From building robots to constructing computers from scratch, Turlock High Sophomore Karla Moreno, 15, has had major technical accomplishments – including her flashing LED hat.
But no accomplishment can compare to becoming first and only Central Valley high school student to be chosen for the prestigious Aspirations in Computing Award.
“Growing up there was no expectation in getting this far,” said Moreno. “Coming this far and winning this award was something I couldn’t have even imagined. When I got the confirmation saying that I had been chosen for the award, I just cried my eyes out. To someone else it may just seem like ‘oh, she just won an award’ but to me it shows what I have done in my life.”
The Aspirations in Computing Award was awarded to 25 young women by the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Of the 25 women selected, 24 were Bay Area students; Moreno was the only exception.
Winning the award, as well as finding her passion in technology, has helped Moreno gain confidence.
“Coming into high school, I really didn’t have any direction,” said Moreno. “I didn’t know where in the world to go. But then I found technology.”
In large part, Moreno found technology through Turlock High School’s MOUSE Squad.
MOUSE Squad is currently offered both as a class during the school day as well as an after-school class for students who cannot fit it into their daily schedule at Turlock High School. MOUSE is a non-profit organization that creates technology-based opportunities to help motivate underserved students by giving them hands-on experience in learning about technology.
“If it wasn’t for MOUSE Squad, I wouldn’t have learned about this program,” said Moreno. “If I hadn’t found this class, I don’t think I would’ve ever been into technology. And technology has really changed my life.”
MOUSE Squad is a youth development program of Aspiranet, a leading social services agency dedicated to supporting foster youth and families in California for 37 years. Aspiranet supports a number of innovative youth programs and services throughout the state to help young children and adolescents grow up healthy and excel in their academic studies.
“It’s students like Karla who make us proud to support a program like MOUSE Squad,” said Aspiranet’s Communications Director Stacey Fehr. “It’s a great program that inspires students and opens the door to possibilities of where an education in computer information technology can take them.”
Moreno was awarded and honored at the Bay Area Affiliate Award Celebration on March 16 at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. The keynote speaker for the award ceremony was Jocelyn Goldfiend, the Director of Engineering at Facebook. Sponsors for the program include Microsoft, Motorola Solutions, Google, Zynga, UC Santa Cruz, and many others.
“Winning this award helps put women forward,” said Moreno. “Not even just for myself, but for all young women interested in entering the field of technology.”
The Aspirations in Computing Award will also allow Moreno to visit Google's campus in June where she and the 24 other award recipients will be given the opportunity to network and gain valuable information in mapping out and planning their educational endeavors to ensure wide career choices in their futures.
Moreno hopes to attend California State University, Fresno to pursue a major in Computer Science or Computer Engineering. Moreno will be the first in her family to ever attend college.
Moreno's success comes as no surprise to Bob Hoskins, physics teacher at Turlock High School and adviser of both MOUSE Squad and the robotics club, T-Bots. Hoskins described Moreno as one his top students, ready and willing to help other students with their studies.
“I expect great things from Karla because she knows what she wants to do,” said Hoskins. “She has direction, she does very well in school and she’s motivated. And that’s the reason she was selected for this award because she’s already proven that she’s motivated, well directed and success oriented…. She will be an inspiration to other young women who wish to enter the field of technology.”
Moreno remains thankful for the many people – like Hoskins – who helped her win the award and find a path for her future.
“Winning the Aspirations Award has made my whole life brighter,” said Moreno. “I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t found this program and technology. I have people that believe in me, and it’s a really great thing to have.”