Blog Post

Nominate your students (and apply) for the Aspirations in Computing Awards! Ten things you need to know about AiC Awards.

Recently I had the great privilege to talk with Leslie Aaronson, the Strategic Director of K-12 Initiatives for The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). It’s no wonder she was recognized as the 2012 Teacher of the Year by LAUSD for her work as the Lead Teacher and Coordinator of Foshay Learning Center’s Technology Academy; she is an inspiring educator and I learned a lot from our conversation. One of my favorite programs is their Aspirations in Computing (AiC) award program. I first learned about this program while attending a Tapestry workshop at the University of Virginia. Tapestry is a free program for United States high school computing teachers focused on encouraging diversity in computer science education. You can learn more about Tapestry on their wiki, Twitter(#cstapestry), and Facebook pages.

Here are ten important takeaways from Leslie that you need to know about the Aspirations in Computing program:

1. What is NCWIT? NCWIT is the only national non-profit focused on women's participation in computing across the entire ecosystem, helping more than 1,100 organizations recruit, retain, and advance women from K-12 and higher education through industry and entrepreneurial careers by providing support, evidence, and action. They provide wonderful resources for educators. Check out their page at

2. Why should students apply?

  • Students who apply and are recognized join the aspirations community and will gain access to important communications and future opportunities for conferences, scholarships and internships.
  • Aspirations winners receive recognition, an engraved award for themselves and for their school, and various prizes, such as computing resources, gadgets, swag, and more. 
  • As an Aspirations winner students can apply for a grant to run their own coding club through AspireIT.
  • Students should save their essay answers in a digital document, not in the application itself. This way others can help them review and edit, and students can use their responses for other applications.
  • Encourage even your youngest students in 9th grade to apply. They can always apply again and the reviewers do take into consideration whether students have applied previously.

3. How can I support my students through the application process? Leslie’s number one tip: build a community. Designate a time and invite girls to brainstorm and work through their applications as a group. Starting the application is the hardest part, so have them take that critical first step together. Students should communicate their experiences: what they have done, what they are learning, and what they want to do with what they learn. Encourage your students to support each other; they are not competing against each other. There are various levels of national and regional awards.

You can also encourage your students by entering their name, email address, and a short message on why they should apply. NCWIT will reach out with more information and share you encouraging words!

What happens if your student wins? There are regional award ceremonies in every region. The student and educator who endorses her are invited to the ceremony. The student will get a gift bag containing 2 plaques: one for school and one for the student.

4. Can I apply as an educator? YES! High school educators can apply for the NCWIT AiC Educator Award. What an incredible professional leadership opportunity and an opportunity to be recognized for the work you do with students every day. No one is going to recognize you if you don’t share what you are doing! Don’t be modest: we should model for our students the importance of celebrating and sharing our good and hard work. You are eligible to apply even if you only endorse one student, and both female and male teachers are encouraged to apply.

5. I’d love to apply for the AiC Educator Award, but I’m not a super experienced computer science educator. Great teachers are not necessarily subject matter experts. Great teachers build confidence in students and foster a collective learning community. Shake off that impostor syndrome and own the fact that you are learning this alongside the students!! We all are. Some of the best teachers are teachers and facilitators who let students own their learning.

6. How else can I get involved? Volunteer to serve as a reviewer. This is another great opportunity to model for our students the importance of professional leadership. What better way to learn about what students are doing across the country than to read applications? Reviewing applications will reinforce the good work you are already doing, and help you identify fresh new ideas. You will impress all of your friends and colleagues when you tell them, “Hey, I am a reviewer for a national award.” Student identities are masked, so the odds of reviewing your own student’s application are slim, and you only need to review a minimum of five applications over a one month period.

7. Can I encourage my former students to serve as reviewers? Yes! You do not need to be a computer science teacher (or a woman) to serve as a reviewer. Anyone over 18 can volunteer. Reach out to your former students and let them know about this great professional opportunity and resume builder.

8. When are applications due? 8:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time (MST) on November 5th, 2018

9. Where can I can learn more? Follow Leslie @leslieaaronson and NCWIT @NCWIT on Twitter. Help us spread the word to other computer science students and educators!

10. Why are you still reading this? Go encourage your young women to apply, complete your educator application, and sign up to serve as a reviewer!


Jenn Vermillion is the Director of Innovative Learning at St. Catherine’s School, an independent school for girls age 3 through grade 12 in Richmond, VA. She teaches an introduction to computer science course for students in grades 9-12 and an 8th grade Creative Technologies course. She also coaches a 4th grade Robotics team and coordinates school-wide professional development. Jenn welcomes your comments and questions at