Getting an education isn’t all fun and games, but Chippewa Valley High School graduate Kelly Henckel credits her recent inclusion in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in the Games category to her education.
“I was very focused on math and science during my junior and senior years in high school at Chippewa Valley High School,” Henckel said. “I’ve taken every AP science class and every AP math class they offer.”
Forbes’ 30 Under 30 is a group of lists of people under the age of 30 published annually by the magazine. Economic and industry indicators are recognized in different industries. Henckel, 27, made the North America 2023 list in the Games category. Factors such as revenue, problem solving, diversity and backstory will be considered.
The process involves reporting teams reviewing submissions and soliciting nominations, then sending promising candidates to a panel of judges. Henckel found out in early December that she had made the list.
“I woke up early in the morning, checked my email and was overwhelmed,” said Henckel.
Henckel is currently senior product manager for technical systems at Mojang Studios, the studio that developed the game Minecraft. She leads teams responsible for data, build, automation, performance and reliability infrastructure. She credits her supporters at Minecraft for her success and inclusion on the list, including CTO and Vice President Michael Weilbacher and Deanna Hearns, General Manager of Minecraft Player Trust, Safety and Support.
“It’s been such an honor, it humbles me and I’m so grateful for the support along the way. I’ve started thinking about what’s next for my long-term career. I would like to grow in business. I hope that being nominated and selected for 30 under 30 will help me in a future MBA program that I am interested in,” said Henckel.
Henckel has been with Mojang since 2020. She currently resides in the Seattle area and serves as a mentor for Women in Gaming. She has previously served as the STEM talent coordinator for GeekGirlCon, a Seattle-based conference for underrepresented communities in geek fandoms.
Henckel attended Wyandot Middle School and Chippewa Valley High School. She cites Chippewa Valley High teachers Rebecca Mattia, Irina Pospelova-Mills, John Jeffire and Andrew Kohn as major influences, along with seventh grade teacher Gina Vigiletti.
“They have all been very influential to me. I would say that Rebecca Mattia in particular has been my biggest influence, and Ms. Pospelova-Mills,” Henckel said.
She credits Pospelova-Mills with encouraging her, particularly in the area of extracurricular activities.
“She suggested I do some math competitions. Through their encouragement and support, I had the opportunity to enter some local math competitions and national math competitions,” said Henckel.
In high school, Henckel was also involved in soccer, the Science Olympiad, and the National Honor Society.
“It was challenging. I love to study, I really like to work hard. At that age, it was definitely drummed into me by my parents and teachers,” said Henckel.
Her passion for gaming and aerospace encouraged her from an early age to pursue these at the University of Michigan after graduating from Chippewa Valley High in 2013. She graduated from UM in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. During her studies, she participated in many activities, including founding a group for women in aerospace and filling senior positions in the Senior Engineering Honor Society.
“The University of Michigan really taught me how to be a leader,” Henckel said. “You could say I was a very geeky, nerdy student at Chippewa Valley High School.”
Henckel’s many other college activities include involvement with Girls in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and serving as a founding member of the Michigan Biological Software Team. However, she said founding the Women in Aeronautics and Astronautics group has helped solidify her career path and helped her develop better skills in areas such as networking, mentoring, marketing, budgeting and fundraising.
Henckel did college internships and got her first job as a program manager at Microsoft, then moved to Mojang to pursue her passion for games at the Minecraft company.
“I forged my own role in Minecraft. My title didn’t exist then. I saw some big opportunities and took them, which led to me being recognized for 30 under 30,” said Henckel.