This month is high tech month and EIC is proud to join in the celebration by Spotlighting a young lady who recently won the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) Award for Aspirations in Computing. Allison Collier fell in love with computer science during her first C++ class and has followed her passion ever since. Now, a senior at Massaponax High School in Fredericksburg, VA, she has also been engaged in EIC activities to inspire the next generation of creative problem solvers and innovators. We sat down with Allison to talk about her award, her love of technology, and why she thinks the media can play a key role in inspiring more young people to get involved!
Brian: Tell us a little bit about how it felt to win this prestigious award?
Allison: “When I read the email I literally fell out of my chair. It was such a surprise for me! I honestly did not think that I would even be considered because there are so many other girls out there working on extraordinary projects. For me to have been picked out of 1800 applicants makes me feel extremely honored and humbled.”
Brian: What first inspired your interest in technology?
Allison: “When I was a little kid, I was really into playing games on my computer like Freddi the Fish, Math Blaster, and Nancy Drew and I was always interested in figuring out how in the world the computer could actually display the games. Was it magic? Were there little people inside of the computer running all of the programs? I wanted to know exactly how computers functioned.”
Brian: What do you think holds students back from taking an interest in science, engineering, technology and math, like you did?
Allison: “I think each field has a different problem. Many students automatically have a stigma against mathematics and science because it can be extremely challenging at times. When it comes to engineering, many students automatically jump to thinking about trains because they don’t know anything about it. As for technology, I think students are more interested in using it than creating it because they don’t understand the level of creativity and amount of imagination it takes to build a program or to craft a piece of hardware. They just assume they’ll spend their days endlessly typing on a keyboard and staring at a computer screen.”
Brian: What would you say to someone that thinks that science, technology, and/or math is too hard or uninteresting?
Allison: “To those who think that science, technology, and math are uninteresting, try all of it first, and then decide. It’s never a good thing to discredit the whole field of technology just because one aspect of it may be boring to you. For those who think that science, technology, and math are too hard, don’t go down without a fight! There are going to be times in science, technology, and math when you can’t figure out an equation or maybe a program just won’t compile and you can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong with it, but don’t give up. Stay after school with teachers to get extra help if you don’t understand something or ask a friend or a parent for assistance. There are plenty of people out there that would be happy to help you succeed.”
Brian: Are there still stereotypes surrounding kids who are into science, engineering and technology? What do they mean to you?
Allison: “Yes! There are tons of stereotypes! Most of them revolve around the assumption that students who are into [science, technology, engineering and math] have no lives, spend all of their time on the internet, and have horrible physical appearances and that simply isn’t the case. In my AP Java class, we have a variety of people spanning different colors, sizes, backgrounds, genders, and interests. We have basketball, soccer, softball, and tennis players, violinists, singers, National Honors Society, Spanish Club, DECA and FBLA club members etc. Even the stereotype that there are no women taking STEM courses is becoming irrelevant considering that last year there were no women taking AP Java at my school and this year there are four of us.”
Brian: How do you think the media can get more involved in promoting science, engineering, technology and math to younger generations? What types of role models can help to get kids involved?
Allison: “I think the media should make actors and actresses that portray people working in [these fields] more relatable. As kids and teenagers grow up, we look for people and stories that we can identify with-something that can show us what we have the potential to become. Most of us are concerned with fitting in and, in the media, typically people interested in [science, technology, engineering and math] don’t tend to do that very well. I think role models that are shown to be competent in their field of interest and are shown hanging out with their friends and going on neat adventures are going to help kids get involved more. They don’t have to be popular, but I don’t think that the other extreme is a good route either.”
Now, with Allison’s comments in mind, we must ask ourselves: How do we reach future generations? What steps must we, as entertainment and news media, take to inform and inspire a 9-year-old outside of the classroom? How can we bring the schoolhouse lessons of 4th grade real-world context through accurate depictions and storytelling? How can we create multi-generational influence, extending from grandparent, to parent and on, and learning to encourage the pursuit of these important fields? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and answers. Leave them as comments on this blog and get the discussion started so we, as influencers of attitude and behavior, can work together to change the future of innovation.