Happy New Year! Our 2019 resolution is to deliver more stories featuring the amazing adventures of current and past Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Award (MNAiC) honorees! The Where are They Now? series provides an exclusive look into their lives, exposing their personal and professional interests, their favorite learning and enrichment experiences, and their education and career plans. Today we are featuring Caroline Zeng, a 2018 Minnesota State Winner and National Honorable Mention.
Caroline is currently a Wayzata High School senior with dreams to build a computing-related career where she improves modern technology and inspires other girls to explore the computing field. “I was incredibly honored to be named a Minnesota Winner and National Honorable Mention,” Caroline says, “Through the Aspirations in Computing Program, I have been exposed to many wonderful opportunities and resources that have helped guide and support me as I continue on my journey in STEM.”
Caroline aspires to work in the computing industry in the areas of artificial intelligence or computer vision. Computer vision is an interdisciplinary field involving artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, signal processing and geometry. To get there, she plans to go to college to major in computer science or a related field after graduating from high school this year. She is taking computer science, math and science courses which position her well to achieve her college and career goals. Caroline’s favorite class is AP Computer Science Principles, because it gives her the opportunity to explore many different areas of computing, and she enjoys math and science classes due to the challenges they provide. Not only does she enjoy these subjects, she excels at them too! In 2018, Caroline was selected by MNAiC program partner, Target as a TWIST Epic winner. Target Women in Science and Technology (TWIST) honors young women who are Engaged, Passionate, Innovative and Curious (EPIC) within STEM fields.
She balances her studies with volunteering, competing on her school’s Math Team, competing at the Science Bowl, and leading a dance group. She developed a love for volunteering from her experience as a Girl Scout. Throughout her 13 years as a Girl Scout, Caroline participated in service projects and became engaged in community issues she was passionate about. She received the Bronze, Silver and Gold service awards, and recently she was honored as a Prudential Spirit of Community Award winner. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program is the United States’ largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service. One of her biggest and most impactful projects was developing Wayzata Girls Coding clubs at her district’s middle schools, and the clubs are still running strong today! Through these clubs, Caroline has empowered young girls in STEM and has mentored them through the process of ideation, visualization, business planning, and development of downloadable mobile apps which aim to improve society. She also had the opportunity to be a Teaching Assistant (TA) for the 2017 Summer Computing Academy at the University of Minnesota.
Caroline’s volunteer experiences led her to kickstart Girl Coders, a program with a mission to combat the gender gap by offering beginner level coding workshops to encourage young girls in K-12 to experience STEM in positive, empowering ways. Each workshop, available for a variety of popular and widely-used coding languages and tools, is designed to be accessible and self-contained. The curriculum covers a broad range of categories such as Block Coding, Programming Language, Game Development, and Digital Literacy. Any adult volunteers passionate about inspiring girls to explore STEM can host the workshop for free in their local community. After completing a workshop, all girls receive an embroidered patch to wear on their clothing or a sticker to proudly display on their laptop covers.
Speaking on behalf of the Girl Coders program, Caroline states, “We believe that by introducing girls to the incredible world of computer science in a sisterhood environment, and by building a strong community to support girls’ journey on exploring STEM, we will help to foster girls to become industry leaders, to create gender parity in computer science and promote equity in an ever-advancing field.” To date, the program has reached 30 states and has awarded 7,000 patches for completed workshops. Girl Coders inspires nearly 2,000 girls each month, partners with 10 Girl Scout councils and three computer science clubs, provides networking opportunities such as TEDxYouthGirlCoders and GirlCodersHack, and continues to promote the workshops to girls in the community.
Caroline’s exciting technology education and career journey is underway, and we are proud she is part of the MNAiC community. “The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards Program has inspired me to continue my efforts to empower other girls in STEM with lots of support and resources to help me pursue my goal,” Caroline says, “I look forward to continue on as a member of the Aspirations community.”
In parting, Caroline offers this friendly and seasoned advice to her high school peers who are contemplating or beginning their technology learning quests:
"My biggest advice would be to just go for it – it is extremely difficult to put yourself out there to explore an unfamiliar field, especially when it is so experience-based. However, there are many great resources and opportunities that are designed for those who are taking their first steps on their journeys in computing, both online and in person. Learning how to code is definitely incredibly rewarding and leads you to grow and learn, no matter your ability or if it will be a part of your career, and it inspires your peers to participate as well. The Aspirations in Computing Award is also one of the greatest experiences in my STEM journey I have been a part of, and I would encourage everyone to apply.”
ABOUT MINNESOTA ASPIRATIONS IN COMPUTING
The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC) Awards Program partners with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) to inspire, empower, and honor young women of high school age for their computing-related achievements and interests. The program is supported by Minnesota State – IT Center of Excellence and numerous businesses and organizations. The powerful story of honoree accomplishments does not end at a recognition ceremony in April of each year, it’s just beginning! Over 250 young women who have been honored since the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Program inception in 2012-2013 continue to pursue life-changing education and career opportunities, becoming accomplished practitioners and leaders in a variety of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. Visit the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing program website to learn more or contact Russell Fraenkel at (612) 659-7224 or Russell.Fraenkel@metrostate.edu.