Key Club, Speech, FIRST Robotics, and Radiant Readers (a nonprofit she co-founded in June 2020). She also participates in swimming, Superintendent’s Council and Math League. Throughout middle and high school, she has been an academic achiever: she skipped sixth grade while continuing to be a top student in her class. Outside of school, Lydia enjoys tutoring other students in mathematics and sharing her passion and excitement for technology. In her free time, Lydia loves filming and editing videos and learning to use new technology such as 3D modeling software. She enjoys challenging herself academically and completed three AP math classes and one honors math class in two years. In the future, Lydia plans to attend a four-year college for business, pre-dentistry or computer science.

Bilese Dinsa

Senior at Central High School

Bilese is a State Winner and National Honorable Mention recipient. She challenges herself in school by taking AP, IB, and dual enrollment courses. She has a background in engineering and technology from her work at the Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center at the Science Museum of Minnesota. She helped create a podcast for the vaping epidemic advocacy campaign combining her main interests of social justice and engineering. Bilese helped fund the podcast by applying for and securing a $2,500 grant from the Association of Non-Smokers. With her father’s education in engineering and her mother’s medical history, biomedical engineering is her greatest passion. Bilese continued her work in technology through Genesys Works by being a contracted intern with Minnesota Public Radio. As an intern, her role is to assist employees with basic IT issues like password resets and computer updates. Bilese also took the initiative to learn coding in languages like Java Script and Python. She hopes to use her experiences in technology and engineering to help people. Outside of school, Bilese volunteers at her local oriental orthodox church, History Center, community centers, and other organizations. She participates in track and field and hopes to continue it in college. Bilese hopes to major in biomedical engineering and tie in the aspect of social justice all while improving the lives of others.


Karina Dovgodko

Senior at Math and Science Academy

Karina is a State Honorable Mention Recipient. She is interested in math, physics, and computer science, and their applications in mathematical modeling and quantum computing. She is a captain and programmer on her school’s FRC Robotics team (Team 2175, the Fighting Calculators), president of her school’s Science Club, and co-founder of her school’s Science Fair. Last summer Karina enjoyed participating in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program and the Math Modeling and Machine Learning programs at the University of Minnesota, where she programmed a virus transmission model and a machine learning model to classify mushrooms as poisonous or edible. In her free time, she enjoys learning French and Spanish, as well as new origami patterns.

Annabelle Fries

Senior at Roseville Area High School

Annabelle is a Minnesota Affiliate Honorable Mention. Annabelle plans on pursuing degrees in Marketing and Psychology. She will be attending the University of Wisconsin Superior. She is involved in many extracurricular activities. Her biggest involvement is her FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, the FireBears team 2846. She has been on the team for three years and has been the More Than Robots (MTR) captain for all three years. She is in charge of media, marketing, business, and much more. She is also a Chairman’s presenter for the team and has been all three years. She loves working with her team and participating in outreach throughout her community. She loves to interact with younger students to inspire them to also be able to pursue STEM. This is Annabelle’s fourth year participating in Technovation [MN]. Technovation is an all-girls club that teaches girl app-making skills and entrepreneurship skills. Over the last four years, her team had created three apps and two Alexa skills. The Alexa skills challenge is a partnership with Amazon that her team is doing for the third year that has allowed her to learn about a new kind of code. Annabelle has been an active Girl Scout for the last 13 years. In school, she challenges herself by taking AP classes including AP Computer Science A. She loves learning about and trying new things that challenge her.

Dedeepya Guthikonda

Junior at Edina High School

Dedeepya is a State Honorable Mention recipient. She was also a 2020 Certificate of Distinction Recipient. She is interested in how technology can be used to bridge existing socioeconomic and cultural divides. Her interest in coding stemmed from her sophomore AP Computer Science Java class and her participation in the University of Minnesota’s Talented Youth Math Program (UMTYMP). She believes in the potential of technology to open doors for marginalized communities and aspires to work on this challenge. One of her favorite experiences with technology was designing an app, during a hackathon, that assisted English speakers with learning the language. Dedeepya enjoys all forms of writing and wants to explore how technology can be used to further journalism and multimedia stories. She is also interested in learning more about the emergent and burgeoning field of data journalism. In addition to being a part of her school’s student newspaper and Model UN team, she interns with the local paper, works as a math and writing tutor, and enjoys playing tennis. She wants to pursue an interdisciplinary education with hopes of working as an immigration lawyer.

Lucia Hadsall

Junior at Blaine High School – Center for Engineering, Math, and Science

Lucia is a State Honorable Mention recipient. She was also a 2020 Minnesota Rising Star. Lucia’s interest in computer science started when she learned block coding in middle school and realized that she has a knack for computers. As a freshman at Blaine High School Center for Engineering, Math, and Science (CEMS), Lucia was selected to be the four-year women’s representative for the Class of 2022. Since enrolling in the CEMS program, she has become well-versed in different languages such as Java, Python, and HTML. Lucia has further developed her computer skills by participating in Business Professionals of America where she was a state finalist and Nationals qualifier for two consecutive years for Desktop Publishing. This year, she is a regional finalist in Desktop Publishing and Microsoft Office Systems and Procedures. When she’s not busy at her computer, Lucia teaches swim lessons, lifeguards, and is a restaurant hostess. She has been playing piano for twelve years and recently began teaching beginning piano players. In the future, Lucia plans to double major in computer science and software engineering and then pursue a career in cybersecurity.

Heba Hussein

Junior at Blaine High School

Heba is a State Honorable Mention recipient. When Heba was in fourth grade, she participated in an after-school program called Mad Scientists and ever since, Heba has found ways to ensure STEM is incorporated into her life. Currently, Heba is a part of her school’s CEMS (Center for Engineering Math and Science) magnet program, where she learns about circuits, coding, and technology. Heba is an active member of various STEM clubs: Math Team, FIRST Robotics Team, Tech Club, and Business Professionals of America. She is also in the Black Student Union and Muslim Student Union at school, and a member of Sudani American Collective. Heba is a leader at her school through her roles as Secretary of the Student Council and Parliamentarian of the Business Professionals of America chapter. Outside of school, she works on personal projects in CAD, code, and game design. Her goal is to enhance technology’s accessibility, diversity, and ability. She volunteers fixing recycled computer components and building affordable computers with the nonprofit PCs for People. Heba also holds a part-time job tutoring young children at a learning center called STEM Builders. Heba plans to attend a four-year university for Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Akansha Kamineni

Senior at Eastview High School

Akansha is a State Winner. She was also a 2020 Rising Star, 2019 Certificate of Distinction recipient, and 2019 TWIST EPIC Award recipient. Akansha is captain of her FTC Robotics Team, debate team captain, French Club officer, National Honor Society officer, and newspaper editor. She has been using her love of the digital realm to help develop new ways to transition these activities online due to the pandemic. Her passion for STEM has pushed her to take multiple AP Computer Science courses. She is now proficient in Java and has participated in the Congressional App Challenge twice, once with an app made with MIT App Inventor and the other with an app developed in Java. She recently won the MN02 2021 Congressional App Challenge with her app, “Rethink Recycling”, which helps users identify whether the item they are using is recyclable or not. Outside of school, Akansha volunteers at the Science Museum of Minnesota. She has also participated in the research of microwave substrates at the University of Washington-Seattle. She hopes to further her STEM career by majoring in electrical engineering and computer science in college.

Tanisha Kota

Junior at Eastview High School

Tanisha is a State Winner. She was also a 2020 Certificate of Distinction recipient. Her interest in STEM sparked after she created an app in 8th grade to make recycling easier. Troubled by the various discrepancies of the current education system, Tanisha set on a mission to make education more accessible and engaging through technology. She created a free tutoring program called “Geniusprep” which connects high school tutors with K-8 students to make the learning process more engaging in STEM. Her goal through “Geniusprep” is to provide high-quality tutoring while also allowing kids to create a passion for learning. “Geniusprep” is 100% virtual which makes the services accessible to everyone. Tanisha serves on her district’s gifted and talented advisory council. She works to innovate elementary school students’ curriculum. In school, Tanisha is on the debate team, a student council officer, and a National Honor Society member. She serves as a Region Business Professionals of America (BPA) Vice President and has been recognized for her work in effective multimedia and technology usage. Outside of school you can find Tanisha figure skating or playing the piano. Equally important to Tanisha is community service where she’s volunteered numerous hours at Fairview Ridges Hospital, Minnesota Zoo, and Camp Invention. In the future, Tanisha hopes to leverage technology to make quality education accessible for everyone. Whether she innovates the education space by making an app that makes learning easier or by enhancing a current education platform, she can’t wait to use technology to better the world.

Izzi Lauer

Junior at Cretin-Derham Hall 

Izzi is a State Honorable Mention recipient. Her enthusiasm for programming began in 4th grade when she joined FIRST Lego League (FLL). In middle school, she participated in Girls Who Code, and she continued to compete on FLL teams at the Twin Cities German Immersion School. Izzi took multiple computer science classes in middle and high school, where she learned HTML, CSS, Python, Java, and CAD. Last summer, she completed a week-long cybersecurity boot camp at Metropolitan State University and learned about cyber vulnerabilities and security architecture. Izzi has been enrolled in the University of Minnesota Talented Youth Mathematics Program (UMTYMP) since 7th grade, and she’s currently studying multivariable calculus. She’s also taking computer science classes at the University of Minnesota on topics including algorithms, data structures, and discrete mathematics. This is Izzi’s third year as a programmer on Cretin-Derham Hall’s robotics team. She’s especially interested in computer vision and autonomous code, and she led a project to maneuver Arduino robots around obstacles. Izzi plans to major in computer science and pursue a career in data analytics or machine learning. Outside of math and computer science, Izzi is on the cross-country team. She also enjoys water skiing, taking circus classes, and playing piano.

Sophia Mack

Senior at Southwest High School

Sophia is a State Winner and National Honorable Mention recipient. She was also a 2020 Rising Star. Her passion for technology ignited when she joined Lego Robotics at age nine. In 8th grade, she started an FTC robotics team where she leads in robot design, documentation and business and community outreach. Sophia also founded an outreach program to help English as a Second Language (ESL) students succeed in robotics. This program has reached over 1000 students with Spanish and Somali language robotics resources and introduced them to diverse tech professionals who are also ESL and serve as relatable role models. She has worked at Mathnasium for two years, teaching young kids’ math and critical thinking. Sophia’s love of computer science exploded when she began using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python and machine learning to create projects that express her personal interests including an online bird watching journal for a national birding podcast and a video game that introduces players to Filipino culture and plant-based eating. At her high school, Sophia serves as a National Honor Society member and founder of C++ (Cozy Coding Club), an inclusive community for coding and sharing strategies for overcoming challenges. In 2019, Sophia was honored with the TWIST Epic Award for outstanding achievement in STEM. Since then, she has helped TWIST plan virtual conferences and is their lead graphic designer for the Prepare to Launch program. Sophia plans to major in computer science, to continue helping kids access opportunities in technology, and to keep learning.

Ruth Mellin

Junior at St. Paul Academy and Summit School

Ruth is a State Honorable Mention recipient. She has sought out the highest-level math and science courses since elementary school and has deeply explored computer science and engineering in high school. She has taken computer science classes working with Java to create data and sentiment analysis programs, video games, and animations. She has worked with Arduino Create and microcontrollers to build digital device projects such as a soil monitor, a tea steeping machine, and a multi-sensor alarm clock. Over the summer, Ruth worked as a counselor at a film camp helping middle school students learn about film production and video editing. Ruth is very interested in engineering and enjoys the collaborative, hands-on projects in her mechanical and aerospace classes. Ruth recently enjoyed advanced classes in biology and genetics and plans to explore bioinformatics as an independent study project. Ruth has participated in Science Alliance and competed in the Science Olympiad. In her free time, Ruth is the captain of her club gymnastics team and volunteers at a local historical site. In college, Ruth plans to major in engineering and explore the possibilities at the intersection of engineering, biology, and computer science such as biomedical engineering and bioinformatics.

Nicole Miller

Senior at Winona Senior High School

Nicole is a State Winner. Nicole has been interested in technology and computers from a young age. In middle school, she participated in Media Club, where she worked on different projects such as creating basic video games and video production. In high school, Nicole has taken several computer-related classes including Intro to Programming and a Video Production class.  She has been a part of her school’s tech team called TechNest since 9th grade.   In TechNest, she helps students and teachers with a multitude of technical issues.  Last year she was promoted to a TechNest leader. As leader, she has the opportunity to teach and mentor new members of the team.  She is also the lead video producer for the team.  Being in TechNest has allowed Nicole to follow her passion.  She has also been able to help inspire younger girls to pursue their interests in technology by going to elementary schools and showing the kids how to fly drones and use green screens.  Nicole has had the opportunity to attend several coding camps over the summer.  She was able to learn the basics of Python at the University of Minnesota and how to code apps with Java at Stanford University. Nicole is also a member of the National Honor Society and she participates in mountain biking and track and field.  Nicole plans to get a degree in Computer Science or Software Engineering, with a minor in Math and Data Analysis.

Grace N

Junior at Math and Science Academy

Grace is a State Honorable Mention recipient. As a founding member and current president of her school’s SWENext Club, she aspires to spark interest and confidence in students pursuing STEM. Grace has helped organize STEM outreach activities with local schools, libraries, and the Science Museum of Minnesota. She set up, created lesson plans, and taught basic Python and HTML/CSS classes, introducing over forty students to the world of code. Grace is also code lead of her school’s FIRST Robotics Team and has written code in Java for the robot’s subsystems, autonomous commands, and driving controls. She works for an application and web design firm on the transfer of content, customization, and maintenance of websites for affiliates of a national mental health association. She also volunteers as the website administrator for a non-profit organization in the Seattle WA area. Outside of STEM, Grace likes to run cross country and long-distance track. She hopes to pursue a computer science and engineering track in college. In the future, Grace wants to focus on research and innovation to make impactful contributions towards solving the world’s climate crisis.

Sophia Noonan

Senior at DeLaSalle High School

Sophia is a State Winner and National Honorable Mention recipient. She was also a 2020 State Honorable Mention recipient. Sophia challenges herself academically with technology, enrolling in AP Computer Science A and AP Computer Science Principles, and encouraging other female classmates to do the same. Her first spark with coding started through the learning of Python, where she then went on to become a TA at the Summer Programming Academy for middle and high school girls at the University of Minnesota. Sophia has continued to branch out and learn more computing languages, such as Java, Java Script, and some HTML, as well as having the opportunity to work on creating a radio chatbot with graduate students at the U of M this summer. When not behind a computer, Sophia is captain of the DeLaSalle Mock Trial team and player on the varsity state-champs Girls’ Basketball team. In a time when technology has been relied on more than ever before, she has made an effort to spread technology skills to her community and hopes to solidify the importance of computing to others. Sophia plans on studying computer science at a four-year university with the hopes of pursuing cybersecurity or data analytics while spreading awareness of the American Digital Divide.

Nia Page

Junior at Woodbury High School

Nia is a State Winner. She was also a 2020 Rising Star. Nia became interested in STEM during a two-week Black Girls Code summer camp. During her first week at camp, she built a website using HTML and CSS. The website was designed to show up-to-date information about celebrities. During her second week, she developed an app to help users shop for shoes based on location and price. This camp sparked Nia’s interest in programming. Following summer camp, Nia advanced her programming skills by taking a level two coding class sponsored by the Black Data Processing Association (BDPA). Nia further explored her STEM interests during a summer program at her church. Here, she created a replica of the game Pac-Man, helped build a go-kart, and won first place in a drone competition. This church program is where Nia discovered how much she loves working with drones. In quarantine, she enrolled in a virtual drone league. In this league, Nia was able to collaborate with kids from all over the United States. This year Nia was a member of the Minnesota STEM Partnership drone team and completed her second season as a driver on the FIRST robotics team. She plans on going to a four-year university, majoring in Computer Science or Information Technology.

Devna Panda

Senior at Eden Prairie High School

Devna is a State Honorable Mention recipient. Devna was first exposed to programming during Hour of Code in fifth grade. After being selected as one of twenty girls nationwide to participate in Camp Codea, a technology and programming camp at a leading fintech company, Liquidnet, Devna expanded her knowledge of mark-up languages. She recently attended Summer STEM Institute, where she learned Python and implemented machine learning models to filter data. Devna applied her learning to develop a research proposal describing how to use clustering to discover existing errors in robotic surgery techniques. She now uses HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and Python to design mobile applications, such as an asthmatic symptom checker. Devna is fascinated by the intersection of medicine and technology as she recognizes both of these fields’ unique capacities to create social impact. Beyond computer science-related pursuits, Devna is a volunteer at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital and a Youth Advisory Board member at myHealth Clinic for Teens and Young Adults. Moreover, she is a Captain of Mock Trial, student instructor at Mathnasium, leader of her school’s peer tutoring organization, ATHENA by Women in STEM mentor, and President of her school’s National Honor Society chapter. By actively working with and serving others throughout high school, Devna has fostered a passion for service that motivates her daily. Ultimately, Devna hopes to pursue biomedical engineering during her undergraduate education to unite her interests in computer science and health.

Maria Guadalupe Pena Chavez

Senior at Burnsville High School

Maria is a State winner. Her interest in computer science began during the pandemic when she decided to learn to code. Maria started learning JavaScript on her own, then decided to enroll in an AP computer programming class where she is learning Java. In addition to her interests in computer science, Maria enjoys spending time in her community and giving back. She volunteers with young children in an after-school program called PALS, where she provides math and reading help. She also volunteers at Brainpower in a Backpack, packaging food to be sent home with younger children in need so they have meals on the weekend. Maria’s hard work is motivated by the sacrifices she has seen her family make so she can have a bright future. Maria comes from a family of immigrants, which gives her a unique perspective on issues in her community. She hopes to use Computer Science to help bring positive change to those in need. Maria plans to pursue a degree in Computer Science next year.

Caroline Pirtle

Junior at Breck School

Caroline is a State Honorable Mention. She was also a Minnesota Rising Star in 2019 and 2020. Caroline joined Breck’s FIRST Lego League robotics team in fifth grade, where she programmed the robot and presented an engineering project. She started Breck’s FIRST Technical Challenge team, participated in coding classes at the U of M, and became involved with Girls Who Code. Caroline currently participates in Breck’s FIRST Robotics Competition team as a programmer and Chairman’s presenter. Her team attended World’s after winning the 2019 Northern Lights Regionals. Caroline was selected for Breck’s Advanced Science Research program where she worked with the U of M Division of Health Policy and Management writing algorithms in Python to optimize medical clinics’ schedules. She made a GUI for the algorithms, conducted various statistical tests to compare the generated schedules with historical ones, and found an overall improvement with the generated schedules. Caroline is president of Breck’s Visual Arts Council, and won a Scholastic Silver Key and Honorable Mention for her artwork. She’s taken computer science classes and taught coding classes to younger Breck students. Caroline and her twin sister created an art therapy service project at Catholic Elder Care, to help alleviate the isolation experienced by residents that has resulted from Covid-19 restrictions. They developed a website and film monthly tutorials demonstrating the projects they provided. Caroline plays varsity softball, participated in JV swimming and is the only girl on Breck’s mountain bike team.

Sreeyutha Ratala

Junior at Edina High School

Sreeyutha is a State Winner. Her interest in computer science was spurred when she attended Summer Computing Academy at the University of Minnesota, which exposed her to the wide applications of and ability to solve real-world problems with technology. Since then, she took an online Python coding class, an AP Computer Science Principles class, an AP Computer Science JAVA class, and joined her high school math team. Sreeyutha has developed several programs, games, and apps. She received a Dean’s List Award for “Excellence in AP Computer Science.¨ To help children discover and foster STEM passion at an early age, Sreeyutha tutors grade-school students in coding and other STEM subjects. She has tested an app that provides emotional support for children suffering from cancer. In addition, she recently developed a game for “Science from Scientists” to help students learn about the ecosystem in a distance learning environment. Sreeyutha hopes to continue her computer science journey by doing a summer internship at an IT company in Minnesota, being a Teacher’s Assistant for her AP Computer Science JAVA class, and taking her third year of AP Computer Science classes at the University of Minnesota. In the future, she hopes to attend a four-year university and major in Computer Science, with a particular focus on Artificial Intelligence. She aspires to ultimately challenge existing misogyny projected towards females in programming while making a lasting impact on business and the world.

Alexandra Rauer

Senior at Roseville Area High School

Alexandra is a State Winner. Lexie first got interested in computer science through building and programming robots for her FIRST Lego League team in middle school. Throughout high school, her knowledge and love of technology has continued to grow with the help of computer science classes and robotics. Lexie took AP Computer Science Principles as a sophomore where she learned the basics of Python and computer science concepts. She is currently taking AP Computer Science A where she is programming in Java. Lexie is most proud of her involvement on her school’s FIRST Robotics Competition team, the FireBears. She was on the Computer-Aided Design (CAD) sub-team for three years where she designed parts to create a CAD model of the entire robot. Now as the head captain of the FireBears, she plans meetings, makes team decisions, and works with all sub-teams. Lexie was able to go to the FIRST Robotics World Championship and was a FIRST Dean’s List Semi-Finalist. This year is also Lexie’s fourth year on her school’s Technovation team. They have created three mobile apps and two Alexa Skills. In addition, Lexie is an active member of her school’s Girls in STEM club. They meet once a week to learn about STEM careers and organize STEM events. Last summer, Lexie was a Data & Analytics intern at Land O’Lakes, where she worked on change management and analyzed trends in data. In the future, she plans to attend college and major in Cybersecurity.

Prudence Russell

Junior at Edina High School

Prudence is a State Honorable Mention recipient. She was also a 2020 Minnesota Rising Star. Prudence has been a leader in robotics since fourth grade, guiding both her VEX Robotics and FIRST Robotics teams as a programmer and co-captain. In 2016, her VEX IQ team placed top 20 in programming at the World Championships. After joining her high school’s robotics team “The Green Machine”, she learned how to run the team’s CNC machine, fabricating the parts necessary for her team’s first regional win in almost 15 years. She is currently a co-captain for this year. Not only has she been involved in the machining and building aspect, but she also works with her team in their outreach efforts. She believes that it is imperative to advocate for and provide STEM opportunities for underserved communities, especially those that have limited or no access to STEM and robotics. Prudence worked with her team and state senators to increase funding for STEM and robotics opportunities in the metro and statewide. Additionally, she has advocated at a national level in Washington D.C., where she had the opportunity to meet with various congressional leaders, including Senator Tina Smith. Outside of robotics, Prudence is involved in fencing and is currently an Ambassador Girl Scout where she is working towards her Gold Award which is focused on inspiring girls to pursue engineering and STEM careers.

Aliyah Sahal

Junior at Blaine High School

Aliyah is a State Winner. She is predominantly self-taught but has taken a class to learn HTML, CSS, and Java. She has an interest in Biomedical Engineering and would love to further the technology we have and make it more accessible and affordable for people to receive and use. Aliyah was creative as a child and her passion drove her to quickly learn many forms of art. She always finds herself drawing and coding something new whenever she has a spare moment. Her parents, always supportive, motivate her to seek out new ways and forms to express her creativity. Aliyah has a passion for public speaking, art, and activism. Most recently, she has felt drawn toward activism and speaking out on issues. Her activism has felt like a personalized form of art. Being a Black Muslim American and being from the state where George Floyd was unfortunately murdered, Aliyah was personally affected by the BLM protests of this past summer and feels connected to this cause. The protests have inspired her to focus on speaking out on the issues of which she cares.

Cecelia Schmitz

Senior at Hutchinson High School

Cecilia is a State Winner. She is an aspiring video game designer. Cecilia is a member of a FIRST Robotics team, where she is a programmer.  She enjoys robotics and her time with the team. Cecilia learned how to program on her own. She taught herself JavaScript and designed her own robot using an Arduino board. She has learned Python and has built projects on Raspberry Pis. Cecilia has experimented with game design engines such as RPGMakerMV and RenPy. Currently, she spends a lot of her free time programming experimental projects using the Unity game engine and learning as much as she can about new programming languages through various online resources. While attending a competitive summer camp, Women in Computer Science at Michigan Technological University, Cecilia designed and completed her own mobile app using Thunkable. She considers this to be her greatest technical accomplishment so far.

Now that she is a veteran programmer, Cecilia loves to spend as much time as she can teaching younger students how to code. In addition to her coding activities, Cecilia works part time at a hardware store, participates in Math League, and plays piano and clarinet. Cecilia plans on majoring in computer science in college.

Esha Sekar

Senior at Lakeville North High School

Esha is a State Winner. She was also a 2020 State Honorable Mention recipient. Esha loves many aspects of STEM, including programming, learning new coding languages, app building, and teaching code to younger students. She was introduced to the concept of computer science when she completed AP Computer Science her freshman year and wanted to continue exploring the field. Esha is currently learning Python, JavaScript, and mobile app development. Esha’s STEM achievements include being a Target TWIST awardee in 2019 and winning the Congressional App Challenge for her app Good Deeds, which helps connect family and friends. She has conducted science research on Cybersecurity to gauge people’s awareness when it comes to data threats and the internet. She feels this would be instrumental in keeping the younger generation safe online. She holds numerous leadership positions including being the founder and president of her high school’s Entrepreneurship Club and Varsity Tennis Captain. Esha has led a Coding for Girl Scouts Workshop in Summer and is a volunteer coach for Challenger Learning Center, teaching robotics to children. She volunteers on the weekends at Inner City Tennis, where she teaches underprivileged children the game of tennis, building their self-confidence and life skills. In her free time, she enjoys trying new foods, playing tennis, and golfing. Esha aspires to study computer science and entrepreneurship in college.

Claire Stellmack

Junior at Mounds View High School

Claire is a State Honorable Mention recipient. She has always enjoyed taking math courses in
school and first became interested in programming after joining a coding club in seventh grade.
Through middle and high school, Claire participated in Science Olympiad, winning state titles in experimental writing, meteorology, and biology events. She joined a FIRST LEGO League
robotics team in eighth grade, then switched to FIRST Tech Challenge in high school and is
currently on a team that has advanced to this year’s state tournament. Her favorite parts of
FIRST are programming the robot. participating in outreach events in the community, and
mentoring FIRST LEGO League teams. Claire is currently a full-time PSEO student at the
University of Minnesota, focusing on computer science and math. She is planning to major in
computer science in college. Outside of school, Claire enjoys music and plays clarinet, piano,
and bass guitar. She also likes reading, making crafts, and working as a barista at Starbucks.

Alayna Tan

Junior at Math and Science Academy

Alayna is a State Honorable Mention recipient. She was also a 2020 Minnesota Rising Star. Alayna has been interested in technology since she was young, but her interest in coding was sparked through various extracurriculars at her high school. She is a proud captain and driver for the school’s FIRST Robotics Competition team, The Fighting Calculators and a programmer and driver for the all-girls FIRST Tech Competition team The Wyvern Warriors. She enjoys helping out her community by using her tech knowledge. She taught free summer Java programming lessons since her school didn’t offer programming courses. She also works at her school where she fixes laptops and helps everything to run smoothly in the technology department. She also does community outreach projects through her school’s clubs. Most recently, she has been working with The Wyvern Warriors and Girl Scouts to create a curriculum for a programming-themed distanced activity for scouts from 2nd-5th grade. Alayna’s broad interests have gained her experience with hardware repair and management as well as web development, game design & development, and project management. Alayna is currently dually enrolled at Math and Science Academy as well as Century College, where she is taking computer science courses, a trend which she plans to continue in college. In the future, she is especially interested in exploring the conjunction of computer science and art, as well as finding ways to make STEM fields more welcoming and accessible to marginalized groups.

Ezigbo Ugochukwo

Senior at Sauk Rapids – Rice Senior High

Ezigbo is a State Winner. She is originally from Owerri, Nigeria in West Africa. As a young child, she traveled to Minnesota with her parents and began her educational career in the United States. After she completed her first years of education at an elementary and middle school, she began her high school career at Sauk Rapids-Rice High School. She partakes in PSEO, or Post-Secondary Enrollment Options, which is an academic option that allows her to take college courses at St. Cloud State University while attending high school. She is currently a senior in high school and a sophomore in college and will be a member of the St. Cloud State University Class of 2023. Ezigbo is majoring in computer science and has been named an elite group leader and academic scholar by professors and large organizations. She has also participated in the student council team at her high school, a team that plans activities and organizations that help integrate new students into the new environment. Ezigbo is also Vice President of the Computer Science club at her university. She plans to become a software engineer and is currently gaining experience through various projects and programs.

Gretel Tassah

Senior at White Bear South Campus

Gretel is a State Winner and a National Certificate of Distinction recipient in 2020. She was also selected as a 2020 Questbridge National College Match Finalist and awarded the organization’s New American Award for high-achieving, low-income students whose parents immigrated to the United States. Throughout high school, Gretel has taken several AP and CIS classes, and received the AP Scholar with Honors Award in her Junior year. Her interest in STEM began when she participated in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program junior year where she learned HTML, CSS, and Java. During the program she built two websites and one Buzzfeed style quiz. That summer she also underwent rigorous training for business technology through Genesys Works, an organization that partners with top companies to provide pathways for underrepresented students in the corporate world. Currently, she is working as a Data Management Intern at Land O’ Lakes where she analyzes and visually represents data using Excel and Power BI. Aside from her part time job, Gretel is fostering connections as the White Bear Lake Student Ambassador for Genesys Works and a member of the National Honors Society at her school. She is also a content creator and staff writer for Magnify Wellness, an international nonprofit working to ensure equal access to mental health through an IOS app, mental health x STEAM events and a resource hub. Gretel plans on continuing her education at the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Arts and Sciences

Samiksha Vijay

Senior at Wayzata High School

Samiksha is a State Honorable Mention recipient, and a former National Distinction award recipient. Her love for technology all began when she started with web design in 10th grade and got introduced to html and css, which gave her the outlet to display her creativity and zest for building things. She then went on to take her first programming class, C++, which connected with her wanting to find new ways to put together her learned skills with her new skills to further strengthen her overall skillset. She then participated in a C++ competition and won the regionals. This gave her the confidence to try more things related to technology, and so she chose to take the Compass Cybersecurity class in her High school which was a game changing experience for her. It introduced her to a whole new world of concepts from Networking and Cryptography to graph theory and euler’s circuits. This newfound love for cybersecurity led her to join many capture the flag events, and introduced her to people who were passionate for technology just like her. Currently, she is learning about Cloud Computing, and Machine learning and hopes to keep learning about this massive world of computing.

Anna Wang

Junior at Edina High School

Anna is a State Honorable Mention recipient. She was also a 2020 Certificate of Distinction recipient. Growing up with parents in STEM careers, Anna has been interested in science and technology for as long as she can remember. In middle school, she joined First Tech robotic team, and participated in Girls Who Code where she started learning Python. Last year she learned AP Computer Science Principles where she gained the concept of computer science and an overview of computing and its societal impacts. She continued to pursue her passion in computer science through attending an intensive two-week programming camp Summer Computer Academy at the University of Minnesota, where she learned to use Python, draw different objects using turtle, code Rock, Paper, Scissors, and to design a webpage using HTML and CSS. She also attended the virtual machine learning camp where she learned applications of computer sciences in fields such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and big data analysis. She did research in analyzing medical data by using machine learning techniques: data visualization, training and testing, and decision trees. She is currently taking AP Computer Science A where she is learning Java. Anna would like to attend college to pursue a career in computer programming. She would like to learn more about coding in other languages because one of her dreams is to be able to code something that will analyze big data to solve problems in society.

2021 NCWIT Collegiate Award Finalist

Kateyln Jo France, University of Minnesota - DuluthKatelyn Jo France

University of Minnesota – Duluth
Katelyn Jo France is pursuing a B.S. in Biochemistry and will begin her Pharmacy program this fall at the University of Minnesota – Duluth. She is the founder and CEO of Scientists Making Your Life Easier (SMYLE) LLC, a medtech and mentorship-focused corporation that produces accessible life-saving medical equipment while also providing opportunities for networking and assistance for underserved students who are interested in pursuing STEM projects and careers. She is currently working with Dr. Jacob Brown of the University of Minnesota – Duluth School of Pharmacy on a pharmacogenomics project assessing sertraline concentrations in children stratified by their CYP2C19 genotype. She also works as a barista in her hometown of Hinckley and loves all types of coffee. Katelyn loves needlework and crocheting, as well as hiking near her home along the North Shore of Minnesota. You can find her on social media as @franceinyapants.

2021 NCWIT Teacher Honorees

The Top-Tier ceremony features Minnesota’s 2021 Aspirations Educator Honorable Mention recipient, Jen Danielson from Roseville Area High School, and Minnesota Aspirations Educator of the Year, Ryan Lindsay from Northeast Range School in Babbitt, MN.  Numerous other educators who endorsed students will be in attendance to cheer on their students and colleagues.

2021 Aspirations in Computing Certificate of Distinction and Rising Star Honorees

The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards Committee congratulates 76 young women selected as a Certificate of Distinction (CoD) or Rising Star Honoree.

43 were selected as CoD recipients. The National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) selected these honorees whose scores were relatively strong, as evidenced by their engagement in a variety of technology and leadership experiences offered in their high school and community.

The Minnesota Aspirations committee also selected 33 Rising Star Honorees who demonstrated engagement in a mixture of technology education and leadership experiences, showing strong promise to be successful in pursuing a technology education and career path.

Certificate of Distinction Honorees

Hosted by General Mills

Rising Star Honorees

Hosted by Minnesota Twins


GRAND PRIZE: Summer Internships

This is the ninth year the awards program has offered internships as a Grand Prize.  This year we are delighted and grateful that General Mills, Land O’Lakes, Optum, Prime Therapeutics, Securian, and SPS Commerce are providing 16 honorees a summer paid internship, which will be performed remotely.

The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing year-round talent development program is unparalleled in its ability to identify and prepare Top-Tier honorees of high value to Minnesota businesses desiring to diversify their workforce.  We welcome any business or organization to join our partner efforts to ensure that hundreds of the state’s young women become our next, best Minnesota-grown technology talent.

2021-2020 Program Sponsors & Partners

We are especially grateful to our financial sponsors who provide funding for year-round Aspirations and SPARCS programming for award honorees, as well as, hundreds of young women from Minnesota secondary schools.

MNAiC financial sponsors:

Target, SPS Commerce, Land O’Lakes, Optum, General Mills, STEM Fuse, Veritas Technologies, Minnesota Twins, National Center for Women and Information Technology, Unisys, Stoneridge Software, Prime Therapeutics, Information Systems Security Association, and Securian.