I grew up in a small town in northeastern South Dakota named Kranzburg. The town was actually named after one of my ancestors. I went to the only school in this town, and was exactly one half of my class. My teacher, Jan Tillman, fostered my love of learning. She allowed me and my classmate to explore as far as we wanted to. In sixth grade, I read a book titled "Not Quite a Miracle" and it was then I decided to pursue medicine. I was really good at math and science, and I really enjoyed learning both subjects. My family tried to encourage me to become an engineer, but I did not even look in to the profession. I stupidly thought it was "just for boys". I have NO IDEA why I cared about it being for boys: I hung out with all boy cousins and uncles on my family farm constantly. I picked rocks in the field with the boys, went hunting with the boys, played hide and seek in the cornfield, drove tractors and dirtbikes, hauled hay bales, rode horses and milked cows with the boys! I went through all of high school and part of college assuming I would go to medical school and use my math and science skills in that profession. But when I entered college, I decided not to pursue medicine any more, but never came up with another plan. I went to school for Biology, and held minors in Physics, Chemistry, and Psychology. I worked closely with the programmers at the University of South Dakota for some of my major projects in my classes. For example, I worked with them to produce an animation demonstrating Lordosis, a sexual response in mice. I also worked with them to produce a program using C++ to detect and collect data on Dark Matter. But I still never thought of programming as a career for me (because, you know, it was for boys). Instead, I worked in numerous scientific labs and expected to work in research after graduation. Unfortunately, I graduated at the beginning of the Recession, and jobs in scientific research were hard to find. I had to find something else to do, career wise. I began to look in to teaching, and went back to school to obtain my Masters in Education. I began teaching science and engineering in 2010.
I was extremely good at teaching from the beginning, quickly being promoted to a Project Lead the Way Engineering teacher and the STEM Ambassador for the school. I started a recycling program, a Nanotechnology club (called NanoEx), a First Robotics club, and an annual STEM Fair that is visited by several hundred people. As part of my STEM Ambassador role, I was charged with growing the STEM program, and I grew it from about 90 students to now serving about 1000. I also secured college credit for the STEM classes, and this year, approximately 400 of our low income, minority students will receive college credit for their STEM classes through the University of Colorado- Colorado Springs. This isn’t all though. To me, the most overlooked part of STEM is the T: technology. I organize a district wide effort to introduce an Hour of Code to the thousands of students in our district, and I also helped champion the technology department to offer regular coding and game design classes. I regularly concentrate on introducing females to the field of engineering and programming, as evidenced by my yearly Girls and STEM day at my high school, where my engineering students design and build solar powered toys for little girls, then introduce them to the engineering concepts involved and present them with the toy as a Christmas gift. It is also evidenced by the fact that the percentage of girls in the engineering program at our school has quadrupled since I became STEM Ambassador.
In the process of building a strong STEM program and attracting young females and minorities to the engineering and programming field, I also recruited myself. Over the past seven years, as an engineering teacher, I evolved in to the realization that I have a strong voice and great ideas. I also realized my immense passion for programming. In my engineering class and Robotics club, I have been working with a C program to create robotic movement. Luckily, I still enjoy teaching and really enjoy the students I help daily, but I also realize that I would like to pursue my passion:
AS A WOMAN WHO CODES.