Earlier this year, two Edina High School students received the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing award. Maylat Kassa and Vanessa Wang were two of just 14 award recipients for the state of Minnesota.
We spoke to Maylat (pictured right) and Vanessa (pictured below) about the award, their passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), and their advice for girls with an interest in it.
Why were you interested in pursuing the award?
Maylat: I first heard of the award in my Computer Science class from my teacher, Ms. Johnson. I felt it would grant me the ability to represent women in STEM, a field where a large gender discrepancy exists. I also became enticed by the internship and job opportunities offered to award winners afterward.
Vanessa: I wanted to pursue the award to give myself confidence about my knowledge in computing. For most of the questions, I found that I was able to talk about my experiences more than I thought I could. For example, when the application asked what I’ve done with computing, I wrote about how I do programming tutorials outside of class, and how I use computing and technology in my science classes as well as in robotics. The application also asked me about how I promote computing in my community, so I spoke about my experiences with volunteering for programs such as “Hour of Code” and “Girls Who Code.”
What does winning the award mean to you?
Maylat: Winning the award and receiving recognition means I’m helping change the norm, something I’m very humbled to be able to do. I’m helping alter the gender disparity that exists in STEM, giving women interested in science encouragement to pursue any STEM field they love. Science and technology offer such a wide variety of fascinating jobs and experiences that girls should feel encouraged to pursue--I’m glad I get to help provide that push.
Vanessa: It gives me confidence to know that I have the skills to succeed in a STEM career. I thought that I would never win the award because I’ve never published an app or researched at a lab (though those things are on my to-do list!). But, it turns out you don’t have to have a long list of achievements to show your enthusiasm for computing. Just taking STEM classes at your school, you are showing interest in STEM and willingness to learn about it. Especially since I applied last year but won an award this year, it tells me that I can improve myself by a lot in only a year; it lets me think about how much more I can achieve in college and beyond.
How did you first become interested in science?
Vanessa: I have always liked doing math, and science was a way to apply my math skills to hands-on and real world situations. For example, I liked building and programming Lego robots in First Lego League back in 5th grade, and I didn’t know that what I was doing was engineering at that time. I knew that I wanted to do something with science or technology, but I wasn’t exactly sure what until I explored more in high school.
What are some of the ways you have fostered that interest at EHS?
Maylat: In 9th grade, I took Intro to Engineering Design, which served as the foundation on which I’d further explore what science and technology have to offer. Within EHS, I’m a member of Medical Club, where I get hands-on experience with Medtronic’s medical devices such as spinal implants, pacemakers, and heart monitors. In 10th grade, I enjoyed Digital Electronics and by 11th grade, I engaged in Principles of Engineering, where I bolstered my computing capabilities by getting some experience coding in RobotC and solidified my knowledge of mechanics.
Through Civil Engineering & Architecture, a class I’m taking this year, I got to engage in an eight-week internship at Starkey Hearing Technologies. At Starkey, I got to work with engineers of various fields to learn about the intricacies of hearing aid design. I grew fascinated by the way technology functioned with the human body; the experience thus ignited my passion for biotechnology.
Last summer I volunteered at the VA Medical Center in the hospital’s radiology department, where I truly felt my passion for biomedical technology solidify. I got to shadow radiologists in their examination of the human body through various imaging machines. During my summer stay at the VA, I got to work with anesthesiologists and radiologists, who demonstrated how to use and analyze imaging equipment and brain monitors. The sum of my experiences has affirmed my interests in science and technology.
What is some advice you have for younger girls who may be interested in science?
Maylat: My biggest piece of advice for girls interested in science is that it’s crucial that they do lots of exploring. STEM fields offer so much and are incredibly fascinating, so it’s important for girls to take advantage of opportunities to learn. Girls who are interested should be driven to get involved in science and technology (even if a STEM class has only a handful of girls!). The smaller number of women currently in STEM fields is something that will change, and when it does, girls who pursue their passions in science and technology will be both proud they helped make that change and glad they pursued what they’re truly passionate about.
Vanessa: Keep exploring and creating things! I wish I knew about computer science at an earlier age, which is why I volunteer for programs like “Girls Who Code” to share my excitement about programming. In general, I think that if girls try out a science club, a robotics team, or a summer coding camp like they might try out a new instrument or sport, they will find out how much fun it is. Science doesn’t just rely on math and numbers. For example, we need a lot of creativity to come up with a design for our robot on the robotics team, and communication skills to share our ideas with other teammates. Don’t be worried if you aren’t “skilled” enough for STEM activities. Instead, focus on exploring, creating, and having fun with others who are also excited about STEM.
What are your current plans for after high school?
Maylat: I’ll be attending the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. There, I plan to study pre-med, with a major in biomedical engineering, allowing my passions for technology and biology to coalesce in physics, math, and computer science courses. During my first four years, I plan to take on more internship opportunities in order to discover all that biomedical technology has to offer. I hope to find opportunities in companies like Medtronic and learn alongside engineers in medical labs. In graduate school, I plan to pursue radiology through medical school. Currently, I hope to become a radiologist, capable of utilizing my knowledge of computers and technology to develop diagnoses, analyze, and hopefully improve the effectiveness of imaging devices and machines.
Vanessa: I plan on pursuing a degree in computer science. There are a lot of subfields within computer science and I don’t know if I can explore them all! But, I’m currently interested in creating software for computers because I liked learning about computers in Digital Electronics. After high school, I hope to pursue an internship or a job shadow for software engineering to see how companies are using computing in their businesses.
Last summer, I took a two-week long camp called the “Summer Computing Academy for Female Students” at the University of Minnesota. We learned the programming language Python in the mornings, but we also had an opportunity to meet a variety of professors who utilized programming in their research. I also want to participate in research labs to see how computing can be applied in research. Though I’m not sure what I’ll end up exactly studying, pursuing a computer science degree will allow me to do what I love: thinking and solving problems in an innovative way.
It’s National School Counselor Week, so we talked to Edina High School’s newest school counselor, Dylan Hackbarth, about the job.
Why is the role of a school counselor important, not just at the high school but at every academic level?
The role of the school counselor is unique within any school setting. School counselors are distinctively positioned to act as a conduit for students, families, teachers, administrators and outside agencies. We help connect the many moving pieces of a school and constantly look at our work and how it impacts the daily lives of young scholars. We support the academic, social/emotional and post-secondary readiness development of all students and constantly ask ourselves, “How are students different because of the work we do?” We help connect the dots and provide necessary supports so students can set goals and achieve them!
I love my job. Sometimes, we see students dealing with significant struggles – it is an honor to work with those students to face their issue, support them as they devise a strategy to move forward. It is also an honor to support students as they develop goals for their futures, whether it is college, military or some other plan – we get to help them reach and attain goals. I also appreciate the opportunity to support student mental health. Being in high school can be a difficult time for a myriad of reasons – it is essential that our students know the support that is here for them. Those are some of the reasons I love being a counselor, here is a brief video our department made to share why some of the other EHS counselors love what they do:
Sometimes we get asked why we go by the title School Counselor versus the more antiquated term, “guidance counselor.” Guidance counselor is a bit of an old-school term that does not necessarily capture the multifaceted nature of the current School Counselor’s role within a school. In the past, “guidance counselors” worked in isolation within a school and focused on vocational guidance. In today’s K-12 educational world, professional school counselors focus on academic, career/post-secondary and social/emotional development of all students. We work collaboratively with all stakeholders (parents, teachers, administrators, outside agencies) to best support students in their specific needs. While “guidance counselors” did not have set standards for practice, today’s School Counselors implement the American School Counseling Association’s framework for counseling practices to orient our work with students and families.
This is your first year at Edina High School. What were you doing before joining the high school?
This is my fourth year as a school counselor. I am originally from Appleton, Wisc., but attended the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. During that time, I met my now-wife (who is an elementary school music teacher in another school district). She had cousins who attended Edina High School, so the school has been on my radar for several years. I even attended the Pops Concert about six years ago.
After my undergrad at the UofM, I had a unique opportunity to work for Oscar Mayer as a “Hotdogger” or Wienermobile Driver/Goodwill Ambassador for one year. Annually, Oscar Mayer hires twelve first-year college graduates to drive their fleet for one year. I learned unique skills related to driving large food-shaped vehicles, using hotdog-related puns and meeting people who love the Wienermobile in almost 40 different states. I actually had to defer my graduate studies to hit the hotdog highways with the “big dog.”
I later attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. I was a part of the third cohort of JHU’s unique counselor education program called the School Counseling Fellows. Throughout the data-driven, equity-focused graduate school program, I worked in and around Baltimore. After completing graduate school, I began working at a large high school in Fairfax County Public Schools, just outside of Washington, D.C. My wife and I moved to Capitol Hill in D.C. and worked in surrounding school systems for several years before transitioning back to the Midwest in the summer 2015. I worked as a school counselor in St. Paul Public Schools for a year and feel so excited to have joined the Edina Public Schools community this year!
The week of January 23-27, 2017 has been officially proclaimed Paraprofessional Recognition Week by the Minnesota Department of Education and Governor Mark Dayton, recognizing the "important role that paraprofessionals play in ensuring educational success."
One such paraprofessional is Anne Braun at Countryside Elementary School. Braun is an instructional assistant for the Continuous Progress program and has been part of the Countryside family for quite a while.
"The most rewarding part of my job are the wonderful kids who make every day a little different."