The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC) Awards Program, partners with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) to honor young high school women for their computing-related achievements and interests. The powerful story of their accomplishments does not end at a recognition ceremony in the spring of each year, it’s just beginning! The 145 young women who have been honored since the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Program inception in 2012-2013, continue to pursue life-changing education and career opportunities, and accomplish AMAZING things.
In the first publication of the “Where Are They Now” series, we meet with MNAiC Alumnae, Maria Sanchez Lopez, a 2014 Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Awards state winner. Her education and career adventure – from the awards recognition ceremony in spring 2014 to today, speaks volumes about the importance of internships, mentor support, networking, hard work, and a perpetual desire to learn.
As a St. Louis Park High School student, Maria enrolled in Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO), allowing her to simultaneously secure high school and college credit while also enrolled at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) during her junior and senior years in high school. Through her participation in Genesys Works, Maria also gained the opportunity to work at Cargill during her senior year in high school as a paid intern. Microsoft, a Aspirations in Computing partner, also provided Maria with a technology-related opportunity at their Microsoft store, located at the Mall of America, in Bloomington, MN. As a Microsoft employee, Maria was able to take advantage of the software giant’s college tuition reimbursement program, which allowed her to manage and keep her college financial debt to a minimum. These experiences were instrumental to jump-starting her education and career pathway in technology.
When Maria stepped out of her comfort zone to embrace her passion for technology by applying for the Aspirations in Computing (AiC) Award in 2014, she open herself to endless experiential and learning opportunities — “The awards program was new for me. I didn’t know what to expect. I just knew that I wasn’t going to look back to the ‘what if’ — Maria, says. Although Maria did not know what to expect, she knew regardless of whether she won the AiC award or not, going through the application process would be an invaluable experience. With that kind of wisdom and drive, it is little surprise that Maria did become a state winner!
The Aspirations Award has had a major impact in Maria’s educational journey and career pathway — “The Aspirations Award encouraged me to pursue and follow my dream of obtaining a degree within the IT field,” Maria says, “I was able to benefit from all the networking experience I gained.” She graduated in the spring of 2017 from Augsburg College, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Management Information Systems, and a minor in Philosophy. Maria is the first person in her family to graduate from high school and college. She is now working at thedatabank, gbc. Thedatabank, gbc is a small, Minnesota-based company that was one of the first to offer cloud-based database software to nonprofits. The software company was founded in 1998 by two partners and has since grown to a team of 10 that is dedicated to providing nonprofits with Technology for Change.
Because of the opportunities afforded to Maria through the MNAiC program, she has remained active in her community, being an advocate for pursuing higher education. She also continues to work part-time at the Microsoft retail store, and recently started another part-time venture as a specialist at the Minnesota State – IT Center of Excellence, overseeing their Tech IT Out! MN program, where IT professionals from General Mills and Veritas Technologies engage with middle and high school students in classrooms throughout the metro area.
Maria offers this bit of advice to female students and everyone who who has a stake in supporting young women to grow their technology prowess; be it a peer, coach, parent, educator, or employer — “Young women should apply for the Aspirations award because it is a great opportunity to gain networking experience, and it’s definitely an amazing opportunity to learn about different types of careers available through the STEM field. I was really inspired by all the successful women thriving in their careers within the IT field, and it definitely encouraged me to keep pushing myself to be the best I can be.” She further states, “employers, we need your continuing engagement through Aspirations and its partner programs to guide us, and help us to become successful employees. I so appreciate those who helped me take my first career steps.”
Learn more about the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing program here.