From their first cell phone to the booming use of laptops and iPads within classrooms, kids are introduced to everyday use of technology at an early age. As children integrate tech into their daily routines, these “digital natives” are on the path to becoming the next generation of tech leaders.
For the Michigan Council of Women in Technology (MCWT), creating an encouraging environment for future female tech leaders begins with supporting the excitement and passion for technology that comes along with this early exposure.
MCWT’s annual Website Design Competition for high schools girls calls on the best, brightest and most enthusiastic students from around the state to flex their programming abilities in a supportive environment. During the 2015 competition, 151 girl “techies” programmed websites in both beginner and advanced categories. Once completed, IT professionals from across Michigan and organizations like Google, General Motors, Ford and Microsoft, judged the work created at the competition.
Blue Care Network (BCN) serves as a sponsor to the event, donating equipment in order to support a competition that has grown since its inception ten years ago. As a judge at the competition, BCN Chief Information Officer Michelle Billingsley viewed the event as an inspiring starting point to a potential career path.
“It’s an imperative to motivate young women to get involved in IT as early as possible,” Billingsley said. “Women remain underrepresented in the IT field and we have so much to offer the industry. By fostering interest and providing opportunities during middle and high school, these young women will be able to see how accessible and rewarding a technology career can be.”
For Clarkston High School senior Jillian Ritchey, her website took home the top crown, capping her high school career with a hard-earned win. Though students like Jillian arrive at the competition in hope of receiving an award, Debra Kuptz of MCWT calls the competition a “collaborative experience” for girls interested in advancing in professional tech.
For Ron Conwell, a computer science teacher at Clarkston, Ritchey’s win comes as no surprise. Serving as both her teacher and mentor for the majority of her high school career, Conwell has seen Ritchey excel in both regional and national programming competitions – all while retaining a 4.0 in Conwell’s classes.
“Jillian is a very creative and gifted thinker,” Conwell said. “As a programmer, she not only has the ability to solve programming problems, but she has the ability to think creatively about what could be solved.”
As Ritchey progresses into the professional tech world, she will be one of the many Michigan girls who have benefitted from MCWT’s commitment to inspiring growth in the next generation of women in tech.
“Those who were not in my class to see Jillian’s transformation in confidence, capability and determination, will only see the brilliant student and wonderful person that she is today,” Conwell said. “I had the privilege of witnessing the determined work, and cautious at first, and eventually confident steps that she has taken to get here.”
Photo credit: Prince Lang