Lauren Hollis and Kelly Martinez Prove Women are Strong Forces in the Tech Field
By Yanpeng Wang
Women have historically been underrepresented in the technology sector. Thankfully, there is growing diversity in the field as more and more women are choosing to pursue a career in STEM. In particular, the National Center for Women & Information Technology Award for Aspirations in Computing celebrates high school women who have demonstrated a passion for computing and technology through their leadership ability, academic performance, and goals for their post-secondary education. The awards are divided into three groups -- winners, honorable mentions, and certificates of distinction -- on both regional and national levels.
This year, 40 winners and 360 honorees were selected from a competitive pool of 4,300 qualified applicants. Both Lauren Hollis, Adv. 104, and Kelly Martinez, Adv. 911, received honorable mentions, placing them in among the top 400 computer science female high school students in the country. Winners and honorees are offered exclusive access to scholarships, internships, and other opportunities to expand their skills and network. According to Hollis, they were offered the chance not only to apply as an AiT Program Leader, where individuals can start their own peer-led computing program, but also to join a private NCWIT AiC Community Facebook group where members of the NCWIT community share information on opportunities such as open internship positions or upcoming scholarships. The online network even includes creators of tech companies and nonprofits.
The application process is extensive and rigorous; applicants are asked to write a series of essays that highlight both their experience in computing and technology as well as their aspirations in the field. In addition to the essays, applicants are required to submit recommendation letters and fill out a questionnaire asking about everything from their GPA to hobbies. Martinez expressed that while the application was initially intimidating, she ultimately decided to apply because she was inspired by NCWIT’s “future-oriented philosophy.” According to Martinez, “[NCWIT] wants people who have dreams, even if they've not yet been brought to fruition. After winning, I'm now inclined to pose that someone doesn't have to be that involved in computer science right now to be successful in the application process.”
Like Martinez, Hollis found the application process to be an enjoyable experience. She described the application as relatively easy as she was able to write about the activities and programs she participated in, the kinds of coding and technology she was well versed in, her contribution to the field of technology, and her future life goals. “I never had doubts applying because everything I got to share about myself came from a place of genuine importance and passion,” said Hollis.
When asked about what aspects of their applications were unique, both Hollis and Martinez suggested that their essays may have helped them stand out among other contenders. Martinez said she allowed her essays to be “small windows” into who she is as a person, who she wants to become, and her future endeavors in computing. Hollis said her essay also gave judges a glimpse of her goals: “I hope that they were able to see the initiative I've taken in getting involved in computing. I hope they saw my aspirations which were a large focus of the award.”
The prestigious award is a testament to the amount of time and work both Hollis and Martinez have put into computing. Hollis first got involved in computer science when she was just six years old. Her mom signed her up for Girls Who Code Club at UIC on the weekends. Hollis explained that she was hesitant at first but later realized that the experience she gained was invaluable. Martinez also delved into the world of computing at a young age. The after-school computer science program at her grade school immediately captivated her because it combined several of her interests: storytelling, design, and data. She eventually began taking classes on principle computer science at UIC along with peers her age. “Over the years, computing and technology have become an intrinsic aspect of my identity,” said Martinez.
Today, Hollis, Martinez, and Kathy Martinez (Kelly Martinez’s twin sister), Adv. 910, run the Girls Who Code Club at Northside College Prep. According to Hollis, the club recently partnered with Peterson Elementary School to teach 3rd to 5th grade girls how to code in Scratch. Due to the stigmas attached to coding, such as coding being perceived as “nerdy, hard, or boring,” Hollis believes it is important to expose kids to coding early on. She hopes that “by showing these girls how they can create cool animations with coding, we [can] break down these stereotypes and get them interested in something they aren't always taught in school.”
Beyond coordinating NCP Girls Who Code club, Martinez is working on a project of her own. She is currently developing a database that she began last year for non-reporting mental health facilities that cater to undocumented individuals. Her project aligns with her future plans -- using technology as an “avenue for social change...on a much more profound scale.” Although she is not certain about her career path, she hopes to continue exploring and expanding this field through either data science or political science.
Hollis’s future goals are similarly inspiring. She plans on pursuing computer science in college and as a career in hopes of cross-applying computer science with environmental science. She believes that the application of coding to model and predict climate change can greatly help the environment. “If I wasn't able to help some sort of cause,” said Hollis, “I wouldn't see as much purpose in coding.”
When asked if they had any advice for girls who are interested in computing or technology, both Hollis and Martinez offered some valuable suggestions. Hollis advises girls who feel apprehensive about joining a male-dominated field to never give up on something they’re interested in. Hollis said, “Be the change. Be the person who has confidence that they can do anything and end the stigma surrounding girls in tech.” As for exploring and building their interest, Hollis suggests checking out websites online where you can learn how to code for free and at your own pace. “You don't even need much, just some willingness to learn and a computer,” said Hollis. “If you don't understand something, there's a really good chance you'll figure it out with some patience and a good 'ol Google search.” She also mentioned that another great resource is our school. In addition to choosing among the “great selection of [computer science] classes with two amazing teachers on hand,” students can also participate in clubs like NCP Code and Girls Who Code. Lastly, Martinez touched on perhaps the most important step when pursuing computer science: “I’d advise any girl, anyone, interested in computer science to find where technology intersects with their interests -- whether wearable tech or video game design. Find where it is enjoyable and immersive and the rest will fall into place.”