When high school senior Mariah Brecheisen picked up her first Lego set, she had no idea that building small robots and programming them to move would introduce her to her passions and opportunities with tech giant Amazon.

Mariah, 18 years old, was raised in East Garfield Park and became one of the first graduates of Breakthrough’s Beginner’s early childcare program. Her parents have been dedicated volunteers of Breakthrough since they moved to the community, and according to Mariah, she’s a “Breakthrough baby.”

“My parents have been around Breakthrough my entire life,” she said. “I was born in 2000. In 2001, they moved to East Garfield Park and started volunteering with Breakthrough. I ended up going to preschool at Breakthrough and got involved in basketball, sports, and whatever else they had to offer.”

As a child, Mariah participated in sports like cross country and basketball, but was curious about growing academically and socially as well. It was at Breakthrough that Mariah discovered her passion for helping people and how she can use her aptitude in computer literacy to do so.

Like many children, Mariah got her first taste of engineering and science playing with her Lego set. As her skills in these areas grew, she said the mentors in her life played an instrumental role in helping connect her love for Legos with opportunities that would be beneficial for her and her community.

“I’ve had multiple [mentors] at Breakthrough. Whether that was my robotics coaches or in the club I did here called Girls Who Code. Also, in my basketball and volleyball coaches. All those people have really poured into my life and encouraged me,” Mariah said. “Multiple people can give you multiple perspectives on life and of all the different things you can do, so that way, you don’t have just one option. Just hearing wise words from multiple, different people just gives you a feeling of wisdom and knowledge in your life.”

Mariah has been able to carry her experiences with her through high school, as she’s been a star student-athlete during her tenure at Lane Tech. She maintained a 5.0 GPA, and became a member of Lane’s basketball and robotics teams. Mariah also volunteers in her community as she currently mentors and instructs with the same robotics team at Breakthrough that helped her get her start in computer science.

“I love that I get to do that here at Breakthrough. Kids never know what they are into until they experience it and that’s how it was with me and robotics. Even if kids come up doing robotics and end up not doing it as a career, it’s a good experience because it builds on skills like team group skills and core values. It gives me so much joy helping kids learn new skills, giving them new opportunities with computer science, robotics, or engineering, especially empowering young girls. I really believe that more we need more girls in technology so it would be cool to see them in the field,” she said.

“It gives me so much joy helping kids learn new skills, giving them new opportunities with computer science, robotics, or engineering, especially empowering young girls.”

After she applied this January, It was no surprise to most that Mariah was honored with the Amazon Future Engineers Scholarship. The scholarship, which includes a $10,000 yearly award and a paid internship, looks to benefit those in underrepresented communities in technology, specifically women and people of color. When her computer science teacher surprised her with the Amazon box that contained her scholarship letter this spring, Mariah said she was overcome with gratitude with how far she’s come. You can see her full reaction in the NBC 5 story

“I didn’t know what to expect [when I first got involved with the programs at Breakthrough], I didn’t know I’d get into computer science after that. I think it’s really all just God ordering my steps, getting me to where I am today,” she said. “It’s been a wild journey with all the experiences I’ve had. I’m so thankful.”

Mariah plans to attend Gordon College, just north of Boston, MA, this fall. She expects to major in computer science with aspirations to one day help nonprofits do the work they do in more effective and efficient ways. 

Mariah said she is honored to be a role model to the girls she mentors and wants the girl thinking that she might not be enough to understand that she has much to offer as anyone else.

“I would tell her to not hold back from what she wants to do or what she’s good at. I would tell her to go after the experiences because you never know what you’ll like until after you’ve had the experience. Also, I’d tell her not to be afraid. People will say all types of things like, ‘oh, that’s a male dominated field.’ I want them to know that there are women in this field and if they can do it, so can you. Just go for it.”

“People will say all types of things like, ‘oh, that’s a male dominated field.’ I want them to know that there are women in this field and if they can do it, so can you. Just go for it.”