Empowering Young Women in Tech through Engagement

Empowering Young Women in Tech through Engagement

Numerous studies, including a recent study by Microsoft have found that young girls become interested in STEM subjects around the age of 11 and then quickly lose interest at 15 years of age — It is unknown why interest drops at this age. Relatedly, even more concerning, according to research conducted by the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), only 25% of computing occupations are held by women.

Even though computing jobs offer some of the highest salaries available, we’re failing to make computing education accessible to all and attract diverse talent to the discipline. Additionally, women already employed in the technology industry are leaving at staggering rates, so we’re not adequately retaining diverse talent either.

The Minnesota State – IT Center of Excellence (MNSITCOE), and their many partners, including the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) Women Leading in Technology (WLiT) affinity group, have teamed up to address this issue. The collective goal of businesses and organizations who benefit from a robust pipeline of talented female technologists, is to join arms to provide an array of engagement strategies that inspires and empowers young women to follow a technical education and career path.

For the past seven years, female and male agents of change have engaged and influenced young women to tune-in and turn-on tech; growing their confidence and competence through collaborative learning, awards programs, mentorship experiences, career exploration, peer support, and leadership development experiences.  Countless hours of volunteer support have been directed to programs like:


Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards

Affiliated with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), in 2012, Minnesota began identifying and recognizing the talent within the state’s borders.  To date, nearly 200 young women from across Minnesota have been recognized for their computing related aspirations and achievements. In 2018, Minnesota delights in the success of thirty-five award honorees, 11 being dually recognized at the national level.  At a recent MHTA – WLiT gathering, state and national award honoree Marie Pena, a senior at Apple Valley High School was featured. Her heart-felt remarks about her support-filled technology education and career readiness journey was warmly received by all in attendance.  Marie will also be a featured speaker at the Aspirations in Computing Awards Ceremony on April 17.


Sustains Passion, Ambition and Resolve for Career Success. This  year-round program offers middle and high school female students the opportunity to connect with mentors, develop new skills in technology, and participate in activities designed by female and male technologists with diverse jobs, skill sets, and backgrounds.  SPARCS events feature fun ways to learn about emerging technologies, entrepreneur/startups, databases, gaming, security, software development, developing collaboration/interpersonal skills, and more, using a myriad of technology tools in diverse environments. SHE Day on Saturday, April 21 at Unisys in Eagan, MN, and led by GenMN, is designed to give tomorrow’s women in technology hands-on, fluff free insight on ideating, designing, and developing real world technologies.

Sisters N Technology This collaboration is one powerful example of many in which the IT Center is collaborating with businesses and IT Discovery Network partners to impact the lives of inner city students of color, to inspire an interest in higher education, and ideally, a growing desire to pursue a technology and computing-related career.   Sisters N Technology at North High School and South High School in Minneapolis offers female students the opportunity to code and learn other technology skills in an afterschool club, one that they have been empowered to ‘make their own’. Congratulations to Sisters N Technology club members Claire Jensen and Ayantu Hundressa for being selected 2018 Aspirations in Computing honorees. Special thanks to Target and Best Buy for their partnership support.


Camp Explore  

An overnight residential camp held at Winona State University. The program offers high school students the chance to try their hand at many different careers in science, technology, energy and medicine. Over a one week span, students gain a combination of real and simulated experiences in: energy, manufacturing and engineering, healthcare, agriculture, transportation, information technology and much more!


Tech IT Out! Minnesota

Matches information technology (IT) professionals from General Mills and Veritas Technologies with middle and high school classrooms in the metro area.  A 45-75 minute interactive presentation to secondary age students is often-times the first opportunity for young people to discover what IT is, who does IT, where IT happens, and why IT is essential.  The youthful presenters not only increase the awareness of students about ever-expanding technology roles and opportunities, but also provide intentionally designed messages to address common misconceptions held by many.  Demystifying IT is often the first step to instilling a student’s willingness to open her/his mind to technology education and career opportunities. Post presentation survey results (2013 – present) from over 3,000 youth consistently reveals positively changed perceptions, and increased interest in what the field has to offer.

Microsoft, a longtime MNSITCOE partner has been actively engaged in empowering young women in technology through programs such as DigiGirlz, offered this perspective about the high value of technical women in the workplace.  “A diverse and inclusive workforce will yield better products and solutions for our customers, and better experiences for our employees. When we encourage girls to pursue science and technology, we double our potential to solve problems.”  (source: article by Alanna Petroff entitled The exact age when girls lose interest in science and math)


You can close the disparity gap in information technology by joining the #MNGirlsDisruptTECH movement. If you represent a business, sign your organization up to offer internships, job shadow experiences and more. If you are an educator, promote the aforementioned STEM programs to your female students and their parents.

To learn more about these programs, and the various ways you, your company, or your students can get involved, contact Russell Fraenkel, Director of IT Career Pathways and Partnerships, at the Minnesota State – IT Center of Excellence, at russell.fraenkel@metrostate.edu or call (612) 659-7224.