Being unapologetically yourself. It’s a saying I hear often, but if there’s one thing that I learned since getting involved with technology last year, it is just that.
I grew up in a traditional Vietnamese family. We do not travel or do much outside of the norm. My parents are immigrants and have to work much harder, which I never realized until I got older. My mom especially, as she works 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. The only pieces of technology I ever knew growing up were the clunky tv, the boxy computer, and the annoying fax machine. I went to a predominantly white private school and didn’t fit in at all. Throughout elementary school, I was ashamed of my culture and of my parents. I would hide in the corner when my parents attempted to speak English to my teachers or other parents. I would lie to my friends and teachers to make it seem like I was on the same level as them, materialistically. In middle school, I received my very own cell phone. It had 3 buttons and a pressure-based touch screen and with it I called to update my parents often after school. I was embarrassed speaking Vietnamese in front of my friends. In eighth grade, I was given the nickname calculator. Was it because I’m Asian, or was it because I did math well?
Freshman year, I encountered school iPads. I had always dreamt of having a tablet, but had no clue how to use it. I was also stuck- I had no notion of what I wanted to do past high school. I felt my peers were all so much more talented than I was and already knew what they wanted to do. My feelings of hopelessness persisted throughout my years at DeLaSalle. Junior year came and I upgraded to an iPhone. However, that was not the most exciting part of that year. In addition to history day projects, I was introduced to Technovation. It was new to my school that year, introduced by one of my mentors, David Pearson. He taught me what I know today to be persistence. Regardless of his fatigue, he is always willing to help his students with any and all problems they may have. I was intrigued when I first heard about the program from David, but also afraid. I didn’t know anything about technology except for using it to play games and maybe typing papers. How could I code a mobile app?
More doubt crept in as I realized I was the only upperclassman signed up at the school. However, they went away when we went to the first App Day workshop. We followed a drawing app tutorial and I went off on my own and added an element that made my peers laugh. Every time the canvas was erased entirely, the innocent doge meme (which is just a silly picture of a dog) would pop up and disappear. Seeing the reactions, I became motivated and eager to continue down the unknown path of technology and see what else I could accomplish. My team, Nyoom and I finished our app and gave our pitch, but we did not advance.
However, a few weeks later, I took an opportunity to be a student ambassador for the program and it largely affected my life. Through this ambassadorship I connected with so many new and diverse people with a willingness to learn and help expose young girls to STEM. Jean Weiss, the regional ambassador, helped guide little me along and consistently connected with me and got me involved. She taught me what I know to be leadership. She always had things under control and I look up to her. I became a part of the Technovation MN board, which is a small but tight-knit group that is dependable and supportive, and knows how to joke around in the amidst chaos.
My life was greatly impacted once more when another one of my mentors Judith Roggow told me about the Aspirations in Computing Award. She taught me what I know to be determination. She would always sacrifice her own time for our school’s Technovation teams and consistently making sure that we were on track, which is especially hard when teams do not communicate back to you. Adam Wolfe was new to DeLaSalle this year but taught me what I know about technology other than coding and taught me how to think outside of the box, how to be innovative.
Through Technovation and Aspirations I met role models already in technology and made concrete what I wanted to work toward after high school. Those doubts are no longer in my mind. Everyone I met along this journey showed me how to be unapologetic, showed me what it means to be unapologetically female, be unapologetically intelligent, be unapologetically assertive, be an unapologetic leader. My parents, especially, played significant roles in helping me be who I am today. They will forever be my role models and I can only hope to be half as persevering and hard-working as they are. I can truly say that I am proud to be their daughter. And now, I want to major in Biomedical Engineering, and work toward helping girls bridge the gender gap, particularly in STEM. Being here tonight makes me ecstatic for the future- seeing how many advocates we have for that goal. Before I end, I’d like to thank all the mentors, the Technovation MN board- especially Jean and Shawn for encouraging me to do unfamiliar things, all the sponsors, volunteers, parents- everyone who helped make this amazing event happen and encouraging us girls to go further into STEM and to challenge its status quo. I would also like to congratulate all of my Technovation participants on all of their achievements. To paraphrase a quote from an ancient philosopher: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”