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Three RHS women recognized for Aspirations in Computing

Victoria Pierce, Laura Rietveld, and Anna Peterson

Three young women who have advanced through Rosemount High School's growing computer science program were recently recognized through a national awards program for their interest in technology-related careers.

RHS senior Anna Peterson and junior Victoria Pierce were named 2017 Aspirations in Computing Award winners. Senior Laura Rietveld earned an honorable mention in the program.

Advance IT Minnesota launched the Aspirations in Computing awards program to help support and encourage young women in high school who are interested in careers in computing and technology.

The 32 winners from across Minnesota were chosen based on their interests, accomplishments and community involvement.

Peterson said she was surprised to have been selected because she doesn't have much experience outside her computer science classes. In her application, she instead focused on the ways that studying computer science has helped her develop problem-solving skills while being a more analytical thinker.

As a member of Rosemount's Youth Commission, Peterson said she's been encouraging the city to look at ways the city can use technology — everything from digital signs in downtown to collecting data on water use through smart sprinkler systems.

"Rosemount's such a growing town and we have such potential to do really advanced things," said Peterson. "In the future, I want to study abroad to look at how we can use technology in inexpensive ways to create a better world overall."

Pierce said her background was part of the reason she feels she was selected. She moved to the area from Uganda with her family 1.5 years ago and just started at RHS as a sophomore. Her interest in computer science came from her dad, who taught Pierce and her siblings to code when they were children.

As part of the awards program, the winners will have a first opportunity to apply for internships and job shadow opportunities with Minnesota companies. Pierce said she feels this part of this program will "give me a better view of how technology can be used in different industries."

Pierce hopes to major in biomedical engineering, with minors in computer science and Arabic so she can work helping women in underdeveloped countries.

In her application, Rietveld highlighted her leadership experience — captain of the chess and robotics teams at RHS — as well as her interest in using technology to improve the student experience at RHS.

One of her school projects was a game that would help teach other students about plant care, and she'd like to implement a program that would help students more effectively manage volunteer opportunities through National Honor Society.

Rietveld also helped start a HACK Club branch in Minnesota, an international organization that helps students start computer science clubs at their school.

"Being one of the leaders as a female is more attractive to prospective females that want to join it than just having a whole bunch of guys running it — that's something I'm doing to try and encourage girls to become involved," said Rietveld.

Technology's gender gap

In addition to recognizing talented high school juniors and seniors, the awards program is also designed to try and address the gender gap in technology-related fields by providing technology and internship opportunities to the participants.

According to information provided by Advance IT Minnesota, women make up only about a quarter of the computing-related workforce despite holding more than half of the professional occupations in the United States. Even fewer hold positions in the top level of technology leadership.

And although women earned 57 percent of bachelor's degrees in 2014, only 17 percent of those degrees were in computer and information science.

All three students credited their teacher, T.J. Reinartz, with encouraging them to explore computer science and apply for recognition through the Aspirations in Computing awards program.

"Dr. R. is always looking up and out at new technological advances throughout the world — I think that's what keeps us all going, him and his passion and supportiveness for all of us," said Peterson.

At RHS, Reinartz and his colleague Brian Fendrich have relied on recruiting and word of mouth to try and bring more young women into the computer science program. Right now, Reinartz estimated that about two-thirds of computer science students are men, and about one third are women.

"If girls can just tell their friends to take it, or take it together, that seems to be best," said Reinartz.

"It's still better than the national average ... if we can hold those numbers, we'll be happy."

Reinartz said many of his female students go on to major or minor in computer science in college, after not even considering it as a career possibility before taking a class at RHS.

"It's an interesting dynamic — I think kids think computer science is one thing and assume it's not for them," said Reinartz. "Once they try it, oftentimes they find it's something they want to do."