A student takes notes on her laptop in a virtual reality class at UIC

Reedhima Mandlik portrait photo

Draft your own blueprint

Reedhima Mandlik, a cybersecurity expert and public speaker, offers three pieces of advice learned in her tech career — among them that to be noticed in this field, you must demand to be. This is our HOW (“Her Own Words”) column for January.

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For every obstacle, a resolution

Switching majors from sociology to computer science can be daunting enough, but that wasn’t the only challenge Toni Raggs faced in college. In this Their Own Words column, Toni talks through the obstacles they surmounted and shares advice for other students who might be facing the same ones.

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Tomi Okunola, wearing a blue UIC computer science t-shirt, poses in front of a sculpture of an African woman in Chicago

A roller coaster worth waiting for

The lows and the highs of studying computer science have both proven worthwhile for Tomi Okunola, who is adding a CS minor to her economics major at UIC. In this HOW (“Her Own Words”) column, Tomi explains how Break Through Tech Chicago helped her to consider computer science and where she sees the subject in her future.

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Finding chemistry outside of chemistry

For many students, choosing a college major feels like finding your way in the dark — it’s scary, but sometimes you stumble upon great things. In this HOW (“Her Own Words”) column, Monse Castillo tells how some helpful resources and a willingness to try new things led her to the right place.

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Tomi Babalola sits with a notebook and pen on a red metal bridge that crosses the Chicago river

Identifying 'the ultimate package'

Tomi Babalola happened upon a college major that wraps together two things she loves — creativity and math — and that saved her from a career she never really wanted (dentistry!). In this HOW (Her Own Words) column, hear how she feels about her new career path.

Finding ‘the ultimate package’
Musically inclined UIC computer science student Charlotte Andry poses with her guitar, with the Sears Tower in the background

Who would have guessed?

Imagine asking your sixth-grade self what they think of your chosen college major. That’s Charlotte Andry’s jumping-off point for this HOW (“Her Own Words”) column, which takes you through her journey as a tech student from high school to her current courses at UIC.

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UIC data science student Linda Mansour in front of a representation of biological data

Letting go leads to discovery

Sometimes you find a natural home for your aptitudes in a place you never thought to look. In this HOW (“Her Own Words”) column, UIC student Linda Mansour explains how letting go of her initial conception of her academic trajectory led her to something better.

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artist's black-and-white sketch of four of the five GE Healthcare Sprinterns with one of their mentors

A clear view of medical tech at GE Healthcare

Five UIC students worked at the intersection of technology and health during their Sprinternship at GE Healthcare, which designs and manufactures MRI machines and other medical imaging equipment.

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A Break Through Tech Chicago student works on a laptop connected to two large panel displays showing the result of the code she is working on for PEAK6

Programming, preparation, and poker at PEAK6

PEAK6, a financial services company in Chicago, offers its Break Through Tech Chicago Sprinterns™ a “can-do” work experience. You can program. You can work in a successful team. You can make lasting professional connections. And … you can bluff and bet with the best. Find out what a Sprinternship at PEAK6 was like for our summer 2022 team of five students.

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a CS 111 student with their programmable Rube Goldberg element, which resembles a water wheel built from cardboard

CS 111 students ‘put it all together’ with micro-motion projects

UIC students taking their first computer science course, CS 111, put a tech spin on the classic Rube Goldberg-style machine. They each designed and programmed one component that could be linked to their classmates’ creations to make one giant chain reaction.

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Danielle Cartagenes poses in front of a colorful word cloud against a black screen

A degree program that speaks her language

Computing skills are important in so many fields. Finding the right area to apply them is a key part of planning your future work in tech. Danielle Cartagenes discovered at UIC that connecting technology and language was the right path for her.

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Break Through Tech Sprinterns in a group on the UIC campus

17 companies tap UIC students to tackle tech challenges

If you don’t yet know our Sprinternship program, this UIC announcement — created to introduce our 2022 Sprinternship hosts — is a great primer. Read it to find out what Sprinternships are, why they’re crucial for future gender diversity in tech, and which 17 Chicago organizations are on the forefront.

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Four Break Through Tech members walking on UIC's campus

Finding her people

For chemical engineering major Astrid Vargas, getting involved with Break Through Tech was her key to discovering a lifetime of possibilities—and a support system to match.

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Devina Dhawan

On course for change

UIC computer science alumna Devina Dhawan started Devi-Labs to see more women and nonbinary individuals pursue careers in tech. Read about what she believes will make the biggest difference in diversifying the field.

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UIC computer science and linguistics student Grace Pnacek in a field of lavender flowers

CS or linguistics? No more need to choose

UIC student Grace Pnacek is finding success where her interest in computer science crosses paths with her interest in language.

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Portrait of Ashma Pandya against a light background

Maximizing a minor

The reasons to pick a computer science minor in college are as varied as the people who pursue them. Read about how the program is helping UIC junior Ashma Pandya to achieve her research-oriented goals.

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View of the company logo sign in front of AbbVie's headquarters in Lake Forest, IL

Optimizing the internship experience

UIC students who did their Sprinternship at AbbVie, the Illinois-based pharmaceutical giant, had a chance to meet company executives while learning about the interconnection between tech and business.

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Four of the five 2021 U.S. Soccer Sprinterns pose in front of a U.S. Soccer Federation banner

Enhancing the tech behind the business of sports

U.S. Soccer brings one of the world’s most popular sports to this country. In May 2021, five UIC women brought a concept for a staff intranet to U.S. Soccer. Find out how this Sprinternship allowed the students to work on technology that supports a sports powerhouse.

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UIC student Afifa Nadeem poses with networking technology in front of a mural by Pablo Serrano in the Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen

Designing a network (and networking)

Sprinternships definitely can help your résumé. Can they also help Chicago communities? The five UIC students who held Sprinternships with Cisco Systems in 2021 can answer this question with a resounding “yes.”

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Sarah Iqbal, Ammara Ashraf, and Farah Iqbal with their Expo design project “Interactive Arduino Mini Piano” in Wheaton, May 2, 2021.

Bringing out tech's musical side

Pianos: wood, strings, and metal? Not in the computer science division of UIC’s Engineering Expo. Three women showed how an instrument that has stood the test of centuries could be updated as a tech project.

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Reem Jaghlit, head of diversity, equity, and inclusion for ActiveCampaign, wears a bright blue coat on the sidewalk in front of a building.

Culture matters

It’s not just the work you do that’s important — it’s the place where you do it. Reem Jaghlit talks about the benefits of finding a workplace culture that celebrates you, no matter who you are (or who you want to be).

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Arpita Kumari, UIC '21, sits with her laptop in a natural outdoor park setting

College: more than just class

Arpita Kumari details how involvement with a student organization at the University of Illinois Chicago provided the valuable insight that computing and technology were indeed the right place for her.

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Illustration of autonomous vehicles driving on a tree-lined highway

Advancing tech for the common good

Data scientist Fran Berman held an online visit with Break Through Tech Chicago participants and other UIC students to talk about the range of ethical and logistical issues that concern developers of autonomous vehicles.

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The Chicago skyline at night with an open rail bridge in the foreground

Chicago organizations invest in the future of 115 Sprinterns

Chicago women and nonbinary individuals will get a head start on tech work experience in May 2021 thanks to these committed partner companies and organizations.

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Johnnalee Kutzke, a master's student in computer science at UIC, in Lincoln Park, Chicago

Knowing what's right

In this HOW (“Her Own Words”) column, computer science graduate student Johnnalee Kutzke breaks down her reactions to other people always pushing her away from tech.

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Doris Espiritu at the American Chemical Society conference

In a flashback to childhood, the start of a career

Always a scientist and now a community college professor, Doris Espiritu has found ways to integrate technology into her own research and has opened up the process of data-driven investigation to new generations of young people.

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A computer screen shows a panel of participants in Winter Guild

Winter Guild 2021: For great tech, start with people

Sometimes, the best mobile app isn’t about the flashiest tech or the loudest bells and whistles. It’s about keen knowledge of the wants and needs of your app’s users. Winter Guild participants brainstormed their way to apps designed with real people in mind.

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Cecilia Avila, UIC '20, in front of a professionally painted mural in Chicago

Cecilia Avila, UIC CS '20, wins GET Chicago Fellowship

Avila will work in a team to develop a technological solution for a challenge faced by underrepresented groups in tech, especially women. She is excited to make industry connections and experience the mentorship that comes with the fellowship.

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Naomi Kaduwela, head of Kavi Labs, with the Cloud Gate sculpture (

A big “YES” to computer science changed my life

An unexpected conversation in her college academic advisor’s office changed the course of Naomi Kaduwela’s career. Read about that fateful day and the experiences at GE Healthcare and Kavi Global that followed.

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Sarah Ather in front of a professionally painted mural in Chicago

Finding your power — and using it to lift others

In this column in our HOW series, Sarah Ather, a 2019 UIC computer science graduate, tells the powerful story of how she discovered that she needed tech and, perhaps more importantly, tech needed her.

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Teaching assistants for the Girls Who Code program prepare a lesson for participants

Coding a gender remix for the next generation

Girls Who Code, a nationwide program for secondary school students, offered Gina Gerace a door into tech. Now she gives back to the program at UIC as a college-level mentor.

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Amita Shetty on UIC's campus in a large red Adirondack chair, with the Sears Tower in the background

Break Through Tech Chicago announces strategic expert as new director

Amita Shetty, an experienced strategy executive at the rail leasing company GATX, seeks to create more space for women in technology in Chicago by achieving sustainable change at scale.

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Heather Kuhn, UIC '19, codes at her home computer

And you know what? I did it.

Heather Kuhn knows what it’s like to be the only woman in the room. It’s a situation that made her want to work harder and defy all odds.

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A bridge over the Chicago River in the Loop

Bringing the brains of tech to the heart of Chicago

In this first-person column, Nimeesha Chan talks about what it was like to work with students from all over the Chicago area on a city-wide challenge to improve economic opportunity and financial security.

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Shanon Reckinger leads a section of Break Through Tech Summer Guild from her home in 2020

Solving old problems with new tech

Food insecurity is a wide-ranging problem, affecting the people who need better access to food, the organizations that seek to provide that access, and more. Summer Guild participants considered how tech could help to address several of those aspects.

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An expanse of countryside in Santo Domingo, MX

The computational power of the puff-ball cactus

In our inaugural HOW (in “Her Own Words”) column, Hilda Mendoza-Avila traces the roots of her interest in tech to a small town in northern Mexico called Santo Domingo.

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Colorful illustration showing people around the world connected in a network

Talk to me

In an exploratory UIC computer science course called CS 100, Break Through Tech Chicago students simulated a “network” to learn about the history of the internet.

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A man looks over his roommate's shoulder to see what is on her computer screen

Your roommate as cyber threat

Break Through Tech Chicago students explored “threat modeling” in the exploratory introductory computer science course CS 100.

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A student manipulates sound files on a laptop with a pair of headphones nearby

That code sounds great!

Music can be code. Code can be music. Break Through Tech Chicago students enrolled in UIC’s exploratory computer science course, CS 100, discovered how.

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