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SALT LAKE CITY — Each year the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) accepts applications for its prestigious Aspirations in Computing Award.
There are thousands of applicants and less than 1 percent win. But Utah has the unusual distinction of having four winners in the last four years. What’s even more unusual is that three out of four of these winners were sisters from the same family.
Melissa Ivie, the oldest of the sisters, is currently studying computer science at Utah State University. The middle sister, Jessica, is a senior at Copper Hills High School and heading to USU when she graduates. The youngest, Cassandra, is a sophomore at Copper Hills High School and is heading to a world championship First Robotics competition soon.
“Each of these girls alone has made a huge difference in the lives of many youth," said Deb Ivie, their mother. "They not only understand the power of technology for their own future, but they have dedicated much of their lives to using science, technology, engineering and math to help give other kids a hand up … to help them see a future that they might not otherwise recognize could be there.”
All three sisters have worked hard on educating and serving their community. Melissa has run engineering summer camps for underprivileged kids and currently volunteers at Logan High School.
“Each of these girls alone has made a huge difference in the lives of many youth." - Deb Ivie
Jessica has taught engineering and computer science skills through a 4-H electronics club for several years. Through her teaching at 4-H and other events, she developed the Jesseybug Electronic Kit and launched a Kickstarter campaign that far exceeded her funding goal. The proceeds go toward funding supplies for after-school programs.
Cassandra coaches Lego League teams and has taught robotics at summer camps and after-school clubs.
The sisters are passionate about inspiring girls to be involved in STEM. Cassandra, who will run an AspireIT programming camp for girls this summer, said that “my No. 1 tip for getting girls involved in STEM is to let them try it early on.”
The NCWIT works hard to encourage women to pursue careers in the IT field, which led it to create the Aspirations in Computing Award. It also operates with the premise that those who build technology should represent those who use it.
Ruthe Farmer, an officer at NCWIT, gave the example of a woman purchasing a car. Where do you put your purse in the car? Most put it on the passenger seat or back seat, likely because women are generally not involved in building a car and nobody yet has created a great spot for purses. Only 25 percent of the computing workforce in 2015 was female.
When asked how to get more students involved in STEM like she is, Cassandra said, “I think the No. 1 thing that turns people away is the idea that ‘I’m not good at this and I’m not capable.’ … The sooner you allow them to try and fail and have some level of success, the sooner they get in their mind that it’s a possibility for them.”
The Ivie sisters hope that with their work and example, others will try and realize that they, too, can be successful.
Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is a senior librarian at Salt Lake County Library. In addition, she is an instructor at Salt Lake Community College and CEO and co-founder of Digital Respons-Ability. Carrie can be reached at email@example.com