Melissa Schwass has worked in the tech industry for more than a decade, but she often finds that she’s the only female in the room. Her experience isn’t unique. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2017, but only 24 percent of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) jobs.

Schwass, who works as a senior project manager at the IT consulting firm Burwood Group and relocated to Denver last summer, is hoping to improve this statistic. As volunteer director of ChickTech, a nonprofit that encourages women to pursue and retain careers in the tech industry, Schwass wants to inspire a new generation of women to get involved in this fast-growing (and high-paying) industry.

“If we can achieve a greater gender balance in STEM fields,” Schwass says, “We will be able to invent and problem-solve in more creative ways.”

ChickTech offers two programs: ChickTech Career is open to women of all ages and from all industries, and involves networking events and workshops. ChickTech High School focuses on getting teenagers excited about technology and training them on aspects of STEM fields through hands-on workshops. The program seeks young women who might have an aptitude for science and mathematics, but have limited access to training in these areas. Participants must be nominated by an educator, mentor, or another adult.

“Our ideal candidates are high school girls, typically from underprivileged communities,” Schwass says. The organization’s goals are to get them “started on their career tracks early and [to encourage] them to pursue higher education.”

ChickTech was founded by Janice Levenhagen in Portland, Oregon in 2011. Since then, the organization has expanded to 18 chapters nationwide. Now, the program has landed in Denver, and they’re celebrating with a kickoff event at the University of Denver’s Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science on January 20–21.

About 125 high schoolers are expected to attend the kickoff event, where they’ll have the chance to meet current STEM students studying at DU. Participants will then choose one seminar to focus on during the two-day event—from 3D printing and mobile app development to JavaScript, soft circuits, and more. At the end of the program, they get to present what they built to friends and family.

And it doesn’t stop there. After the kickoff, ChickTech will host Denver workshop events once a month, with a short break in the summer before starting back up in September.

“I want to pay it forward, showing girls that even though the industry can be challenging, they can get to where they want to be and we’re going to help them do it,” Schwass says.

Want to get involved? Find out about other volunteer opportunities through ChickTech Denver.