Posted by Aya Abdelgawad & Catherine Tabor on Sep 10, 2020

As an educator and mentor in El Paso, Texas, most of my students are from groups underrepresented in tech. Determined to bring Computer Science to each school where I teach, I began looking for opportunities to further my own knowledge, as well as expand access to opportunities for my students.

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As an educator and mentor in El Paso, Texas, most of my students are from groups underrepresented in tech. Determined to bring Computer Science to each school where I teach, I began looking for opportunities to further my own knowledge, as well as expand access to opportunities for my students.
 
My name is Catherine Tabor and I am the 2020 National Aspirations in Computing Educator Award Winner for the National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT).  In 2017 I was introduced to the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing (AiC) program.  Having run a Girls Who Code program at our school, Northwest Early College High School, I thought it was a great fit and encouraged my young women to apply for the Award for AiC.  That first year, we had two young ladies acknowledged at the local affiliate level in El Paso, Texas.  Little did I know at that time that Aspirations would become such an integral part of the CS program at our school and for our young women, those both currently in the program and those in feeder programs that may one day choose to attend our school.
 
One of the young ladies who applied that first year was Aya Abdelgawad, my co-author for this blog post. As I was being honored as the 2018 Greater El Paso Affiliate Educator Award Winner, Aya was recognized as a 2018 Greater El Paso Affiliate Honorable Mention.  Being an award recipient opened up the ability for Aya to apply for and receive funds to run our summer AspireIT program, Chica Code Camp. This application and experience was the beginning of a legacy program, which has been passed down from award recipient to award recipient for three consecutive years and is helping us build a community of young women in CS who support and enrich each other.  But don’t take my word for how life-changing this award can be; let’s hear from Aya herself.
 
My name is Aya Abdelgawad and I am an NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Greater El Paso Affiliate Honorable Mention (2018) and Affiliate Winner (2019).  The best parts of being an award recipient were the times right before and after getting the award itself. I thoroughly enjoyed the couple of hours they gave us girls to mingle amongst ourselves. Outside of my school, I knew almost no other females interested in computer science. At the NCWIT awards ceremony, I got to meet other young ladies in El Paso who shared my passion for computer science, some of whom I’m still in touch with to this day.
 
What I enjoyed even more than meeting the other award recipients, though, was leading the AspireIT program. All I remember from prepping for Chica Code Camp its first year is that I was a bundle of nerves. All the responsibilities of hosting a camp were new to me, and I was nervous about how I’d fare. It was an exhilarating kind of nervousness, though, because this project was important to me. I was highly aware of the lack of computer science education in El Paso and that the demographics of my community were underrepresented in computer science, so it felt as if I had the opportunity to address that issue with my AspireIT camp. Year after year, I witnessed the girls at camp grow in confidence and glow with excitement at the STEM activities we were doing.
 
The moments I spent teaching the girls at Chica Code Camp and bonding with them are some of the happiest memories I have. Those experiences have contributed to my decision to take pedagogy classes in university, and it brings me great joy that we have plans to keep the camp alive and continue having an impact on girls in my community.
 
Together, Aya and I encourage you to invite your students in grades 9-12 who self-identify as women, genderqueer, or non-binary to apply for the Award for Aspirations in Computing by Nov. 5, 2020. Educators who endorse a student’s application are eligible to apply for the NCWIT AiC Educator Award by Dec. 7, 2020. We also highly encourage you to take advantage of the AspireIT funding, which is available to Aspirations in Computing award recipients.  It’s about more than just a single award or ceremony.  It’s about building a supportive community and the future womxn in IT.
 

About the Authors

Aya Abdelgawad graduated from Northwest Early College High School in 2019 and is currently studying at the University of Texas - Austin. Aya pursued her interests in tech and computing by becoming an Award for Aspirations in Computing recipient in 2018 and 2019. She also started Chica Code Camp, an AspireIT program to teach computing concepts to women in her community.
 
Catherine Tabor is a Math, Science, and Computer Science teacher in Canutillo Independent School District in El Paso, Texas. Over her five years of teaching there, Computer Science education has expanded from zero classes to multiple courses, two clubs, and an Honor Society.  She teaches CS courses to her majority non-white and predominantly Latinx high school students. For her dedication to expanding access to CS and supporting young women in computing, Catherine was awarded the 2020 AiC National Educator Award Winner by NCWIT.