Miss Wayne County Inspires Young Girls to Pursue Computer Science

She hopes that by exposing young girls to coding through her outreach efforts, and by being a role model, she will provide inspiration and give them confidence to pursue computer science.

Anna Dai, Miss Wayne County Enlarge
Anna Dai, Miss Wayne County.

CS student Anna Dai is redefining the stereotype of women in computing. She is this year’s Miss Wayne County, which she achieved through passion, talent, and hard work, and she is combining her pageant win with her love of computer science.

Dai decided to run for Miss Wayne County to inspire thousands of little girls across the country as Miss Wayne County, and hopefully Miss Michigan and Miss America in the future. She states, “Miss America is a role model for so many young girls in our country and I want to be that inspiration. I feel that being a Chinese American and Computer Science Engineering major makes me an atypical contestant, but that is also what makes me someone who Miss America needs in order to inspire even more young girls in this country and take another step toward diversity and inclusion.”

Computer science is a big part of her life, and this was apparent through her pageant platform. She chose Girls Who Code (GWC), which is a national non-profit that works to close the gender gap in technology and engineering sectors, and this year she partnered with the organization to bring computer science education to more girls in the community. In November 2014, she helped create one of the first after school GWC clubs in Michigan and instructed 21 girls at Cranbrook Kingswood Middle School. In fourteen three-hour sessions, she taught sixth through eighth grade girls the fundamentals of computer science and beginning level JavaScript. She hopes that by exposing these young girls to coding, and by being a role model, she will provide inspiration and give them confidence to pursue computer science.

Dai is using her computer science skills outside of the pageant world as well. She is currently interning for Mott Family Network, which is a nonprofit that provides assistive technology, educational, and recreational resources to pediatric patients at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. She is currently the manager of the Pediatric Gaming Project where she is helping deploy 266+ Xbox 360’s within patient rooms of C.S. Mott.

Her interest in CS came about during her freshman year when she realized that coding came easily for her and that she truly enjoyed the projects.

“I took Dr. Chesney’s Gaming For the Greater Good ENGR 100 class in which we programmed computer games that could be used in therapy for children with Autism. From that I saw what I could do with technology and CS and that was it – I was sold.”

At U of M she is a member of Engineering Global Leadership (EGL), Impact Dance, Girls in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (gEECS), and the Society of Women Engineers.

With all the activities on her plate, she felt that being Miss Wayne County would contribute to breaking the stereotypes that try to define her. She explains “as a CSE major I’ve been seen as the nerdy one. As a girl who occasionally wears makeup and dresses up, I’ve been looked down on within the engineering school. Being Miss Wayne County allowed me to throw away all these stereotypes and show people who I am as an individual. And as part of this, it gave me the chance to inspire other people that they are also more than their stereotypes.”

Her drive to be more than a stereotype showed when she competed in the Miss Michigan competition that took place on June 20th in Muskegon, MI. During the competition, she was one of the top ten finalists that were given the opportunity re-perform for the chance to be Miss Michigan. At the end of the competition, she won the Academic Scholarship Award and the Duke of Edinburgh International Bronze Award.

As Miss Wayne County, Anna will continue her year of service and continue to make an impact in the community.

Once she receives her bachelor’s degree she will go on to obtain her master’s degree in CSE. After that, she hopes to work for a company that uses technology not just for consumerism or profit, but one that utilizes the power of technology to make the world a better place and to solve humanitarian issues.

Diversity and Outreach; Student News; Women in Computing