Ashlen Wright is a 16-year-old sophomore at Sheyenne High School, tackling a problem that is plaguing the tech industry worldwide. The gender gap.ashlen

“Both my parents have a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) background, so I’ve always been interested in those fields,” she said. “But right now, only about 27% of positions in STEM fields are held by women.”

She began researching the problem after being named Fargo’s Outstanding Teen in 2015. She wanted to choose a platform to work towards that was personally relevant, she said.

What she’s found as the main problems are gender stereotyping and lack of female leadership, she said. She sees her opportunity with the Outstanding Teen crown as a unique position to encourage interest in STEM fields.

“With the Miss America pageants – STEM isn’t really seen as something that goes along with that,” she said. “I want to break those stereotypes.”

Wright calls her platform Mining for GEMS: Girls in Engineering, Math and Science. She has begun to pursue the program by working with Inspire Lab, a program that gives kids hands on experience with STEM, as well as Digi Girls, coding classes offered by Microsoft.

Her focus is on younger girls in elementary school, she said.

“My favorite experience so far was hosting a birthday party, where we built water bottle rockets,” she said. “The kids loved it.”

She plans to continue implementing the program by speaking at schools and encouraging young girls to pursue tech fields.

“I want to cultivate an interest at a young age,” she said.

Learn more about Ashlen and Mining for GEMS, here.

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Marisa Jackels