Virtual Workshop with MCG Health

On April 29, students from Westmoor High School in Daly City, CA attended an IGNITE Virtual Coding Workshop with MCG Health!

Facilitator Deepa Chacko, Scrum Master at MCG, welcomed students and shared that MCG Health acts as a bridge between hospitals and insurance companies. They help doctors and nurses to provide patients with the best care using medical guidelines written by MCG’s in-house team of doctors and nurses. The guidelines are backed by statistical data and evidence and accessed by MCG software products. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are all important components of MCG! 

After the introduction, students met a panel of women STEM professionals who work at MCG:

Sharon Kuan is a Software Development Engineer in Test, and she loves that she gets to help people in her job! Sharon shared her amazing journey to STEM, beginning with starting middle school in the U.S. when she didn’t know any English. She felt isolated and experienced bullying, but she worked very hard and became the Teacher’s Assistant for the ESL class. In high school, Sharon’s dad fell ill, so she left school. For many years she worked in a low-paying job until she entered a worker retraining program for database administration and went back to school. Sharon said that being in STEM allows you to live a more comfortable life and also give back to society.

Gina Shostak is also a Software Development Engineer in Test, writing programs that test other programs. A “fixer” at heart, she enjoys making products better. Gina’s family immigrated from what is now Ukraine when she was in high school, and she spoke just rudimentary English. She had never seen a computer until she arrived in America, but she discovered that computers gave her confidence. With programming, all the concepts were universal and it didn’t matter what language you spoke! Gina was told she would have to sacrifice getting married and having a family if she pursued a job in technology, but she showed off family photos and is proud to have proved her naysayers wrong!

Manjusha Kalepalli, a Software Engineering Manager, went to high school in India, where they only had two computers and each student got about five minutes of computer time every two weeks! Still, this exposure sparked Manjusha’s curiosity to learn more. She stressed how much STEM is involved in everything these days and how plentiful job opportunities are! Manjusha is excited about all the STEM resources and learning opportunities available to young people and encouraged students to take advantage!

After meeting the speakers, the students asked many great questions, including:

  • How did you decide what to study in college?
  • Did you find yourselves wanting to give up at any point, and how did you overcome it?
  • How did you figure out what to do for a career?
  • How do I choose what jobs I should apply for?
  • How do you stay motivated?
  • How do you prepare for interviews? What is the interview process?
  • What kind of technical skills should I start learning now?

The panelists shared helpful tips and advice:

  • Try lots of things; your career isn’t set in stone. Gina’s current job didn’t even exist when she was starting! 
  • Nothing worthwhile is easy. When it’s hard, remind yourself what you want to be in the future, what you’re trying to accomplish, and that you can do it! 
  • There’s no right time to decide what you want to do. It is okay to change directions and explore outside of your college degree.
  • Always have goals: Break things into small steps, and remember that goals can’t be accomplished in a day! 
  • Have a good support system to motivate you and provide feedback, like friends, colleagues, mentors, and teammates. 
  • Technical skills are important, but so are soft skills like analytical/thinking skills. 
  • Don’t look at a failed interview as a failure; look at it as a way to gain experience.
  • Hard work and determination are more important than degrees.
  • You are never wedded to a specific profession. A STEM diploma will open doors to many areas!

After the lively discussion, students enjoyed a coding activity based on a word-guessing game like Wordle. In breakout rooms, MCG mentors walked through the coding process that happens behind the scenes. Students learned about “conditionals,” setting parameters that tell the computer what to do, like the number of tries a player gets, the number of letters in the word, and the number of correct letter guesses. Once this coding framework is set up, the next step would be bringing in user interface and design teams to make the game look nice and make it work well on a web or phone application.

To wrap up the event, the panelists each shared a final piece of advice:

  • Sharon: Don’t give up! Continue with your education, because it opens a lot of opportunities.
  • Gina: Stop worrying about other peoples’ opinions; do what’s right for YOU!
  • Manjusha: Try different things, learn what your passion is, and follow it!

This workshop provided a great opportunity for students to see real world applications of coding and also gain insight on steps they can take in their college and career journeys. Thank you to the MCG Health volunteers who came together to provide such an engaging and inspiring experience: Facilitator Deepa Chacko; Tech Host Elizabeth Petrillo; Panelists Sharon Kuan, Gina Shostak, and Manjusha Kalepalli; and Breakout Room Leaders Gina Shostak, Sandeep Kumar, and Mark Davis.

After attending this event:


of students are interested in STEM

Take STEM Class


of students know more about STEM career choices and the benefits of working in a STEM field

Ask Teacher about Additional STEM Activities


of students feel more confident in pursuing STEM


of students gained perspective and feel more hopeful about the future

Here’s what the students thought of the event:

“This event really opened my eyes to how many different opportunities that the STEM field has to offer. I think this event will encourage me to look into STEM careers for the future! The volunteers all had different life stories, and it was very interesting to hear each and every one of them.” – 9th grade

“I’ve been having a rough time lately so I was reminded today with this presentation why I do the hobbies I do now and was inspired to keep striving to become a graphic designer.” – 11th grade

“This event inspired me to try my best even when it’s hard sometimes. It also inspired me to try my hardest even if I don’t know what I want to do with my career yet. I had fun with the activities. I also learned a lot of new things about coding.” – 9th grade

“Today’s event has inspired me to have confidence in what I am going to pursue in college. The game was really interesting.” – 12th grade

“I really felt inspired to continue on this path. I was a little less confident considering my overall grade but now I feel like it is possible to still be here. I really enjoy listening to all of your stories and how you got to where you are now. Thank you so much for sharing that with us.” – 11th grade

“Today’s event inspired me to try new things. It also inspired me to explore my options in the future.” – 12th grade

“Today’s event inspired me to look into STEM further. It encouraged me to explore the different options that are available in STEM.” – 11th grade

“This event helped to understand a bit more of the interview process in STEM. It also helped to stay open-minded when looking at careers in STEM since there can be many opportunities presented.” – 12th grade

“I was inspired by the hosts’ stories about their careers. It helped me choose which path I want to pursue. It was really fun doing the workshop with all of you.” – 11th grade

“I liked hearing everyone’s background story and where they started.” – 9th grade

“Thank you to the volunteers for sharing their experiences with us. They offered insightful advice and it helped us learn more about STEM.” – 11th grade