CREATE at UC San Diego Leading San Diego Affiliate NCWIT Aspirations in Computing (AiC) Award Program for Women, Genderqueer, & Non-Binary Students

CREATE at UC San Diego is proud of growing a robust partnership with the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT). During the 2020-21 academic year, NCWIT approached CREATE to become the new San Diego Affiliate for the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing (AiC) Award Program, previously housed at Qualcomm. NCWIT AiC awards 9th-12th grade women, genderqueer, and non-binary students for their accomplishments and aspirations in technology through the High School AiC Award. It also recognizes educators actively encouraging and creating opportunities for students to engage in technology and computer science learning through the Aspirations in Computing Educator Award.  Through these awards, NCWIT seeks to address the gender barriers in computer science participation.

CREATE’s broad impact on computer science education in San Diego enables us to achieve NCWIT’s goal of expanding an AiC program that creates a community inclusive of students in underserved STEM schools and communities. As the new AiC San Diego Affiliate, CREATE program coordinator Laura Santos expanded the diversity of students who received an AiC Award. Previously, AiC recipients were centralized in northern schools in San Diego County. CREATE filled in some of these AiC recipient gaps during the past award season by awarding more high school students from Escondido to South San Diego. The goal was to expand the reach of the program and the opportunities to more students without subtracting from the Schools and communities that have historically benefited. This was possible through targeted outreach, hosting informational sessions, and a network of computer science teachers. Laura and CREATE’s undergraduate staff (Karla Covarrubias, Naomy Espinosa, Destiny Hernandez & Valeria Rodriguez) ramped up marketing in an effort to inform more educators and students of this award opportunity. Flyers in both English and Spanish with an informational sheet were mailed out to principals in 35 specifically targeted schools where the majority of students receive free-reduced lunch (54% or higher). In addition, they emailed 42 schools by reaching out to our network of CS teachers.

Broadening awareness of the AiC Award Program in underserved schools is key to increasing diversity of the applicant pool. The next step was building a review committee that understands STEM inequities in the region and establish that students’ aspirations and interests in CS should have equal value to students’ accomplishments in CS. CREATE sought out to make the application review process more equitable, to achieve this goal Laura and CREATE leveraged our network of computer science education advocates to have an equity minded review committee. CREATE partnered with the local Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) chapter and the Code.org Regional Program Manager that both have an insight into the region’s STEM gaps. Our applicant pool was filled with talented students with profound lists of accomplishments and awards in technology. CREATE strived to give students with lack of access to technology clubs and competitions an opportunity to receive an AiC award by focusing on their interests in a technology field.  This includes placing value on accomplishments such as starting a tech club, creating CS outreach programs for younger students, and students’ perseverance to learn CS when there were limited opportunities for CS learning in their schools. Our review committee was encouraged to focus on the application question, “Please describe how you would solve a problem you care about using technology (this could be a social problem, a technical problem, a local problem, a world problem, etc.).” In the absence of STEM opportunities, with this question our review committee was able to gauge students’ interest and their potential in applying their CS knowledge.

Qualcomm continued to be  a foundational partner and co-sponsor. Qualcomm sponsored the Regional NCWIT AiC Award Celebration, where we celebrated 18 High School Regional Awardees, 11 High School National Awardees and two Regional Educator Awardees at Marina Village Conference Center on May 2nd, 2022. The award ceremony included a panel with two past AiC recipients (now UC San Diego Undergraduates) Annie Pham and Lily Hu and Claudia Moncaliano, a Product Security Software Engineer at Qualcomm. Recipients were encouraged to invite their educator endorsers. CREATE provided swag bags to educators that included a large poster to advertise the next award season at their school. In addition to the award, Qualcomm provided a swag bag to recipients. Given the gender gap in computer science course enrollment, it was empowering to see a whole room of women, genderqueer, and non-binary students who have an aspiration to pursue a career in technology. This past award season CREATE made a significant stride towards a more inclusive and equitable San Diego Affiliate NCWIT AiC Award program.  The growing NCWIT AiC community is a collective push towards a supportive tech industry for women, genderqueer, and non-binary students aspiring to make a difference with technology.

For more information on NCWIT AiC award visit Aspirations.org.

2023 Application Season: Opens at 12:00 a.m. ET on Thursday, September 1, 2022 and closes at 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday, October 27, 2022

For questions on San Diego Affiliate High School & Educator AiC Awards contact Laura Santos at create@ucsd.edu.