The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission finds that only 36% of women are in IT careers. Then there’s Hannah Cheloha, a woman who codes and builds apps and does so with a social conscience.
Earning a micro certificate in iOS App Coding from Mesa Community College during the fall, spring, and summer 2018 semesters when she was one of the first students to enroll in the Apple Everyone Can Code course, she returned in fall 2020 through fall 2021 for an app building internship.
She credits the learning opportunities offered at MCC and her instructors for her success as an American Sign Language (ASL) lecturer and ASL program coordinator at Arizona State University. “When I interviewed at ASU I was told specifically that I was being offered the job to build an online program for the university. There is no doubt that I would not have been the preferred candidate if not for my IT and online teaching experience,” she says. “MCC prepared me for success and provided the resources and opportunities to put my IT education and theories into practice.”
Hannah notes that Michael Bogner, MCC Computer and Information Systems faculty, reached out to her about the three-course internship program at the college designed to help students with app coding skills get real world experience. “The program established what could be described as an app boutique that partners with the Mesa Chamber of Commerce to connect businesses with student interns to build apps for businesses,” Hannah explains. “The boutique not only builds custom apps to promote local businesses but also provides students with hands-on experience.”
One of the first apps the interns created was for Mesa Public Schools. “They reached out because of a high suicide rate among the student population in Arizona. Their desire was to connect students with mental health and suicide prevention services,” she continues. “The app we created is called Reach Out AZ. I primarily worked on the website which provides the backend data relay, information about the app for students and parents, and access to links so students and parents can download the app. The idea that I can participate in a project that may save a child’s life is rewarding and exceeds the reach I anticipated for the project.” Hannah looks forward to seeing the app in the Apple App Store, where it can have a positive impact on students’ lives, she adds.
Hannah also worked with her classmates and MCC faculty to develop the RISE (Resources, Information, and Services for Everyone) app as a pro-bono development operations manager and coder. This app connects students from Maricopa County Community College District, along with students within other community college and higher education institutions nationwide, with resources for free and modestly priced food, housing, and healthcare, enabling them to be successful at school and beyond. “The app is a great way for students and others to quickly connect with food banks, shelters, and much more. We have also customized the RISE mapping tool with additional student information such as building and classroom locations.”
As a final project for her internship and micro certificate, Hannah built an ASL dictionary app which became a companion app for her open education resource website, ASLInteractive. The website, for ASL students and interpreters, provides access to the dictionary and a variety of courses. I’m looking forward to seeing both the online immersion programs grow in the coming years.”
Hannah explained that at the time of her internship, there was not much available for teaching ASL online. So, she worked with colleagues to build online materials to supplement existing materials. “I taught myself Wordpress, Final Cut Pro, basic html, and other technologies for website building. When MCC offered the iOS app building courses, I saw the sequence as the perfect opportunity to move my resources into the mobile assisted language learning arena.”
Her talent for app development is receiving national attention, specifically from Apple CEO Tim Cook. In 2020, Hannah was invited by Apple to attend a White House virtual event to share her experience with the Everyone Can Code program and met the President, Vice President, and other political figures. “It was certainly a once in a lifetime and quite surreal experience. I felt extremely fortunate to be chosen for the honor of attending as a representative for MCCCD and Apple.” Hannah was also recognized a second time by the White House for her work on the RISE app.
“I have worked very hard to bring ASL teaching into the online environment and have had to overcome many technological hurdles. My success getting the position I hold now at ASU is largely due to my ability to teach online, and my strengths with technology and problem solving. Being recognized by Tim Cook was exciting and unexpected.”
To help narrow the gap between young girls and careers in STEM, Hannah has been assisting MCC in its efforts toward this goal. She has volunteered with Girls Get IT, an MCC-sponsored event to facilitate a workshop for high school girls interested in STEM careers. “Mike Bogner and I introduced the girls to Sphero robots and AR apps using iPads. It was fun and rewarding to see young women excited about coding and technology, and working together to problem solve and innovate.”