32 Minnesota High School Students Honored in Fifth Annual  Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards

Two Minnesota students named national winners and six named national honorable mentions as program sees continued growth

SAINT PAUL – February 2017

Advance IT Minnesota, the high-tech Center of Excellence in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, today announced the names of 32 high school students selected as winners and honorable mentions in the fifth annual Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards (AiC). The awards program honors young women in grades 9-12 for their computing-related achievements and interests in technology, and was started to support and encourage young women to pursue careers in technology. Completed applications increased to a record 109 this year, with honorees representing a diverse pool of school districts, backgrounds, ethnicities, and ages; depicting promise for employers in a growing global market.

Two young women received top honors as national winners through the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), placing in the top 1.4 percent in the nation from over 3,500 applicants.

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2017 National Aspirations Awards Honorees

Ashmita Sarma

Senior at Wayzata High School

2017 National Winner
2016 MN State Winner

Ashmita has been fascinated with computers since middle school, where it all began with websites developed in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. She has since greatly expanded her expertise in programming languages and she spent last summer working as a Systems Engineer Intern at SPS Commerce. She learned about operating systems and Ansible, an IT automation tool and spoke at DevOps Days in Kansas City on Ansible. In the future, Ashmita plans to attend college to major in computer science where she hopes to perform research in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.

Maddie Wang

Senior at Mounds View High

2017 National Winner
2017 MN State Winner

Maddie enjoys creating tech-related startups and has successfully launched several. Her first startup was based on her favorite game, Minecraft, where she generated $39,000 in profit. The focus of her current startup revolves around a new product device that can prevent sexual assault. The product is officially incorporated and patent-pending. Maddie plans to attend college to major in computer science, and ultimately hopes to intersect technology, entrepreneurship, and social justice to combat all forms of discrimination and improve society.

The two Minnesota National Award winners receive various prizes, cash, and a trip to Bank of America headquarters on March 3-5, 2017, for a celebration and networking with Bank of America employees.

All Award honorees will be recognized at an April 18 ceremony at the Vadnais Heights Commons

This year’s state winners will be awarded tech devices, and all state honorees will receive prizes and job shadow experiences. Many will be hired as paid interns at Minnesota businesses. In addition, two honorees will be awarded a $4,000 scholarship, provided by local businesses, to attend any college in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System.

State winners to be recognized during an April 18 ceremony at the Vadnais Heights Commons are:

  • Elena Berman* from Orono; Senior at Breck School (Prior Minnesota Honoree)
  • Celeste Dyrbye-Wright* from Rochester; Junior at Mayo High School
  • Ashley Holton from Woodbury; Junior at East Ridge High School
  • Maylat Kassa from Edina; Senior at Edina High School
  • Archana Murali* from Golden Valley; Senior at Breck School (Prior Minnesota Honoree)
  • Marie Pena from Apple Valley; Junior at Apple Valley High School
  • Anna Peterson from Rosemount; Senior at Rosemount High School
  • Preeti Pidatala* from Maple Grove; Sophomore at Wayzata High School
  • Victoria Pierce from Eagan; Junior at Rosemount High School
  • Alyissa Sanders* from Saint Paul; Junior at DeLaSalle High School
  • Allison Sholl from Maple Grove; Senior at Wayzata High School
  • Amanda Tommerdahl from Hendrum; Senior at Norman County West Secondary
  • Maddie Wang from Roseville; Senior at Mounds View High School (2017 National Winner)
  • Vanessa Wang from Richfield; Senior at Edina High School

* Depicts 2017 National Honorable Mention by NCWIT

Recipients receiving state honorable mention to be recognized during the April event:

  • Anika Ahluwalia from Maple Grove; Sophomore at Wayzata High School
  • Kemilyn Bayer from Bloomington; Senior at Kennedy High School
  • Zoe Berg from Lakeville; Sophomore at Lakeville South High School
  • Shelby Bjerke from Bemidji; Junior at Bemidji High School
  • Anna Bunce from Savage; Senior at Burnsville High School
  • Emily DeBoard from Burnsville; Junior at Apple Valley High School
  • Aarathi Garimella from Edina; Junior at Edina High School
  • Grace Hansen from Eagan; Sophomore at Eagan High School
  • Priya Kumar from Apple Valley; Junior at Eastview High School
  • Julia Nelson-Troska from Hutchinson; Senior at Hutchinson Senior High School
  • Oreoluwa Odeyinka from Rochester; Junior at John Marshall High School
  • Laura Rietveld from Rosemount; Senior at Rosemount High School
  • Elizabeth Rivas from Kandiyohi; Senior at Willmar Senior High School
  • Evelline Samson from Cottage Grove; Junior at the Math & Science Academy
  • Tien VoNguyen from Columbia Heights; Senior at DeLaSalle High School
  • Cathylin Wang from Plymouth; Junior at Wayzata High School

Also being recognized with a National Honorable Mention by NCWIT:

  • Atalanta Stoeke from Apple Valley; Junior at Apple Valley High School (Prior Minnesota Winner)

Two educators will also be recognized at the April event for their demonstrated commitment to encouraging young women’s aspirations in computing. NCWIT rewards the State Education Winner with a cash prize to pay for computing-related professional development activities. Both educator honorees receive trophies and other Minnesota gifts.

Educator Winner Cindy Drahos

Burnsville High School

Educator Winner Cindy Drahos teaches AP Computer Science (CS), Advanced Programming, Intro to Programming, Mobile Computer Science, and a new IT Exploration Class at Burnsville High School (BHS). Her class partners with Best Buy where her students work side-by-side with a Geek Squad Agent at the help desk at BHS. Since Cindy started teaching computer science, her class load has gone from two classes in computer science to a full schedule of teaching all classes in CS. Enrollment has more than doubled in the number of sections offered. She makes opportunities available for her students to attend field trips to technology companies, the DigiGirlz event at Microsoft, SPARCS camps, and works with Advance IT MN to bring in Tech It Out! MN speakers. She enjoys learning new technology and encourages students to be creative and have fun while learning. Cindy will be presented the top educator award for her continued support of young women in technology and her endorsement of fourteen applicants.

Educator Honorable Mention Kaitie O'Bryan

Mounds View High School

Educator Honorable Mention Kaitie O’Bryan, a math and computer science teacher at Mounds View High School, introduced the first computer science class in 2015 with a group of 20 students and has grown the program to include 100 students the following year. Her goal as a teacher is to support collaborative problem solving in all her classes, to provide students opportunities to be creative in class, and to empower all teachers to teach computer science in their classrooms. Kaitie is being awarded for her ongoing support of young women at Mounds View High School and her continued passion to grow technology education.

All 109 Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards applicants have been invited to participate in the year-round Sustaining Passion, Ambition and Resolve for Career Success (SPARCS) program, which is funded by Aspirations sponsors. The program, designed for applicants with tech skills ranging from novice to experienced, provides an opportunity for young women to connect with mentors, develop new skills in technology, and participate in activities designed by female technologists with diverse jobs, skill sets, and backgrounds. SPARCS events feature fun ways to learn about databases, gaming, security, software development, Internet of Things (IoT), and more, using a myriad of technology tools in diverse environments.

“The Aspirations in Computing Awards Program shines a spotlight on emerging tech talent, while the complementary year-round SPARCS program serves as an incubator of sorts,” said Russell Fraenkel, director of IT Career Pathways and Partnerships for Advance IT Minnesota. “SPARCS allows middle and high school girls the opportunity to explore technology, engage with women in the field, and form relationships with girls from other communities who have a passion for technology learning.”

Several major sponsors have contributed generously to support the Aspirations in Computing Awards and the SPARCS program this year, including Champion Partner Maverick Software Consulting, and Pillar Partners Veritas Technologies, Land O’Lakes, SPS Commerce, STEM Fuse, and the Upper Midwest Security Alliance. Additional major partners include BDPA –Twin Cities, Best Buy, Bellmont Partners, ESP IT, General Mills, Genesys Works, Girls in Tech – Twin Cities, Help/Systems, Hennepin County, Information Systems Security Association, LogicPD, Metropolitan State University IPD, Microsoft, Minnesota Computers for Schools, Minnesota High Tech Association, Pearson, PeopleNet, Securian, SUPERVALU, Target, TECHdotMN, Twin Cities Chapter of Women in Computing, The Nerdery, Thomson Reuters, and Unisys.

The deadline to become a 2017 sponsor is Friday, March 17. For more information on specific opportunities, visit www.advanceitmn.org/sponsors-aspirations-awards or contact Russell Fraenkel at Russell.Fraenkel@metrostate.edu.

About Advance IT Minnesota
Advance IT Minnesota engages employers, educators, technology professionals and learners to develop a more robust IT workforce in Minnesota. A Center of Excellence within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, it is hosted at the Metropolitan State University, St. Paul Midway campus. For more information, visit www.advanceitmn.org.

About National Center for Women & Information Technology
The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) is a coalition of more than 850 prominent corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, and non-profits working to increase women’s participation in information technology (IT). To find out more, visit www.ncwit.org.