Local student earns national technology award

Through pressure, harassment and discrimination, Maddie Wang has risen to the top. A female entrepreneur, strong woman of color and current high school student, Wang has already earned more than $39,000 in profits from a tech-related startup, is a co-founder of a patent-pending product that is designed to prevent sexual assault and is a role model for young women everywhere.

Maddie Wang (Submitted photo)
Maddie Wang (Submitted photo)

The Mounds View High School student recently earned both state and national recognition for the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing Awards. Each year, high school women from around the United States are recognized through this program for their achievements in computing, proven leadership ability, academic performance and plans for post-secondary education. Of more than 3,500 applicants, Wang was chosen for this award because of her success in creating tech-related startups and strong interest in working to solve social justice issues.

The state-level program is part of Advance IT Minnesota, a program that is part of the high-tech Center of Excellence in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

“Minnesota Advance IT has been involved with the NCWIT program in an effort to put a spotlight on the technology field and help bridge the gender inequity gap in the state,” Advance IT Career Pathways and Partnerships Director Russell Fraenkel said.

Fraenkel said there in a talent gap that exists in the information technology field, as well as an opportunity gap.

“In many cases, women are led to believe through cultural messages that they aren’t the right fit for the field, and that is a disservice to women,” he said. “We feel that one of the surest ways to fill this gap is encouraging women to find their place in the field.”

Fraenkel said this was part of the reason that Minnesota Advance IT got involved with NCWIT. The program also makes an effort to work with companies in the state to connect young women with tech opportunities. The program has greatly evolved since first beginning five years ago. Advance IT Minnesota has grown its number of company sponsors that offer paid summer internships and job shadows to students, as well as evolved to offer more opportunities to young women through its SPARCS program, a female youth technology development program. Fraenkel said programs like these allow girls who are curious about the technology field to learn more and see if it is the right fit, as well as meet friends and build relationships with others who share similar interests.

Minecraft-based Start-up

Wang first got involved in the tech world through the online video game Minecraft. This game inspired her first tech-related start-up, as she developed her own multi-platform server based off of Minecraft. After seeing much success, Wang decided to pursue this interest.

Maddie Wang, third from the left, at the JA National Competition. Wang’s team won the EY Social Innovation Award at the 2016 JA National Student Leadership Summit with their app that helps students learn Spanish. (Submitted photo)
Maddie Wang, third from the left, at the JA National Competition. Wang’s team won the EY Social Innovation Award at the 2016 JA National Student Leadership Summit with their app that helps students learn Spanish. (Submitted photo)

“After I realized that I could make thousands of applications doing something that I love, just playing with technology, why not just go for it,” Wang said. “As long as you have the skills to do something, you can pursue anything you want.”

Wang said startup ideas generally don’t cost much. She said she’s seen many of her ideas fail, but some have grown to be incredibly successful.

A few examples include a candy subscription site, CandyPax, which sends three pounds of candy to subscribers every three months. Wang also created a Spanish application for JA Company, a national organization that offers entrepreneurship programs and helps young people experience the realities of work and life in the 21st century. The Spanish app, Leozard, is sold to middle schools to provide an interactive and exciting way for students to learn the language. The product earned Wang and her team the EY Social Innovation Award at the 2016 JA National Student Leadership Summit. The award recognized the app for creating a realistic, achievable and innovative solution to a local, national or global concern.

WatchIt Band

Wang is co-founder of WatchIt Band, her current startup project with a goal to put an end to sexual assault. She and a team of five other students worked to create this product at a summer program offered through UPenn’s Management and Technology Summer Institute.

The device is discrete and aesthetically appears as a watch, but users can quickly call for help in threatening situations by pressing down both side buttons. The watch instantly sends a text message to a contact of choice through a cellphone connected with bluetooth. The message states that the user is in trouble, and also sends a Google Maps location. For situations of immediate danger, the side buttons can be pressed down for three seconds and a call to the police is made. The device can be customized through a free downloadable app that will be available for Android and Apple smart phones.

Wang said the company is currently working with a jewelry designer to disguise the product as a benign bracelet.

“With products such as pepper spray or rape whistles, there is so much stigma attached,” Wang said. “I think people in general don’t want that attached stigma but still want to feel safe,” she said.

Maddie Wang and co-founders of WatchIt Band. These students came together through UPenn’s Management and Technology Summer Institute to create this startup. The device was designed to address the issue of sexual assault on women. (Submitted photo)
Maddie Wang and co-founders of WatchIt Band. These students came together through UPenn’s Management and Technology Summer Institute to create this startup. The device was designed to address the issue of sexual assault on women. (Submitted photo)

Inspiration for all

As an LGBTQ woman, Wang is supportive of the community and feels it is important to inspire others. Wang came out about her own sexuality during her senior year of high school and she is incredibly happy to be accepted by all of her friends and family.

“I want to let people know that they are not alone, to let people know that they will be accepted, and they will be okay,” Wang said.

Through her own experiences with sexual harassment and online discrimination, she is determined to do everything she can to impact the world. She said that even being on the Minecraft server at age 13, she experienced sexism and racism. Citing the quote, “your silence will not protect you,” Wang feels the urgency to take social justice action.

“I think it’s very important to be more proactive about these issues because if you do stay complacent, then nothing will change,” Wang said. “We have to take initiative toward changing social views. If there’s more initiative, we could change society as a whole.”

Contact Sarah Burghardt at [email protected]