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The City Journals

SheTech Summit participants learn about technology, responses to COVID-19 and more

Aug 12, 2020 02:33PM ● By Julie Slama

At the virtual SheTech Summit, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox welcomed participants and encouraged them to get involved in the tech field. (Screenshot)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

When Gillian Ruppel was a ninth-grader at Riverview Junior High, she saw a poster in the hall about the SheTech explorer day summit.

“It was really cool,” Gillian recalled. “I was just fascinated by so many different technologies and companies that allowed us to explore and learn about what they do.”

Since then, the Murray High student has attended every summit and this year, Gillian was on the student board that helped organize the event—although, it was held online, much like many activities because of the social distancing response to COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was still a good way to extend the opportunity to many high school students,” she said. “We heard from industry leaders, had group chats, discussions, and even held the tech challenge where we had to brainstorm ideas to solve a real problem.”

The SheTech conference, organized by the Women Tech Council, traditionally invites more than 150 science, technology, engineering and mathematics companies and colleges to share in-person hands-on activities from robotics to auto tech to 3D gaming to technology entrepreneurship opportunities with thousands of female high school students from every county in the state. 

This year, in its first virtual Summit, participants heard from female STEM leaders in the state, including the recently well-known state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, who shared with them about the Healthy Together app. 

Dunn was followed by other female technology leaders who told the high schoolers how they stepped up to help with the response to COVID-19 from analyzing data to identifying and assisting Utah companies to pivot to produce personal protective equipment.

Then, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox welcomed participants and encouraged them to get involved in the tech fields. He even shared with them how his 13-year-old daughter is learning coding.

“As Lieutenant Governor, I get to see the way that tech impacts our state and more broadly, what the industry is doing here in our state,” Cox said. “Over the last 10 years, the technology sector in Utah has grown faster than any other state with one exception and that is the state of Washington and most of that is driven by Amazon. It’s not just that we’re adding all of these jobs in the tech center. These are really good jobs and jobs that drive our economy. Tech workers make an average of 81% more than those who are working in other industries in the state. We’ve seen with this disruption in the economy that these jobs have the ability, many of them with people working from home, been able to keep generating revenue and keep expanding the economy.”

Several leaders in the STEM field also held workshops, including those by Adobe and Vivint Smart Home, that were designed to show high schoolers how they create, innovate and problem-solve.

Gillian, who took part in a three-week summer intern her sophomore year, visited many of those technology companies and learned the leaders’ pathways and what careers are available. 

“The Summit was initiated by the leaders, but the girl board supported it. It made sense to hold it virtually since after all, it’s a technology conference. The student board helped to troubleshoot and pitch ideas,” she said. 

Gillian’s favorite part of the Summit is the tech challenge. This year, it was on reducing the carbon footprint. Previously, Gillian has taken part in challenges that addressed traffic problems in the canyons, pollution and refugee concerns.

She said during her ninth-grade year, her group won the canyon traffic challenge by deciding upon a gondola that would connect with Utah Transit Authority in the Salt Lake Valley.

“We were trying to think outside of the box on a real-world issue, using technology for a solution,” she said.

Participants also could take part in industry and student challenges from defying gravity, binary basics and basic phone repair principles to hacking a website and saving the world with data. There also were creative sessions such as making elephant toothpaste, engineering your own musical instrument and vector art.

Those who completed as many challenges as they could in 24 hours were eligible to win prizes. Participants also received T-shirts in the mail.

“The SheTech program connects students to women in technology so we can learn firsthand from those in the field; it also can lead to having mentors or internships,” Gillian said. “It’s a great opportunity.”