Grace Hopper Celebration is the world’s largest gathering of Women in Computing. Scholars’ benefits include access to:

  • Exclusive scholars-only professional development workshops and career trainings
  • Exclusive scholars-only premium Slack workspace
  • Facilitated virtual networking opportunities with peers and GHC sponsors
  • Free one-year AnitaB.org membership
  • Fully funded trip to attend the Conference

Applications opened: January 16, 2020
Applications deadline: February 25th, 2020

Abigayle Peterson is a freshman at Western Washington University and a recipient of GHC Conference Scholarship 2020. Read on to know more about her application, journey and tips.

INTERVIEW:

  1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

“When I was 7 years old, I fell in love. This special relationship manifested itself every time my pencil touched notebook paper. I created alternative universes about elemental dragons, superheroes, talking mice, and robot apocalypses. Oftentimes, these realities changed their plots halfway through and ended abruptly. Nonetheless, these places existed and continued whenever I grabbed my pencil. This was not a love for books, but love for a particular action. It was a love for writing. Through every pencil scribble and notebooks filled with fantastical stories, I lost touch with my real problems. Writing served as an ultimate escape from the reality of my loneliness and anxiety. Through writing, I grew content in running away from my everyday struggles instead of facing them. While wrestling with self-doubt and fear for the future, writing helped me stay cozy inside a comfort zone. Suddenly, I discovered the transformational power of computer programming. While self-learning over a dozen computer languages, coding helped shape my identity. Instead of suppressing my self-doubt, computer programming forced me to face my fears. I combated tangible real-world problems and learned to embrace the discomfort of growth. My passion for coding fueled my purpose in bettering underrepresented communities.

When I solve real problems with computer programming, my anxiety shrinks and my creative inspiration grows. As an IOS app engineer, my goal was to provide healthcare accessibility in an affordable manner through technology. I connected with a local dental hygienist that facilitates health care to disabled and financially challenged seniors. Generally, this population lives in rural areas and doesn’t often have transportation or other resources. I spearheaded the programming of CascadeHygiene’s app by translating the hygienist’s ideas into computer code. The app allows the filling of various dental forms, patient info, coordination between insurance companies, and database management. When the possibility of implementing a pdf filler seemed hopeless, I persevered. Instead of resorting to buying an add-on for CascadeHygiene’s app, I coded an algorithm that recorded a user’s taps. This saved the x and y coordinates of the touch and stored them in a variable. The variable was helpful because I used that in the parameters of an invisible input box which would draw every time a user would tap in a certain space. Through each challenge, I learned effective problem-solving skills to find a solution to finish the application. Overall, the components of this application gave disadvantaged seniors an online way to make appointments and improved easy access to communicate with their dentist.

Throughout this experience, I learned the value of stepping outside my comfort zone and reaching out to the community. Instead of brushing off my struggles with writing, coding transformed my problems into empowerment to help others. My motivation and inspiration for computer programming grow every time I create waves of positive change in my community with tech. I strive to continually fall in love with inclusion for the disadvantaged, underrepresented sector of my community through my passion for problem-solving with code.”

2. What are some of your major accomplishments?

“I am one of 16 students selected across the nation for the Computer Science/Math Scholars program at Western Washington University. This program is funded by a 1 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation. The program aims to support underrepresented groups in computer science to gain a 20k scholarship, community, supportive career resources, mentorship, close major advising, support for travel conferences, and reserved seating in all the computer science/math pre-requisite classes. I also was selected for the honors college at WWU, an interdisciplinary program fostering small class sizes, seminars, and research with faculty. I am also an alumnus of Nalukai Startup Academy, which is a tech entrepreneurship boot camp for high-achieving Hawai’i students. Only roughly 20 students are chosen each year. I am also the founder of a rising IOS/Android application called Magnify, a completely free mental wellness app focusing on fostering empathy through journalism. It is in the process of being developed, shared with a local counseling center, and to the world. 50% of the donations to the Magnify nonprofit will go towards organizations and movements that advance towards shattering the mental health stigma. I am also a recipient of the Wonder Women in Tech Innovators of Integrity scholarship towards women changemakers who build with compassion for others. It funds a full ride to the annual Wonder Women in Tech conference. I am also a published writer for Reinvented Magazine, the nation’s first print magazine for women in STEM by women in STEM. I have also tutored students from low-income, diverse backgrounds in basic computer science skills. From programming websites to developing desktop games, I love sharing my knowledge with others as well as growing my own understanding of coding.”

3. Why do you think you were selected?

“I am not sure. I believe that I am sincere in everything I do. I do not hold anything back in fearless pursuit of positively impacting others through coding. I am a passionate, empathetic, resilient, and hardworking woman who continually strives to better understand others, a computer program for social good, create with intention.”

4. Did you face any failures or rejections?

“I failed to start my own Girls Who Code club at my school and find a passionate adult facilitator in my area to head it. I also was rejected from Rewriting the Code Fellowship due to misunderstanding the instructions. My main takeaways from these experiences are to not take anything too personally, I’m in control of my own actions, and realize what’s meant to be will happen.”

5. Any advice you would like to give future applicants?

“My biggest piece of advice is to search for your meaning behind creating. What are you trying to achieve and why? With every line of code I write, I seek to bridge the gap between mental health awareness and computer science. To me, coding is more than just typing random numbers and letters. Coding is a superpower that should be harassed to benefit diverse people living under an umbrella of opportunities. Because my passion fuels my purpose, I posses meaning behind creating. So when applying to any scholarship, forget the competition or the prestige. Apply because the funds help invest your future, drive your purpose, and fill you with passion.”

Key Takeaways from the Interview

  • Be passionate about what you do. Find purpose in your goals.
  • It’s okay to fail. Every rejection is a learning step.
  • Apply your knowledge to the real world.

I hope you gained some value from this post. More interviews coming soon from Google Scholars, Forbes Under 30 Scholars, etc. Make sure to subscribe to the newsletter to be notified about upcoming Scholarships, Interview series, Mentorship opportunities, live QnAs and lots of resources!

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