Posted by Samina Mondal and Angela Cleveland on Sep 05, 2019

Two woman siting together in front of a computer

Growing up in a household where Java was the second language, I have always had an interest in learning to code. Before pursuing a career in IT, I knew I liked computers and technology.

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Growing up in a household where Java was the second language, I have always had an interest in learning to code. Before pursuing a career in IT, I knew I liked computers and technology. However, I never saw myself creating apps, advocating for STEM outreach, and teaching cybersecurity to elementary school students. Entering my freshman year of high school, I got the opportunity to take part in the 10th Congressional Young Women’s Leadership Program. This was the first time I learned of the stories of women in the fields of computing and education. Inspired by meeting powerful female leaders, like Teresa Carlson, VP of Amazon Web Services, I was driven to use technology to create a positive change in my community. This served as my motivation to establish my high school’s first Girls Who Code club (and one of the first GWC chapters in Virginia) in order to take action to close the gender gap in CS. My responsibilities as president of my school’s chapter of Girls Who Code and Student Ambassador for the regional branch has not only further developed my skills in computer science (CS), it has also helped me grow into an assertive leader. Working alongside CS and STEM educator, Michael Horgan, we were able to create an atmosphere for girls to embrace their love of computing without any judgment.

Samina Mondal showing her NCWIT awardAlong the way, I was introduced to an incredible non-profit organization, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). I was amazed to find an organization comprised of females (and their male allies) across the U.S. who are passionate in all things STEM – just like me! I was ecstatic when I got the notification that I was chosen as a 2018 NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Virginia Affiliate Award Winner! I represented Northern Virginia with pride at the state event in Richmond, Virginia, where I met many inspirational women in technology. NCWIT representatives, university students, professors, and CEOs attended to celebrate the awardees. I was in awe of the countless opportunities NCWIT was able to create for hundreds of diverse, unique, and intelligent young women.

This award not only provided me with the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing community of females but also allowed me to develop confidence as a young woman in the computing field and inspired me to continue to work toward a career in technology. After receiving this honor, I knew I wanted to increase my involvement in NCWIT. I got the opportunity to serve as the student AspireIT Leader. NCWIT AspireIT is designed to teach K-12 girls programming fundamentals and computational thinking in fun, creative, and hands-on environments. The goal is to create an inclusive space for girls to explore how their interests and passions relate to opportunities in computing.

In May 2019, I hosted a Cyber Week event at my former elementary school, Forestville, in Great Falls, Virginia, alongside my third-grade teacher Jeffrey LeLoup. Seeing one of my favorite educators after 10 years was extremely heartwarming! I developed my first memories of using technology in his classroom as a child. Now, as the AspireIT Leader, I taught third-graders lessons relating to specific cybersecurity topics for each day of the week, ranging from cyber hygiene and creating strong passwords to more nuanced behavior like recognizing phishing messages. The goal of Cyber Week is to teach young people how to be safe and conscious consumers, creators, and citizens. I taught them to be proactive by taking deliberate measures to stop cyber threats before they could happen.

As for next steps, I look forward to expanding the Cyber Week curriculum throughout my college years in the D.C. area. I am thrilled to advocate for broadening participation in computing to more females and other underrepresented populations and for cybersecurity education through my initiative. This year, I plan to focus on creating a curriculum to be used within classrooms. Themes will include cybersafety, cyberbullying, and make connections to the growing field of cybersecurity and career opportunities.

Thanks to the wonderful funding provided by NCWIT AspireIT, I have this opportunity to increase technology education outreach, give back to the community, and honor the teachers who have shaped me into the person I am today. I am honored to show all young women like me that regardless of their age, race, or economic status, they deserve equal opportunities to pursue their passions alongside a cohort of supportive females and educators by their side.

Are you a high school CS teacher, counselor, or another educator? Provide your female students with the same opportunity Samina had to find her community by nominating students for the Award for Aspirations in Computing. Applications for this award close on Nov. 5, 2019. You can also look on the website to find your local Affiliate group! This award does not have technical questions. The goal is to provide students with the community of support to foster their “aspirations” in computing. The brief questions are about what sparked their interest, how CS factors into their career goals, about leadership, etc. Many school counselors run “lunch bunches” so the young women can complete the application together during school time.

Get started today! Share the Award for Aspirations in Computing with your female high school students!

About the Authors
Samina Mondal is a college freshman from the DC area pursuing a BS in Information Technology & Cybersecurity. She also works as a Public Affairs intern at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, combining media communications with government relations and STEM education outreach. Throughout her high school career, Samina has passionately advocated for the involvement of girls in technology by starting her school’s first Girls Who Code club, acting as a Virginia NCWIT Affiliate winner, and serving as an AspireIT student leader.  Additionally, Samina is the founder of Cyber Week, an initiative centered around curriculum of cybersecurity principles to be freely distributed to schools and teachers. She is looking forward to implementing Cyber Week across the DC metropolitan area, equipping students with the skills to ensure their personal security as well as educating them on the opportunities for a future career in technology.
Cyber Week 2019, a week of cyber events in schools across the DMV area promoting cybersecurity education, will be held from October 22, 2019 to June 14, 2020. For more information or how to get involved, please contact: Samina. Visit, coming very soon!
Angela Cleveland is the Program Director for NCWIT  Counselors for Computing (, which provides professional school counselors with information and resources they can use to support ALL students as they explore computer science education and careers. She has 15 years of experience as a school counselor and received the “2017 New Jersey School Counselor of the Year” award. She is an Executive Board Member and Webmaster for the New Jersey School Counselor Association (NJSCA).
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