While the field of computer science has experienced substantial growth in the last decade, women, genderqueer, and non-binary students continue to be underrepresented in the major, including at UW-Madison. To increase their representation in the major, the UW-Madison Computer Sciences Department created the Aspirations Award, first awarded in 2012. The award provides $1,000 to students who declare computer science as a major and have previously won the Award for Aspirations in Computing from the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT).
The NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing honors students who identify as women, genderqueer, or non-binary in 9th-12th grade who have demonstrated interest in pursuing computer science. The goal of the award is to get more underrepresented students involved in the field.
Shannon Feng received the NCWIT award in 2016, when she was a senior in high school, after her AP computer science teacher told her about the opportunity.
“I always knew I enjoyed using computers and solving problems with technology, and so with my teacher’s encouragement I decided to apply,” she said.
Feng was granted the Aspirations Award that same year, as she was beginning school at UW-Madison.
“Being recognized for my interest in computing helped to reaffirm my decision to major in computer science at UW-Madison,” Feng said. “After winning the award, I felt more confident that computer science was the right major for me.”
Alayna Truttmann was granted the Aspirations Award in 2015 after winning the NCWIT Award in 2014. She wanted to apply for the awards to find a community of women with similar interests and to explore career paths that would align with her passions and skills.
“Winning the Aspirations Award was beneficial to me because I had a community of women who I could go to for support,” Truttmann said.
“The first few years of computer science classes were quite challenging for me, but the NCWIT Facebook group encouraged me to keep trying.”
Winning these awards also allowed Truttmann to expand her network and connect with new people, she said. This inspired her to aim high when applying for job opportunities. She interned at Microsoft and Intuit, where she now works as a Design Technologist.
“Seeing other women post about their amazing internships inspired me to aim high when applying to jobs myself,” Truttman said.
NCWIT award winners are also invited to a banquet to meet other women in computer science. This was one of the main benefits of NCWIT for Morgan Brevard, who received the Aspirations Award in 2021 after winning an NCWIT award the previous year.
“Normally in a computer science class you are surrounded by males, but at the banquet it is all female minds sharing their stories and inspirations of why they want to go into computer science,” Brevard said.
Brevard is in her sophomore year at UW-Madison studying computer science, and believes that receiving the NCWIT and the Aspirations Award will help her career in the future.
Feng currently works as a Senior Software Engineer at HubSpot and credits her experience studying computer science at UW-Madison for helping her succeed in the technology industry. Feng and Truttmann both emphasized that although some improvements have been made, it is important to keep working toward more female representation in computer sciences.
“I think it’s beneficial to recognize women in computer science because computer science has been, and still is, a male-dominated field,” Feng said. “I believe having more women represented in computer science really does make a difference in overcoming stereotypes about women’s abilities to problem solve and think quantitatively.”