Everyday Heroes: ChickTECH's Janice Levenhagen-Seeley
A group of girls surrounds a table covered in glitzy jewels, bright feathers and glue guns, but this isn't your typical arts and crafts class.
They're decorating masks that were printed on the prettiest 3-D printer you'll ever see. It's purple, bedazzled, and covered in faux fur and sparkles. But even more impressive, the girls designed their masks on computers, with software they just learned how to use.
Looking at her computer screen, 16-year-old Celeste Valdez says excitedly, "You can use this for so much stuff, and it's so cool!"
This is all happening inside the engineering building at Portland State University, where 124 high school girls are getting an introduction to technology, thanks to ChickTECH's High School Kickoff Event.
"I think what intrigued me most is having the chance to work with actual equipment," 14-year-old Kylie Jones told KATU.
For many of these girls, this is the first time they've been exposed to technology like this. Before ChickTECH, Valdez says she didn't care for technology, and she only wanted to be an entertainer.
"But now I'm here and I'm doing this sort of stuff and it's like programming, but visually, and I really like it," Valdez said.
What the girls don't realize is they're helping to build a better future for girls all over the world.
Growing up in rural Wisconsin, Janice Levenhagen-Seeley didn't have opportunities like this. While earning her degree in computer engineering from Oregon State University, Levenhagen-Seeley says she felt less prepared than her male classmates.
"I look at them and I'm like, 'Man, they're really so much further ahead than I am,' and I didn't realize that they had had all these other opportunities that had been given to them previously, and I had just somehow not. I just assumed that when they're picking things up like that, and I'm not, that it's just that they're better at it than I am and they must have that better brain for this kind of thing," she said.
But that couldn't have been further from the truth, so Levenhagen-Seeley created the nonprofit ChickTECH six years ago in Portland to find girls like her -- who have the aptitude, but who haven't been given the opportunity to pursue technology.
"I hate unfairness," she said. "Unfairness drives me insane, and so I have to fix it."
Since the beginning, she's opened 20 ChickTECH chapters around the country. Now, she's expanding internationally and to rural communities.
"My goal is that they will realize that the stereotype is just dumb, you know, it's not true. They don't have to have a certain type of brain," she said.
Visit one workshop, and it's not hard to tell that Levenhagen-Seeley is reaching her goal.
Take it from Valdez.
"I'm already here in this room, doing something like this, with a whole bunch of people who've never done it before, and I understand it," she said.
That's what makes Janice Levenhagen-Seeley our Everyday Hero. She's helping us reach gender equality in the tech world, one 3-D-printed mask at a time.
"Technology is what's building our future, and if women aren't a part of building that, then they're going to continue being treated as second-class citizens around the world," she said.