Iowa Women of Innovation Awards / DigiGirlz

Over a few months ago, Nancy, Emma, myself and 18 PI 515 female students attended two events at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention center in downtown Des Moines. Walking in, we were all unsure of what to expect. The first event, Digi Girlz, usually populated by girls from the community interested in STEM (as well as spending a day out of class!), seemed on schedule to be somewhat of a bust this year. A week prior to Digi Girlz, Nancy evidently received a call requesting she bring as many girls as she could to the event so it wouldn’t be so shockingly under-attended. A week later, Nancy delivered, and PI 515 represented a good chunk of the girls at Microsoft’s annual Digi Girlz event!

After a day of designing their own companies and products utilizing different technologies, writing their own brand and meeting with accomplished women in technology from Iowa, the girls swapped the day clothes they had worn at Digi Girlz for dress clothes to wear at the following event — The Iowa Women of Innovation Awards Ceremony. Each girl had the opportunity to take a head shot — something Emma and I, as well as a few professionals, also took advantage of — at the networking event before the awards ceremony. A little intimidated, students of technology and certainly not professionals in the field quite yet, the girls, Emma and I stuck together rather than networked in the traditional sense. Feeling official, nonetheless, with our personalized name tags, free sodas from the open bar and headshots, we talked amongst ourselves (excepting two leading individuals in Iowan technology Nancy introduced us to) until the start of the dinner. After helping the girls to their tables, Emma and I sat down to a table complete with dishes of salad dressings, a basket of fancy rolls as well as at least three separate forks and a slice of gourmet cheesecake or layered chocolate cake at each place. The atmosphere immediately gave me a sensation akin to sitting at a medical school graduation banquet combined with a fancy wedding reception, and I wondered how the girls felt at each of their own tables. At their young ages, did they have any similar experience they could compare this event to? Were they impressed? Flustered? What could they possibly be thinking?

As the event began, Emma and I, both pursuing computer science in college, tried our hardest to remain engaged. So many great women in our field and other similar STEM fields were receiving recognition on a stage not so far from us — a rarity, really, in fields that have remained closed off to women for so long. As their accomplishments were rattled off to the audience and our salads were swapped for main dishes, I found myself feeling a lot of things — inspired, of course, grateful for the event’s existence but staunchly perplexed at the lack of recognition these remarkable women had received anywhere but a female exclusive event and finally, I felt overwhelmed. Honestly, so many women were recognized and each had a notable amount of achievements. My mind started to wander in spite of myself. More than once, Emma and I asked each other if we had done anything with our lives at all! I felt behind, unprepared for my future and hopeless while I wanted nothing more than to start launching my own career, learn a new programming language, develop a better way to implement STEM in education, something. Did the event have the same effect on the girls? Were they inspired but extremely intimidated? After all, Trixy, a PI 515 alumna that some of the girls know, had been a finalist. Would that make receiving their own recognition seem more likely? More appealing? Again, I find it hard to put myself in their shoes, but I can only hope the event had an effect similar to Emma and me — that each girl felt intimidated, sure, but mainly determined to get herself up on that stage (or maybe a bigger one!) in the future.

Lauren Gorski