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Future Leaders in Technology Scholarship - High School Award

2 winners, $1,000 each
Next Application Deadline
Jan 16, 2023
Next Winners Announced
Feb 16, 2023
Education Level
High School
Recent scholarship winners

Right now, Black and Latinx people only make up around 5% - 8% of the tech workforce. Women account for a mere 1 in every four tech jobs. For Native Americans and Indigenous groups, employment numbers are even lower, at around 1% at leading tech companies. These numbers reflect an improvement over the last few years, but this is not nearly enough.

The tech industry sets out to serve a remarkably diverse world. To accomplish this, the industry itself has to reflect that world. At Virtasant, we understand the need to embrace fresh perspectives, probe unexamined problems, and tap into unique ideas. We want to support the innovative minds that represent the groups and communities that are still getting left behind in tech.

To achieve this mission, we created the Future Leaders in Technology scholarship for students from these communities, who are pursuing careers in tech.

The scholarship is open to high school students who plan to pursue a degree in computer science, electrical engineering or data science. You must also be a member of an underrepresented group, including: Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, American Indian or Native American, LGBTQA+, and Women.

Selection Criteria:
Impact, Passion, Drive
Published November 8, 2022
Essay Topic

What area of tech are you interested in studying and why? Tell us about a problem that you hope to solve by way of your future education and career in tech.

200–1000 words

Winning Applications

Samragyee Dhakal
Northwood High SchoolSilver Spring, MD
I did not fall in love with computer science on our first date. When the IT technician at the 5th-grade career fair explained the components of a computer and how they all worked, I did not understand a single word he said. I was the kind of person that would paralyze by the, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" question. There were days when I was fascinated by crystal formations and I tried numerous times to grow them in my closet with sugar water. Then there were days I spent my afternoons painting, discovering new worlds that spilled from my brushes. I eventually figured I wanted to be an engineer because I could make almost anything that could do anything, including forming crystals and painting. I took a computer science class in high school for my technology credit. Our first lesson was examining the societal impacts of computers. At first, I did not give too much attention to the topic because it was the type of assignment I had done countless times before in other technology classes. However, in this lesson, I learned about issues such as the digital divide and censorship, which led to a discussion on how we could use our knowledge to alleviate these issues. Suddenly, I was intrigued by the prospect of a solution. Almost all of our conversations about computer science came back to a core issue: diversity. It is no surprise that women are underrepresented in STEM. What might be a surprise is that there are fewer women in computer science now than there were in the 1980s. This dip has a lot to do with little girls being discouraged from going into STEM. Conversations like these were what I was missing from my other classes. Finally, I fell for computer science because each problem required my knowledge and compassion to solve which sparked the resilience I needed to come up with a solution. Almost intuitively, I developed a flow. Lines of code became my colors, the keyboard my brush, and the monitor my canvas. Coding became my art, and art is my gateway to discovering new worlds. Currently, my little sister is just grasping the basics of math. I often worry that if her curiosity is left unnurtured, it will block her from pursuing a satisfying career. When I open my computer, she immediately becomes intrigued. "Ooo, what’s that?" she says. I pull up a stool next to my desk and feed her knowledge-hungry mind to the best of my ability. When I code, I focus on learning a new skill that can create an impact in her life. To learn about how programs use data and machine learning, I delved into two projects: a carbon data analyzer and a prediction model for lung cancer using linear regression. These projects drove me to research how computer science, particularly data, can benefit women beyond just breaking the glass ceiling. I am planning to expand this principle by pursuing computer science in college. A type of wearable technology or software that is an encrypted communication device can be a lifeline for people in hostile situations, such as abuse. An intelligent menstrual product dispenser can alert custodians when it is empty. Although the software used to predict domestic violence raises questions about its potential bias, diversified institutions, reliable data, and proper legal actions can help remedy the issue. With my education, I not only plan to leverage women with new software but also employ talented women into a space where they can advance their careers without patriarchal resistance. My presence might comfort a young girl, but my voice will certainly inspire her. All little sisters around the world deserve a society where their interests and needs are valued. When innovation is used as a weapon, we must reconstruct it to build a bridge to a brighter future—one that anyone can walk across.
Shanice Handley
University of ChicagoBartlett, TN
As someone who values connection, human-computer interaction seemed like the perfect area to explore just that. Sometimes, there’s so much focus on technology and its technical aspects. However, the design aspects of tech are just as important. As a young Black girl growing up, I encountered several algorithms dictating what I viewed. I struggled to find pins on Pinterest that showcased natural Black hair. Every single search followed with “black girl”, hoping to include a glimpse of me. Even then, there were very few images that met my needs. These algorithms continue to highlight the harm that a lack of representation can do. With human-computer interaction, I want to redesign tech to meet the needs and wants of marginalized communities. I want young Black girls and girls of color to feel included when interacting with tech. I want to ensure the lives of underrepresented groups are enhanced through technology. Over the years, I’ve felt hopeless. I turned on the news and was met with protests and turmoil on my screen. I would sign petitions advocating for another young Black person killed by the police and repost the powerful words of activists but nothing seemed to do any good other than educating my peers. I needed something to channel the anger and hopelessness I felt while experiencing this injustice occurring in our country. So I turned to code and design. Over a few months, I typed endlessly on my laptop. I searched for non-profits providing mentorship to young Black youth in their community. I found petitions working to right the wrongs made by the criminal justice system. I searched for activists working tirelessly to make our environment a liveable one. My website, Awujo Resources, became a hub to act on the issues people care about. From reproductive health to voting rights, I highlighted the hard-hitting issues affecting people across America and the world. This website showed me the impact that technology can have to inspire people to spark change. This website ultimately showed me how human-computer interaction can include underrepresented groups and the issues plaguing us. After working on my website, I started thinking. What if there was a website or app that inspired young students from underrepresented backgrounds to merge their passions with technology? Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of representation within STEM; Black girls just didn’t seem to be scientists, coders, or engineers. I want to help other students like me to see how technology and engineering can merge with their passions of dance, writing, and so many others. Most importantly, I want to show young students of marginalized backgrounds that they have a place in their chosen fields even if they're the only Black person, Latinx person, woman, or queer person. As I venture into college, I want to pursue Computer Science with a Graphic Design minor. Throughout my college career, I look forward to designing a website targeted at young students of color to encourage them to pursue STEM fields in higher education. Using a social media platform, I want to advocate for diversity in STEM through my own experiences navigating the field as a Black woman. With every project I design, from websites to tech wearables, I'll ensure that it's accessible to a diverse group of people, not just society's norm. As I come into my career as a UX engineer, I will continue coding and designing for the young Black girls worldwide who don't feel represented.
Adya Parida
Syracuse UniversitySyracuse, NY
As the curtains rise, I swirl across the stage, rhythm pulsating through my body. With my body draped in an ivory white, embellished silk saree, the movements of my upper torso symbolize waves and the graceful fluidity of my Odissi mudras (hand gestures) mimic swaying palm trees. I have been dancing since I was three and math always intrigued me. As a 6th grader, I was amused to see a few lines of C++ code making beautiful fractal patterns and overlays—my first non-textbook application of math. “It’s beautiful!”, I exclaimed, “but I can’t touch it!”. One day, I got hold of our old laptop and ripped it open to find an intricate network of tiny circuits, and shiny green slips jotted with silver spots. My brother explained how the microscopic switches on the motherboard generate 0s and 1s to execute wonderful things. “Oh! So the laptop is the flesh and the motherboard the heart? “Yes!”, he replied. I was elated to see how a tiny tangible chip breathes life into a powerful machine. I first applied coding in the real world by teaching three women housekeepers SQL and GoogleSuite. Two now work as database managers and one fondly recounts how she uses GoogleSheets to track crops grown and fertilizers used on her farm. Seeing her eyes sparkle with joy when her programs executed successfully, I was astounded by how a few lines of code could empower marginalized women and transform their lives in a patriarchal society. Thus, I feel compelled to study computer engineering. My mission as an engineer is to design intelligent AI systems to help farmers make rational decisions to optimize agriculture, without compromising the sanctity of the environment or ethics in the process. I want to expose myself to circuits, regression models, sensors, and their practical implementations. The wide range of AI specializations will teach me how to implement AI on data to identify solutions to root causes such as estimating costs and risks, improving crop yield, and minimizing waste. The ‘Mathematical Programming’ class will show me how to optimize systems of equations, a valuable skill for designing AI algorithms. I want to take an interdisciplinary approach to research and have the freedom to explore diverse connections between STEM and humanities. I want to work in horticulture on using soft bio-robots in vineyard harvesting. Through the Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture, I am excited to work with her to deploy Deep Learning algorithms in bio-robots that use spatial statistics for real-time yield forecasting and predicting which genes will create a healthier plant. Indian farms severely lack freshwater infrastructure. I want to develop sustainable irrigation systems, crucial for meeting agricultural and potable water requirements in the world's drought-prone areas. As a responsible engineer, I have always been interested in addressing ethical and privacy concerns in big data strategically. I will delve deeper into psychology and contextualize my work in engineering through information ethics, law & policy. Whether I am designing a new algorithm or developing disaster-resilient irrigation systems in India, my greatest loyalty as an engineer is to humanity. Thus, I will immerse myself in the power of simple lines of code to transform lives.
Gabrielle Walker
Seven Hills SchoolWest Chester Township, OH
Camille Edwards
University of California-BerkeleyPearland, TX
When I was 10, I went to a Girls Who Code event. I got to try coding for the first time, and from there, I was hooked. Now I am 17; I have the opportunity to create my own coding project, and the passion is still there. I enjoy the struggle I face solving my compiler issues and the feeling of accomplishment once I solve them. I want to study computer science because of how limitless it is. I grew up with a family that taught me to love learning, and Computer Science builds on my love for learning because there are so many things you can learn about the field. Each task you wish to accomplish has an endless number of solutions of varying complexity, and it's up to you to figure out the best way to complete that task in a code that is your own. There is always something new when coding, whether it's a new programming language, method, or variable. Sometimes it can be daunting when faced with a new subject, but it's a challenge that I am always excited to try to take on. I look forward to using what I learn in computer science to work on projects that I believe would help other people. Projects such as developing software that could scan music and color coordinate each note to make it not only easier but more enjoyable for dyslexic musicians to learn music. Or I would want to create something that lets kids relate to the various struggles I know I faced and allow them to feel seen and heard in the tech field. Beyond my passion projects, I also want to be an advocate within the STEM field, especially in computer science. I am passionate about advocacy for minorities in STEM, particularly black women in STEM, and I plan to help increase diversity. Throughout my experience in computer science, I have often felt pretty isolated. Whether it was in clubs, classes, or volunteering, I often found myself one of the only African American students, if not the only African American student, in every activity I participated in. Beyond my frustrations of feeling left out, the lack of African American women in the STEM field is a problem for society. The lack of diversity means that less is technology targeted specifically or even considers African-American people in its design. And the lack of support within the STEM field makes it less likely for black women to pursue it as a career. Making African American women feel more welcome in the stem field will be a slow process, and because we are still at the beginning of it, my job is to help build the foundation. During my time in high school, I was frustrated with the lack of space for African Americans in the STEM program. However, now I feel guilty for not creating that space myself. I plan to support current Black coders by being there and being a familiar face, introducing young black girls to the concept of computer science, and being able to continue supporting women in stem clubs and helping to create a space for black women as well. I would want to advocate for all the various things that make me who I am and teach other younger kids that they can be African-American and can be a woman and still do the things they love. I want to make STEM more welcoming as a whole, and I will begin with my community.
Kynnedy Smith
Columbia University in the City of New YorkShaker Heights, OH
When I was younger, I loved creating contraptions under the name, The Inventress. I made things like vibrating back scratches that reached multiple spots at once and a pulley system that simplified rinsing dishes. Once I got my first taste of gaming through my Pink Nintendo DSI, I quickly became interested in learning how to be a digital inventress through code. After learning how to create a text-based adventure game in the language C# at summer camp, I became obsessed with coding. I participated in computer science camps and research each year after that, and I began creating new “inventions” in the form of creative online tools, games, and websites. I fell in love with computer science because coding is like doing magic with a keyboard. With the correct lines of code, I can create anything I want, from a new game or website to alternate realities and intelligent technologies. Computer science is thrilling because it gives me the ability to literally be a magician, to create something from nothing, and use this ability to better the lives of others. This summer, while reading up on news about the field, I stumbled across an article about a company that conducted the world’s first successful total knee replacement surgery using smart glasses enhanced with augmented reality and artificial intelligence. I was completely awestruck by how this technology enhanced the surgical process, so I decided to write a science article about how artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) can revolutionize the healthcare sector. I spent hours researching ways these two technologies can be combined to create an augmented human intelligence in healthcare workers, and I even secured interviews with experts from Google Healthcare and the Medical Virtual Reality department at the University of Southern California to broaden my understanding. I gave my all to this project, losing track of time researching potential applications and barriers to integrating this technology into everyday life, and I was very happy to get my article published in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Office of Engineering Outreach Program e-publication at the end of this summer. After studying how AI and AR can be integrated into the healthcare sector, I have become increasingly interested in how this technology can be used to help my community, especially in the midst of the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer. Between the tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others who look like me, I began thinking of ways this technology can be used to create change during this tense time. I would love to explore the opportunity of a safety integration in AR/AI glasses that could read a person’s constitutional rights to them when they are stopped by the police and display the officer’s badge number and title. I also envision AR/AI glasses made for the police officers to wear that could recognize the person’s face and tell the officer the person’s criminal record, their occupation, if they have a family, etc. Although facial recognition raises some ethical concerns, I believe these issues can be solved with proper regulations in place that ensure the security and diversity of the data collected. The integration of this technology in these situations could bring humanity back into civilian-police interactions, make people feel safer, and even save lives. By pursuing computer science in college, I hope to continue studying this technology and go on to achieve my Ph.D. in the field with a concentration in human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence. In light of the systemic injustices that myself and other minority communities face in our society, I want to become an expert in this field to create a software company that produces technology that accents and improves the minority experience. Through virtual experiences and programs that augment human intelligence, I want to use the magic of computer science to expose people to new perspectives, and better the lives of minority communities.
Anika Kathuria
Bridgewater-Raritan High SchoolBridgewater Township, NJ


When is the scholarship application deadline?

The application deadline is Jan 16, 2023. Winners will be announced on Feb 16, 2023.

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