Some may fret about the shortage of women in technical and scientific career tracks, but the young women of Chicago Tech Academy High School (ChiTech) have no time for that. They are too busy—working to learn all they can about technology, science, math and entrepreneurship while pursuing their individual goals. And they are thriving.
In 2011-2012, ChiTech’s third school year of operation, 49 percent of the student body is female. Chosen by lottery, ChiTech students’ love and aptitude for technology, science and math vary widely, as do their academic and social economic backgrounds. Yet the young women of ChiTech are leveraging the entrepreneurship-oriented program to their advantage.
Ninth graders Taquisha Ellis and Chanell Jackson came to ChiTech from Dvorak Technology Academy, a K-8 school with a technology-driven curriculum, believing that the school could give them tools for their future. This year, Jackson and Ellis have learned now to build their own websites and work with stock business programs such as Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint—in addition to math, English, and science.
“I want to become a pediatrician,” says Jackson. “I felt the more technology I knew about, the easier it would be to become a pediatrician.”
Keautishay Young and Savannah Young (no relation to each other) both loved technology even before landing at ChiTech. Keautishay remembers being frustrated at her old school when her technology class started on robotics just as the term was ending. Savannah has always been good with computers, and in middle school took a class to learn how to build one from scratch.
Now juniors at ChiTech, the two are building websites and mobile applications. Savannah says her tech class can be very challenging at times, “but after you get to know the curriculum and material, it becomes easy after a while.”
In addition to coursework, Savannah, Keautishay and their peers are meeting high-level executives through school tours to local corporations and programming in the school’s Young Women’s Leadership Society. Last year, Savannah and a handful of other students were selected to make a presentation to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. “I like the fact that this school is helping young women in technology, and they’re always helping us with our leadership skills,” says Keautishay, who wants to run her own company and become a business leader in technology.
Not every student enters ChiTech as a tech enthusiast, but many come to love tech and find they are really good at it. For example, 11th grader Javona Hamb came to ChiTech three years ago, simply attracted by the promise of a new, innovative school that would start small and add a grade each year. “I wasn’t into technology,” Hamb says. “I didn’t know anything. I thought it was going to be like The Matrix, all ones and zeros, but it wasn’t like that at all.”
As a junior, Hamb has learned to code in HTML, CSS, HTML5, Java Script, and C# programming languages. “Now when my teacher asks ‘How do you think they made Facebook or Google, I’m like ‘That’s nothing,’” she laughs.
Hamb originally wanted to be a doctor, but now she’s also considering a technology career, maybe computer programming. “I’m going to try to put the two together,” she says.
Then there are those students, like Martha Zuniga, who had no affinity for technology when they entered ChiTech, but through hard work, their skills and knowledge have grown.
A junior who applied to ChiTech to avoid a poor-performing local high school, Zuniga recalls entering her new high school not knowing what to expect. “Before I knew it, I was writing code.”
Three years later, art and English remain Zuniga’s favorite and best subjects; math and technology remain “super difficult,” she says.
But Zuniga, who is aiming for a good college and hopes to make a positive impact on the world, still values the tech classes that make her struggle.
“I don’t know what I’ll do with technology,’ says Zuniga, “But I think the whole process behind it—the way we solve problems, the way we have to think things through before we write code—molds us to become better people, teaches us how to see problems from different perspectives and puts our opinion on a broader spectrum. It also teaches us not to give up.”
The advice these young women of ChiTech give to any girl considering a science, technology or math-oriented high school program: “Go for it!” says Jackson. Adds Ellis: “It’s fun. It will be a good opportunity to know new things about technology.”
CompTIA has supported the Chicago Tech Academy High School since its inception, donating funds, providing internships and other in-kind assistance. This post is the first in a two-part series. Read more about ChiTech students on March 22.