On Saturday March 3, 2012, I had the pleasure of serving as the master of ceremonies at the 3rd annual Bay Area Affiliate Aspirations in Computing Award Ceremony at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. This fantastic NCWIT program celebrates the hard work and talent of girls and teachers nationwide every year. It was a humbling and an inspiring moment. Twenty-three outstanding high school students from the San Francisco Bay Area were honored for their achievements in computer science. Collaboration will not be a challenge for these stellar students; the award recipients mingled happily and compared notes while waiting for the lunch buffet to open.
The theme that the speakers and panelists emphasized was that of boldness. From the opening remarks to the keynote speaker to the members of the panel, the adults onstage encouraged the students to persist when they encountered obstacles, to believe in themselves and to dare to ask the questions that need to be asked. Their words of encouragement were delivered to an enthusiastic crowd.
A festive room on the second floor of the museum, decorated with blue and green helium balloons, buzzed with students, their family members and teachers and volunteers. A large team of dedicated volunteers put this event together; planning starts nearly a year in advance. Many of Silicon Valley’s flagship corporations and nonprofit organizations participated – perhaps out of enlightened self-interest; this celebration provides a sneak preview of the best and brightest female computer scientists – years before they graduate from college.
Based on the large number of students who apply and the small number who are selected to receive this award, I knew that the finalists would be impressive. However, I had not anticipated that the winners’ humanitarian goals would be as amazing as their technical prowess. After hearing the descriptions of girls’ accomplishments and what they hope to achieve in the future, I felt simultaneously humbled and inspired. Most of the students want to use their talent in computer science for humanitarian causes. Their desire to deliver education, improve living conditions or provide medical treatment for people who are living in poverty was moving. One Aspirations in Computing recipient has already written code that is being used by NASA; several enterprising students have started small businesses. One young woman has held fund raisers and donated all of the money to charities. The altruistic aims of the Aspirations in Computing award winners and their ability to achieve these goals gives me hope for the future. The view from the stage was truly inspiring!