Change the System, Not Yourself: How Kim Arcand Built the First-Ever VR Representation of an Exploded Star

Kimberly Arcand ● Visualization and Emerging Technology Lead ● NASA

Kimberly Arcand ● Visualization and Emerging Technology Lead ● NASA

“If you would have told me 20 years ago what I’m doing today I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Kimberly Arcand is a successful science communicator, TED talk speaker, and the Visualization and Emerging Technology Lead at NASA, and along the way, she’s worked hard to discover her passion and strengthen her voice as a leader in the field.

From the earliest time she could remember, Kimberly Arcand loved science. She loved figuring out puzzles and thought she wanted to be a veterinarian, a nurse, a doctor, or an astronaut. Her parents encouraged and fostered this tendency; although they didn’t make much, they saved enough so they could buy her chemistry sets, space shuttles, and microscopes. Kim’s first exposure to coding wasn’t until she enrolled at the University of Rhode Island, where she participated in a work-study and learned how to use web pages.

“My first web page was hideous and had tons of gifs. For me HTML was that really important baby step into coding. I didn’t know anyone who knew how to code…HTML was a very appealing, non-scary way to just dip my toes into the world of building with code.”

When she was in college, Kim had two professors who saw something extraordinary about her and believed in her abilities enough to get her to the next level. Although she was studying molecular biology and had no formal Computer Science training, professors Dr. Mather and Dr. Fay-Wolfegave her the opportunity to lead a team building an application for Lyme disease prevention. Learning how to lead a team early in her career proved to be helpful a few decades later when Kim led the team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics that created a project she lists as one of her proudest accomplishments.

“We’ve been able to do some really cutting edge technology development. We created the first-ever 3D print of an exploded star, took the 3D model and put it into a VR application. This marks the first time on earth that you can walk around a dead star.”

The project, Stepping Inside a Dead Star, is publicly accessible and makes it possible for astronomers, scientists, technologists, or anyone with a penchant for curiosity to experience what it looks like inside a dead star. Kim led a large team of designers, coders, UI experts, and virtual reality specialists to be able to create this innovative and unique project.

Despite all of Kim’s successes, she encountered her fair share of obstacles along the way. She knows what it’s like to be the only woman in the room and overcome gender biases in her environment. When she first started her technology career, she loved to attend tech conferences but always felt like she “stuck out like a sore thumb” and tried to fit into the crowd.

“I did this weird thing early in my career. I am naturally very feminine as far as how I present, but early on in my career I really tried to tamp that down. I remember going to a technology conference and feeling so out of place. I was wearing what I might usually wear, a floral skirt and bright yellow top, and just felt like I stuck out too much…So I changed how I presented myself for some time after that because I felt so self-conscious.”

Only a few years later did Kim realize she was going about it all wrong. What needed to change was not the way she dressed, but the number of women in her environment. This really hit home for her while raising her two children.

“Once I had my daughter I remember looking around…and realizing I just haven’t done enough. I thought ‘is my daughter going to…have to face similar issues because she sticks out?’ I realized then it’s not about changing myself. I wanted to help change the system and change the field so that other people can feel more comfortable.”

Kim has made it her mission now to increase the representation of women in STEM in any way she can. Whether it’s promoting women in STEM organizations, doing VR demonstrations for young kids, or just leading her team through great accomplishments, Kim is clearly an amazing role model for young women in STEM.

This story was written by Rina Schiller, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. Connect with her on LinkedInTwitter, or Instagram.

Photo credit: Brittany Taylor

Did Someone Say, “Black Girl Magic?”: 3 friends. 5,000 people. Global Impact. That’s the Power of the Students of LinkedIn Community.

Ledo Nwilene ● Computing and Security Technology Major ● Students of LinkedIn

Ledo Nwilene ● Computing and Security Technology Major ● Students of LinkedIn

Ledo Nwilene, a third-year student at Drexel University in Philadelphia and co-founder of Students of LinkedIn, is not afraid of breaking the status quo.

Ledo moved to the United States from Nigeria in pursuit of becoming a doctor but found her purpose in technology instead. Once she discovered how present and necessary tech was in every aspect of society, she switched her major from Biomedical Engineering to Computing and Security Technology. Ledo and her two best friends wanted a way to share their journeys into tech with the world but didn’t know how to connect with other students who were going through the same experiences. So, what would any normal group of best friends in college do to solve a problem? Build an online community. Students of LinkedIn is a platform on LinkedIn for students, now over 5,000, to document their journey, build their personal brands, and tap into their full potential. Ledo considers co-founding Students of LinkedIn the accomplishment she is most proud of.

“I did not see many people that looked like me, so I wanted to serve as hope and inspiration to those coming after me that the world of tech belongs to them too.”

In addition to creating a successful community, Ledo is also a Microsoft Diversity Tuition Scholar, NSBE45 Hackathon Winner, and a participant in highly selective programs hosted by Goldman SachsMcKinsey & Company, and Deloitte — just to name a few. Unsurprisingly, Ledo says the only thing she’s allergic to is mediocrity. Despite her impressive accomplishments and beautiful passion, her journey has not been smooth.

“Freshman year I walked into my first computer design lab class and was shocked after observing that I was the only female student and only student of color in a room of 30 people. That was my reality.”

The differences between Ledo and her classmates left her feeling like she had made a mistake by pursuing tech. But instead of throwing in the towel, Ledo chose to use her experience to build resilience and learn new skills. Inspired by her Father’s example, Ledo learned that resilience is about showing up every single day despite what life throws your way.

“My father’s work ethic left me in awe.”

He taught her the value of consistently striving for excellence to provide for his family and how to build a habit of consistently doing excellent work. 10 years from now, still striving for excellence herself, Ledo hopes to be blazing the tech trail in a head product role at a top tech company. She believes that the intersection of business and technology will transform lives across the globe. Ultimately, Ledo wants to provide African youth with the resources and support they need to explore STEM and change their nations for the better.

“To any young woman thinking of starting her journey to tech, you need an unwavering belief that you, yes you, belong in this field too.”

This story was written by Stephanie Nweke, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. Connect with her on Linkedin

Making Her Voice Heard: Juliana Emmanuelli’s Path from Uncertainty to Software Engineer at JPMorgan Chase

Juliana Emmanuelli ● Software Engineer ● JPMorgan Chase

Juliana Emmanuelli ● Software Engineer ● JPMorgan Chase

Juliana Emmanuelli never thought she would be a software engineer at a large financial institution like JPMorgan Chase. When she started college at CUNY Baruch College in New York City, she was interested in communications and journalism. It wasn’t until she accepted an internship during her Sophomore year that she even interacted with code at all. She was working at a digital marketing company when they needed help with their website, so she decided to step up and start learning some HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Once she started working on the website, she had a significant realization.

“Coding isn’t necessarily some rigid abstract mathematical career to have. It’s a great way to have creative expression while designing and building something that can really impact people.”

After that experience, she took a few coding courses in college and decided to major in Information Systems, but still wasn’t committed to being a full-fledged software engineer. She lacked the confidence to believe that she could pursue coding as a plausible career.

“I was at a school with no Computer Science major and I didn’t think other software engineers looked like me or had outgoing personalities. I didn’t see where coding could take me so I didn’t pursue it.”

After she got an internship at JPMorgan Chase on an operations team, she saw what working as a developer would really be like. She found the work engaging and interesting, and decided she could really see herself as a developer. After her summer internship ended, she got an offer from JPMorgan Chase to be a part of a selective Java boot camp for diverse candidates. After an intense three months, she transitioned to being a full-time software engineer in the investment bank.

“The project I’m most proud of is the migration project I worked on my first year at JPMorgan. It was my first time in a full-time software engineer role, and I was the lead frontend engineer in a large migration project. The project consisted of learning new technologies, but also allowed me to wear many hats and be a project manager, UI designer, and accomplish both QA and development work.”

Although this project was one of her most difficult, Juliana knew it was one of the most meaningful and impactful for her growth. Not only did she learn new technologies, but she learned one of the important tools for leadership: using her voice. Although she was one of the most junior developers on the team, she learned how to push her opinion forward until her colleagues listened. There were some roadblocks given the male-dominated environment, but Juliana kept thinking about the next generation of technologists and what her presence could do for them. She knew that in order to get things done she had to express her opinion even when it wasn’t asked for and be able to say no, when necessary. In the end, she was able to push through and complete the project successfully.

Juliana strives to continue deepening her technical skills so she can one day be a successful product manager and technical lead. She is a great example for women everywhere- no matter how young you are or how much experience you have, if you are confident and make your voice heard you can succeed.

This story was written by Rina Schiller, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram.

Connect, Learn & Grow Together: How Huma Hamid is Building the Supportive Global STEM Community She Wanted for Herself

Huma Hamid ● Techmaker, Community Builder and Co-founder ● Pakistani Women in Computing

Huma Hamid ● Techmaker, Community Builder and Co-founder ● Pakistani Women in Computing

When asked about her early interest in STEM, Huma’s mind flashes back to being a young girl, intrigued by a 386DX computer owned by her cousin who encouraged her to use the machine to explore and play games. That simple exposure to typing games sparked a life-long curiosity.

“I loved playing video games (Atari) at a very young age. None of these things were common, especially where I lived, and if they were they were typically provided to men. I always had to find a male figure who owned the games, cars, bicycles, and get access that way.”

This wasn’t always so easy for Huma as she grew up an only child with a single mom, her mother taking on the role of both parents. On the positive side, Huma was not exposed to traditional gender roles in the house. Her mom, one of her key role models, demonstrated how women’s work was valuable both inside and outside of the home.

“Inside of the house, if anything was broken we would get it fixed. I grew up with an understanding that there were no limitations to what I could pursue. I think that made me eager to get my hands dirty.”

During her senior year in high school, Huma finally got her first computer, which led to her pursuing a degree in technology later on. A bright child matured into a smart student, focused on learning for the sake of learning rather than getting top grades. (Which did sometimes anger her traditional Pakistani mom!) While Huma was motivated to defy some gender stereotypes, she wasn’t able to escape others. In Pakistan, doing well in school often translated to becoming a doctor.

“I started out pre-med, but within 2 weeks switched to engineering. I realized I was a hands-on person and I wanted to build things.”

Making that switch definitely set Huma off on the right path. She went on to receive a Bachelor’s in Information Technology from National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), one of the top engineering schools in Pakistan. Later she received a Masters in Information Systems Management from Brunel University in London, which built her understanding of a global tech space while focusing on the challenges of technology adoption in a local setting. While she knew engineering was the right choice, she had to overcome a myriad of challenges along the way.

“Though we had basic engineering backgrounds, we didn’t have a lot of exposure to computers. I started to notice that girls in my classes, myself included, were losing confidence in our abilities, especially in writing code.”

Since graduating from NUST 15 years ago, Huma’s peer group of ~20 women in her STEM class dwindled down to 4. She observes how women leave STEM for a variety of reasons, however the biggest challenge for Huma was the job search process.

“Finding the first job in a young tech industry that was heavily dominated by men, where for the most part women were not expected to be career-driven, was tough. I had to learn a lot from my failures, from getting my first internship to the various roles I’ve held over the years.”

Then, moving from Pakistan to the UK and later to America presented its own issues.

“I also had to re-launch my career more than once, which exposed me to another set of challenges around intersectionality in tech. With every step I took and every mistake I made, I gained a lot of perspective about navigating my career into the tech industry and overcoming a variety of challenges related to switching roles, transitioning teams, learning new technologies and later bringing harmony to my work and family responsibilities as a working mother with a demanding job.”

Huma’s curiosity to learn new things helped her to wear many hats as she transitioned into multiple roles in software engineering. In computing, she has worked in several R&D engineering groups focused on building digital platforms to serve industries like infrastructure and construction engineeringnetwork and communication engineering, and eLearning. It was not uncommon for her to be the only female engineer on the team, which created a sense of isolation.

Recognizing the lack of support network fueled Huma’s passion to partner with Farah Ali to build a global community that empowers and lifts each other up, providing important guidance to persist through difficult times. In addition to building digital platforms and solving complex engineering problems, Huma’s clear point of pride is creating the non-profit Pakistani Women in Computing (PWiC), an affiliated community designed to provide the mentorship and guidance that she was looking for along her STEM journey.

“I’m proud of how PWiC is building a tribe that is taking care of its collective learning and growth, creating opportunities for each other and celebrating each other’s wins.”

Several mentors played key roles in guiding Huma along her journey, including Ather Imran Nawaz and Carlene Kyte. In reflecting on advising other young women in STEM, Huma credits her persistence and grit for making all her successes possible.

Many people tell me that I’m very persistent. I’m never short on ideas because I always go back and rework a problem until I find a solution that works. It’s important not to get intimidated by failure or not finding the right answer on the first try.”

In the future, Huma looks forward to using her knowledge of building products, diverse teams and thriving communities in support of creating a more inclusive world.

Wogrammer is proud to partner with PWiC to showcase women in their community. PWiC has 4 active chapters in Seattle, Silicon Valley, Berlin and Islamabad. These chapters are running a successful series of events around their local communities’s learning and growth needs. PWiC is in the process of  ramping up their Abbottabad chapter, as well as expanding to other cities in Pakistan and also to other global locations that offer a high concentration of women in technology fields hailing from Pakistan. The community is curating a community driven list of scholarship, career and returnship opportunities and learning resources through a GitHub repository. In less than a year, the volunteer run organization has created ripples that have inspired many young women, engaged a number of male allies to come forward and support women, and also gained the attention of several local and global community partners who are collaborating with PWiC to combat the gender gap in STEM fields. Connect with PWiC at

Passion, Persistence and Perseverance: How Four Women in STEM Overcame Obstacles to Find Their Way

Wogrammer joined forces with TechWomen to bring you the stories of 4 unique female innovators in STEM from across the globe, whose paths are marked by unexpected re-routes, personal adversity and inspiring triumphs.

Saltanat Alieva ● Founder & CEO ● BaiNec

Saltanat Alieva ● Founder & CEO ● BaiNec

Saltanat always finds a way. Her successful IT career, albeit studded with accolades and awards, is only a piece of what makes her story so unique. As a veteran teacher and innovator in the eLearning space at The Kyyrgyz State Technical University, Saltnant had achieved so much already in her career, earning the “Best Teacher” award for her curriculum innovation in computer science. Then in 2016, after attending a TechWomen event in Silicon Valley, she began exploring how her combined love for math and computer science could better the world. Saltanant saw a need in her home country of Kyrgyzstan: lack of access to affordable prosthetics for the physically disabled. She spent 6 months researching the necessary components for successfully constructing the cheapest 3D printer available, at which point she received two grants to implement the innovation in Kyrgyzstan and founded her company, BaiNec. While trying to solve for an electrical issue with her printer, she found herself face-to-face with gender bias in some online advice forums for electronics.

“These forums are mainly used by men. I received negative comments or jokes, and some advised me not to do this because it doesn’t help my cooking in the kitchen.”

She didn’t allow this to curtail her enthusiasm, and instead simply created an account under a male name and continued asking questions until she got the answers she needed. Saltanat would go on to use this account for 2 years before she decided to own her place as a woman with a female username.

Now, she’s the one giving advice and answering questions about robotics and electronics, both online and as a leader in her STEM community, actively organizing local workshops, meetups and the first-ever Java Script Conference in Bishkek. Saltnant reminds others to fight for what they want, paying no mind to the bullies along the way.

“Determination, observation, and curiosity are the most important tools to ignite the talent and passion of the next generation of innovators.”

Sabine El Kahi ● Founder & Managing Director ● The Makers Hub/Kids Genius

Sabine El Kahi ● Founder & Managing Director ● The Makers Hub/Kids Genius

Sabine was destined for engineering greatness.

“Since my childhood, I always wanted to feel capable of developing or creating the tools and products I need. I always questioned myself about how free we are when we are limited to products that we find in the market.”

This childhood sentiment inspired Sabine to create Kids Genius, a makerspace where kids 7–18 years old bring their own creative ideas to life using technology. Sabine saw the value of instilling confidence in a child’s ability to design and produce their own ideas, using manual and digital fabrication, from CNC’s and woodworking to 3D printing and laser cutting. In Sabine’s eyes, it was less about the final product than the learning process itself, teaching kids about the importance of being willing to try, fail, iterate and persist in the face of design or manufacturing challenges. Since its inception in 2014, Kids Genius has trained over 2,000 kids. Her mission has also reached the classroom, bringing Kids Genius makerspaces and its hands-on curriculum into schools. Most recently, Sabine collaborated with international organizations supporting childhood development to open a new makerspace in the Beirut Digital District called The Makers Hub. In 2018, her work earned her finalist spot at the MIT Enterprise Forum-Pan Arab Competition for the social entrepreneurship track.

Sabine’s mindset is one of persistence and confidence.

“There are times where I feel I am stuck, but then I remind myself that I started this because I saw a need or a problem to solve in the tech field or community and if it was easy, it would have been solved before. So someone has to start tackling this issue and why not me?”

She advises young women in STEM to let their impressive work leave its mark and serve as a ‘voice’ in the field. “There is room for every single human being to innovate in STEM and to have her input.”

Horore Bebga ● Founder & Director ● LIKALO Learning Center

Horore Bebga ● Founder & Director ● LIKALO Learning Center

When a frustrating experience with the gender pay inequality pushed her into entrepreneurship, Horore didn’t yet know how challenging and gratifying the road ahead would be. Working as a female engineer in IT in Cameroon back in 2014, Horore felt the backlash of a male-dominated culture.

“The idea that certain jobs are reserved for men is still very widespread in Africa and, particularly for jobs that require physical strength, a lot of energy and long hours. This situation had me determined to affirm my value beyond my status as a woman.”

As such, Horore took the leap to open her first solo venture: an e-commerce site specializing in men’s apparel & accessories. Despite her confidence in herself, business challenges forced Horore to close shop in 2015. However, this event was a pivotal learning experience, empowering her to close her own skill gap and enroll in business management training to better equip herself for the next venture. Armed with more knowledge than ever before, two years later, Horore launched LIKALO Learning Center, a center providing early education in STEM for primary and secondary students in Cameroon. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Horore spent a week, day and night, building the LIKALO website. Since its launch, she has become a champion for early STEM education, organizing tech-focused camps and extracurricular programs, developing training modules in web design and coding for children, and installing programming software in over 10 primary schools in Cameroon. Her incredible accomplishments have earned her the title of CEO GLOBAL’s Most influential Women in Business and Government in ICT sector for Central Africa in 2018 and laureate of The Tony Elumelu Foundation Award.

Horore in-part credits entrepreneurship for helping her find her voice in STEM, “I realize that I have more capacity to impact and especially to promote STEM to women and girls in Cameroon.” It is her personal belief that knowledge is power, deeming business management training a necessary ‘pillar’ in women’s professional development. No stranger to failure and persistence herself, Horore offers uplifting words of advice to emerging entrepreneurs in STEM.

“Hope exists, and it is up to the woman to believe in her, to take charge and especially to dare. Opportunities for training or funding for women in STEM are growing on the continent, and women must grasp them with both hands’’.

Shodiyabegim Bakhtiyorzoda ● On-site Representative / Module Leader ● Lufthansa Technik/ Westminster International University in Tashkent

Shodiyabegim Bakhtiyorzoda ● On-site Representative / Module Leader ● Lufthansa Technik/ Westminster International University in Tashkent

Shodiya’s original career path in finance was quickly curtailed by her growing fascination with the internet.

“I often spent time in internet cafes (not having access at home) by chatting and surfing, and was very curious about the web and how it works with HTML and flash web sites at that time.”

Much to her parent’s dismay at the time, this curiosity led to a career re-route, landing her in a business computing program at Westminster International University in Tashkent, where she explored programming, databases, and networking. Still unsure of her final career destination, she followed her innate interests in systems analysis and corporate information systems, landing her first role at Uzbek Airlines as a System Analyst. Later she took a role at GM’s Powertrain Plant where she led enterprise resource system efforts. Her deep curiosity and knack for learning served her well, and before long she became an expert in the process of building an engine. Despite having no background in mechanical engineering, she was promoted to resident engineer after 3 years, due to her newfound expertise in the product. This is a point of pride for Shodiya, crediting her own ingenuity and persistence for her success in a role that typically requires a degree in a different area of engineering. It’s this type of persistence that Shodiya believes can change the way women are perceived in STEM.

“This is fighting stereotypes, putting more efforts than male counterparts to succeed, and staying up to date in a very fast-changing and dynamic environment.”

Her path came full circle with a position in aviation at Lufthansa Technik, where she employs her unique combination of knowledge spanning from engineering to supply chain and ERP systems.

As a life-long learner herself, it’s no surprise that her path also eventually led her to the education and mentorship arena. In 2016, Shodiya co-founded Do.IT.Women, a non-profit organization promoting professional development and computer literacy, on a mission to provide more opportunities for remote work to women in Uzbekistan. Shodiya is also currently serving as a supervisor & lecturer in Business Information Systems and ERP systems, expressing pride in the growth of her students and in the increasing prevalence of female students pursuing BIS at her alma mater. In terms of advice, Shodiya emphasizes the importance of following the direction your curiosities lead you,

“It is important to remember that commitment, passion and lifelong learning will inevitably lead to success.”

A Safer & More Inclusive World: How Jodi Godfrey is Reshaping Public Transit and the Workforce of Women Behind it

Jodi Godfrey ● Civil Engineer ● Center for Urban Transportation Research at USF

Jodi Godfrey ● Civil Engineer ● Center for Urban Transportation Research at USF

When Jodi took her first pivotal career “leap,” she did so boldly. As the first in her family to go to college, she quit her job managing a local Domino’s pizza to pursue an education in engineering. Initially, she had no intention of taking this path. It was actually Jodi’s Dad who originally suggested she explore engineering as a career when she was 17, which she initially brushed off as an “absurd” idea. Sadly, not long after that conversation, Jodi lost her Dad in a motorcycle accident. And, it was this tragedy that would later inspire Jodi to reconsider his suggestion and dive headfirst into her journey as a civil engineer at the University of South Florida.

Throughout her studies, her passions and talents became increasingly clear.

“I became very interested in transportation, mostly because the human aspect made every challenge very different. I also found the amazing ability to focus on transportation safety with my civil engineering degree.”

Jodi later honed her passion for transportation safety and pursued a Master’s Degree in Transportation Engineering at her alma mater, before landing her current role as Senior Research Associate at the Center for Urban Transportation Research. Jodi currently plays a pivotal role in updating and developing various safety policies and standards to make public transit safer and more efficient for Floridians.

Through her studies and career in transportation, a field that’s predominantly male, Jodi developed another human-centric skill.

“I noticed as I continued through my degree in civil engineering, that I, as a female, was a minority. I know that I bring a different perspective to many approaches, adding unique value to my team.”

Determined to make sure that anyone with a unique perspective has a chance to use their voice, Jodi became a passionate advocate for diversity and gender-neutral hiring in the transportation field. She most recently co-authored a study on attracting, promoting and retaining women in the transportation industry, attempting to shed light on why women have a negative perception of working in transportation and how to combat this, through efforts such as mentorship and innovative recruiting.

Not surprisingly, Jodi takes her role as a mentor seriously, remaining active in the student chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers and participating annually in the Great American Teach, encouraging more kids to consider a career in transportation.

“I think that the industry can only benefit from more diversity. So, I want to encourage others, that don’t fit typical ‘molds,’ to learn how to do whatever interests them.”

Jodi encourages others to pay it forward and push themselves beyond what they think they’re capable of for the purpose of expanding their limits. She also emphasizes the importance of knowing when to say no, adding “take time for yourself and for your family, and do not feel bad about time you are not working. “

For anyone considering taking a bold career leap like Jodi, her story will serve as an amazing example of perseverance and her advocacy work will make way for those with a unique perspective to have their rightful place at the table.

Inclusive Bathrooms For a Modern World: How Catherine Joseph is Challenging the Status Quo to Improve Accessibility

Catherine Joseph ● Civil Engineer ● Brooklyn, New York

Catherine Joseph ● Civil Engineer ● Brooklyn, New York

The average public bathroom may not seem like a political arena or a feat of engineering; however, if you were to speak with Catherine Joseph, you would quickly realize that restrooms contain untold stories of debate and design. Catherine proudly describes herself as an architect, an educator, a mentor and an advocate. This multifaceted leader has led and engaged with several campaigns that aim to create spaces that are functional and inclusive for people regardless of religion, gender, and other factors of a person’s identity. Leveraging her range of personal and professional experiences, Catherine and her colleagues are pursuing a project known as “The Bathroom Reboot.”

Such an ambitious undertaking can only come from an equally ambitious mind, which is a defining trait of Catherine’s. Excelling in math from a young age, Catherine decided to pursue a degree in Civil Engineering at Duke University. To continue exploring her interest in design, Catherine enrolled in Cornell’s graduate school of architecture after graduation. Catherine honed her problem-solving approach by combining her engineering experience and her studies in architecture. As she explains it,

“I always try to understand the fundamental causes of a problem. What are the different systems and structures involved, and how they interact with each other…From there I can amplify the good forces and oppose the bad ones.”

The “Bathroom Reboot” project definitely amplifies the good forces of architecture and engineering. At its core, this effort makes bathrooms more inclusive to people who are transgender, gender non-conforming and other identities across the spectrum. In order to adhere to laws and improve accessibility, Catherine has researched concepts such as maximizing privacy and functionality within bathrooms.

In cities such as New York, where Catherine works as an architect, building codes specifically delineate between bathrooms for men and for women. Initially, this represented a victory for women, as they previously had nowhere to use the bathroom in public. Now, these rigidly defined rules marginalize a new group of people. This creates a challenge that Catherine continues to work through.

The status quo for bathroom design remains rigid. However, Catherine sees room for progress in the broader field of design. The project currently remains in the research and advocacy phase. Catherine has presented her research at conferences and educates aspiring designers about the issue through a course she teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design. Along with her colleague, Tyler Cukar, Catherine has led campaigns against spaces that are fundamentally discriminatory. This reality, known as “exclusion by design”, remains a problem that Catherine and her colleagues want to address.

Their current approach focuses on adapting old structures and designs in order to fulfill modern needs. Therefore, Catherine emphasizes working with clients to understand their backgrounds before launching into a new project. Catherine comments,

“Societies change much faster than buildings or cities, but if we work with people, we can use their experiences and identities to bring design to life.”

This story was written by Samantha Holmes, an Honorable Mention Award recipient from our previous Journalism Fellowship Application round. Connect with her on Linkedin.

Connecting the World to Cleaner Water: How Meena Sankaran is Building Smarter, Safer and Sustainable Water Grid Management Systems

Meena Sankaran ● Founder & CEO, Ketos

Meena Sankaran ● Founder & CEO, Ketos

Meena Sankaran’s fixation with water began when she was a child. She channeled her childhood experience of having just 1 hour of clean water a day to founding Ketos, a water intelligence startup that delivers actionable metrics on water safety and sustainability to transform how businesses and people think about water. (Listen to her full story on The Wogrammer Podcast!)

KETOS is a unique solution delivering water intelligence with innovative hardware and software as an interaction of Water + IoT + Data Science for building smarter, safer and sustainable water grid management systems. It stems for Meena’s belief that, “Smart water data can be instrumental and revolutionize how people and businesses think about water.”

KETOS has significant intellectual property through trade secrets and patents for the hardware that’s capable of being self-powered leak detector in water distribution to a Industrial-grade single modular system capable of detecting 20+ toxins and parameters in water continuously without any manual intervention. They also have significant IP in the robust software platform that has tiered analytics with advanced diagnostics, predictive intelligence and location mapped analytics for proactive water management.

“We can’t act on what we don’t measure and KETOS solution is designed, manufactured and built in the US to drive the automation in Industrial IoT for dynamic understanding of a critical resource such as ‘Water’.”

Meena’s passion for technology and leveraging the best of hardware, software and advanced sciences is showcased in how KETOS is built through a very interdisciplinary team of cross-functional experts across a spectrum of skills. She has created a unique culture, quite unlike what’s known in Silicon Valley to cherish her people and team. Her values and principles stem from her upbringing as she shares her journey from Mumbai, India to study Electrical Engineering in Texas, demonstrating how grit and support of others carried her through challenging moments.

Meena’s contributions are recognized around the world. She was recently awarded the Goldman Sachs Builders & Innovators award, honoring 100 most intriguing entrepreneurs in the world as well as honored by Forbes as one of the awe-inspiring entrepreneurs for her work with PRERNA, a nonprofit she founded to support refugees in gaining independence and stability.

“Pursue your dreams and channel all of your invaluable energy towards problems that give you a strong sense of purpose with unshakeable tenacity and determination, for there’s no limit to what one can achieve.”

Deepening Social Bonds Through Gaming: Kaho Abe’s Journey from Designing Fashionable Tech to Innovative Games

Kaho Abe ● Game Designer ● NYU Game Innovation Lab

Kaho Abe ● Game Designer ● NYU Game Innovation Lab

When you picture a gamer, you’d be forgiven for imagining some of the least flattering stereotypes that abound in pop culture, like the basement-dwelling troll screaming obscenities into a headset. But that’s not the audience Kaho Abe thinks of.

“The whole ‘boys play video games’ stereotype is so weird to me. A lot of women I know, including women who are older than me, play games — my grandmother played games with each child and grandchild in the family, and I used to play video games all night with some of my aunts.”

For Kaho, playing games ran in the family.

“Growing up, my parents were really into playing games; they were so enthusiastic about taking us to arcades or pachinko parlors. As foreigners (from Japan), they didn’t have a big community in the US, so for our family games were an important outlet for leisure time. And that social aspect of games is super important to me.”

As a child, Kaho was also interested in technology, modifying electronics and learning how to code in elementary school with the educational programming language, Logo. Later, she studied fashion design in college, and continued to take programming classes. In graduate school, she pursued an MFA in Design and Technology at Parsons School of Design. There, she focused on user-centered design and interaction design, learning about circuits and how to build interfaces and utilize sensors. At one point, she took a game design class.

“That was the most amazing experience of my two years there. Game design satisfies my brain in so many ways.”

She saw parallels between what had drawn her to fashion design and what was increasingly attracting her to game design.

“Fashion design is creative, about understanding proportions and colors but also about observing people: what are they excited about? How do they dress? People use fashion to communicate with each other. There’s that social aspect of fashion. I saw parallels between that and the different identities people get when they play games: like [in the context of a game] suddenly the person who you think is shy and reserved is so aggressive. It was this thing that was creative, intuitive, but also logical and structured. I loved that combination.”

In 2005, Kaho finished her degree program, focusing on wearable technology. But ultimately, she knew that she wanted to move away from fashion and towards game design. The expertise in wearable technology that she had developed to apply to fashion design became useful as she explored designing custom controllers for games. Although many people are used to playing games with a mouse, gamepad, or maybe a joystick, game controllers can run the gamut from steering wheels to guitars. Kaho started designing wearable controllers.

“Custom controllers lead to novel experiences. Wearable stuff is interesting because it allows you to play the game through the body. You become the character, your movements move the avatar, and you can feel a more immediate connection.”

In her 2016 game, Hotaru, cooperating players wearing a gauntlet use gestures to accumulate lightning to fight an invisible enemy. Her 2011 game, “Hit Me!” invites two hard hat-wearing players to bop buttons on the top of the other player’s head. When you successfully hit the button, a photograph is taken on the wireless camera perched on each hat. Then, the photographs are evaluated by judges and extra points are assigned for photo quality. The game’s overview video shows people playing the game, all flailing arms and million-watt smiles. That joy and social connection is what Kaho looks for in gameplay.

“I usually show my games at public events; people know they’re going to be playing with other people. I make so many multiplayer games because it’s the relationship between the players that I think is most fun. A lot of times the people who play already know each other, and a shift in their relationship comes out when they play a game together, in how they feel about each other. The game lets their relationship exist in a different space. That’s what is so beautiful about games: they create that opportunity for people to bond with each other in different ways.”

She points to Katherine Isbister’s work on the emotional side of human-computer interaction (HCI). Isbister took photos before and after people played a cooperative game involving hand-holding. In the after photos, you see people’s arms around each other.

Warm and fuzzy feelings and deepened social bonds are optimal outcomes, but they’re not the only ones possible. Kaho is interested in the behavior she can’t always predict or design. Game designers use the term “emergent behavior” to describe all the behaviors — from harmless side conversations to toxic trash talking — that exist on top of the game, behaviors that designers maybe don’t intend. Thinking deeply about emergent behavior makes Kaho realistic about the limits of what can be planned through technology, and what requires other forms of intervention.

“Technology is not the only way I design gameplay. There’s also when I say something like ‘you can’t hurt each other’ before people start playing. That’s not something that’s embedded programmatically, but that link between analog and digital elements is key.”

It makes sense that someone who started her career designing physical objects for the real world in the fashion industry would pay careful attention to analog elements. Indeed, Kaho credits her unusual path to game design with many of the ideas she’s been able to make use of today.

“A lot of people follow the beaten path. It’s important find a stable career of course, but I always think that if people looked at what I studied it would look as though I dabbled, when in reality it makes a tremendous amount of sense to me. I’ve used everything I’ve studied.”

Kaho’s advice to anyone thinking about what they want to do is to do some introspection on what projects and industries light your creative and intellectual spark.

“The state of your brain, the happiness of your brain, is super important. Games stimulated all the sides of my brain. Find the path that stimulates your brain the most. Whatever that means: trying things out, challenging yourself in ways you wouldn’t have in the past — deliberately seek that out.”

Engineering Breath: How Dr. Maria Artunduaga is Saving Lives with Respiratory Technology

Maria Artunduaga, MD, MPH, MTM ● Founder and CEO ● Respira Labs

Maria Artunduaga, MD, MPH, MTM ● Founder and CEO ● Respira Labs

When I spoke with Dr. Maria Artunduaga, she was excitedly out of breath, having just received word that she was awarded an NSF grant to help fund research involved with the company she started, Respira Labs. She is developing a wearable device that uses low cost, off the shelf technology (including a patient’s own cell phone) to help patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) monitor lung function in order to identify flare-ups before they happen. A flare-up in COPD is like a heart attack in the lungs. It causes permanent damage to lung tissue and increases the risk of fatality. If a patient is able to get an alert from their cell phone that air is trapped in their lungs, indicating a potential flare-up, they can take the appropriate preventative measures (which might include using a different inhaler, starting breathing exercises, taking antibiotics/steroids, or increasing their oxygen).

Dr. Artunduaga didn’t start out as an engineer. She has a medical doctorate from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Colombia. After working in emergency medicine she received a postdoctoral research position at Harvard University to study genetics. Her journey to becoming an engineer began when she faced discrimination, both for being a woman and being Latina, during a plastic surgery residency at the University of Chicago Medicine. She left clinical medicine and began to pursue an idea to use technology to help patients with respiratory problems, an area of medicine that hadn’t seen any major technological advances in a half a century. The idea began years earlier with the loss of Dr. Artunduaga’s grandmother to COPD. Her abuela (grandmother in Spanish) wanted to remain independent and passed away due to damage from a respiratory attack (exacerbation in medical terms). It’s difficult for COPD patients to tell the difference between symptoms from non life-threatening causes and those caused by worsening lung function that could lead to an exacerbation. If there had been a way for her abuela or family members to receive notice that her lung function was changing, her life could have been prolonged.

Dr. Artunduaga’s abuela was in her mind one day while talking to another doctor about how flare-ups are caused by air that gets trapped in the lungs of patients with COPD. Measuring the air in the lungs is a challenge. Home monitoring systems that measure blood oxygen levels are insufficient and CT scans are expensive, inconvenient, and dangerous to use frequently on a patient due to radiation. She remembered a lesson in her high school physics class where the teacher described how light changes when it passes through different substances. She wondered if sound would do the same. She began to do research and contact friends with engineering degrees to help her with some of the details. The result was a prototype. 

“Our device will replace inferior home lung function monitoring technologies with a wearable device that accurately predicts the onset of acute respiratory attacks. It continuously measures lung resonance, any change in its baseline, caused by trapped air in the lungs, and signals an impending attack.”

Dr. Artunduaga now has two additional degrees, a Master of Translational Medicine (MTM) from UC Berkeley and UCSF, and a Master of Public Health (MPH) from the University of Washington. She is working to build her company and secure funding to vet the product through rigorous research and clinical studies before bringing it to market. Always a doctor, the well-being of the patient is her first priority. Dr. Artunduaga embraces the challenges and hardships she faced because they led her on a path she would never have known existed. Her advice to others is to get comfortable facing down your fears and taking risks. Forget trying to achieve perfection and embrace your mistakes and failures as learning opportunities and incentives to keep trying. 

“Nothing matches the empowering feeling of pushing yourself to grow, to show yourself and others that you accomplished something against all the odds.”

Maria Artunduaga received a 2009-10 AAUW International Fellowship that funded her postdoctoral research at Harvard University. Her story is told in partnership with AAUW, which has a long history of opening doors for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), from the classroom to Capitol Hill.

Building Technology for Impact: How Kishau Rogers’ Passion for Technology Starts with Problem-Solving

Kishau Rogers ● Founder ● Time Study

Kishau Rogers ● Founder ● Time Study

For Kishau Rogers, a love of technology starts with understanding the problems it can enable her to solve.

“I like the impact. I need technology to have some meaning behind the use.”

Drawn to the field of computer science while a college student at Virginia Commonwealth University, Kishau took her first job as a programmer when she was a junior in college and has been building software ever since.

“I worked primarily in the research, health, and social service space, using tech to create solutions to real-world problems. Being in that field allowed me to see the impact of the technology.”

She started her first company in the early 2000s, Websmith, to build custom software for other companies. Kishau ran Websmith for almost 15 years, designing software for numerous Fortune 500 companies. Her newest venture is a company called Time Study, a startup she founded in 2017 that uses machine learning and mobile technologies to help hospitals understand how employees spend their time at work.

“Our mission is to eliminate timesheets. There’s complexity in the healthcare space around how they collect data; it’s different from standard timesheets, because there’s different levels of stakeholders that want to know different things. Our thesis is that there’s enough data to automatically tell a story of how people are spending their time, using mobile technologies, machine learning, and data science, and categorize unstructured data in a language stakeholders can understand.”

She says that the same interest in problem-solving and impact that she found in computer science is what draws her to entrepreneurship.

“I like the idea of understanding a problem and its lifecycle completely. Studying CS, thinking about structuring solutions to problems really appealed to me, more than just hacking away at the code and creating things for the sake of it; ‘Hello world’ doesn’t do anything. Health and social services make it clear why the tech is needed, and it’s also very outcomes-driven, meaning that the conversations usually start with a vision and what impact do we want to see, and then you sort of reverse engineer it and determine whether tech can have a role in that.

Her guidance to others thinking of entering STEM fields is to identify problems they want to solve and then learn new skills with solutions to that problem in mind.

“I mentor a lot of people and I tell them to think more about the outcomes of what you’re doing, and less about the process. Sometimes we dive in with a vague concept of ‘learning to code.’ Figure out your reason for it. Think of a problem you’re interested in solving, then learn for the purpose of using the tool so that you can create a solution that you’re going to actually use. I find that a lot of people learn better when they understand why they need to know, when they feel they need to know it in order to solve the problem. Sometimes you want to learn a thing and your reason may not be the same as the person next to you. Someone may want to learn to code because it’s fascinating for them to see the function and framework. Someone else may want to learn to code for economic empowerment, so they can earn more money in their career and have more promotion opportunities. All these reasons are great reasons.”

Her desire to solve problems in healthcare and social services also led her to join the board of a technology nonprofit called Think of Us, a nonprofit building tech tools to help youth transitioning out of foster care.

Kishau’s guidance to young people considering computer science should be encouraging to anyone who wonders if they have enough experience, resources, or interest in coding for coding’s sake.

“I didn’t actually own a computer when I picked CS as my major. Computers were really expensive back then. My parents couldn’t afford to get me a computer in my dorm room. I would suggest surveying your resources: what are the environments that you can learn best in? A home office, a library, a coworking space, or a computer lab in your school.”

She is deeply passionate about mentorship, pointing out that we need to adopt a more expansive view of what it means.

“Mentorship for me is a two-way relationship. We use the term ‘mentor’ and ‘mentee’ and that implies the mentor can’t learn something from the mentee. You get mentorship where you find it, so if you ask someone for coffee, and you want to speak to them about your career, start by asking for feedback, keep in contact with the people you reach out to, and over time you build a relationship that becomes a mentor/mentee relationship. Start small and keep in contact with the people you consider mentors so that you can know about opportunities in the field, because that’s really where most of the magic happens, is through relationships.”

For Kishau, the combination of seeking and providing mentorship, identifying available resources, and learning through problem-solving have been recipes for fulfillment and creativity in computer science.

Sky-High Dreams: Wendy Okolo's Journey in Aerospace Engineering

Wendy Okolo ● Aerospace Engineering Researcher ● NASA Ames Research Center

Wendy Okolo ● Aerospace Engineering Researcher ● NASA Ames Research Center

For Wendy Okolo, a love for science ran in the family.

“My big sister is a medical doctor. Growing up, she would come home and teach me the things she learned in school. My sister was very instrumental in my decision to pursue a STEM career/field. And when you have Nigerian parents, they plant the idea in your head that you’re going to be an engineer or a doctor or something like that. At three or four years old, I already knew I wanted to be an engineer.”

Figuring out what kind of engineer to be, though, would prove to be a lengthier process. After being initially tugged between aerospace, mechanical, and chemical engineering, she found herself attracted most strongly to aerospace engineering in college.

“I’m still fascinated with it to today. I’m fascinated by planes I see going overhead. After my undergraduate degree I went on to get a PhD in aerospace engineering as well. In the PhD program you have to make an original contribution to your field. As a result of that, I fell in love with research.You get to ask questions that no one else had answered, apply techniques to things in an unconventional manner, and think outside of the box.”

Her dissertation research focused on making flights more efficient so that airplanes can run using less fuel. She drew inspiration from observations in nature, where birds fly in optimal, V-shaped formations. After finishing her PhD, she started working at the NASA Ames Research Center. She describes the environment as constantly intellectually stimulating.

“Staying a lifelong learner is easy at a place like NASA. There are so many exciting things happening, so many things you can do. I’ve never been bored once.”

She leads two different projects, one on the safe and seamless integration of unmanned aerial vehicles in national airspace, and another to enable precision landing for aircraft (particularly deployable spacecraft).

To those who might want to follow in her footsteps, Wendy advises not cutting corners when it comes to building knowledge.

“You really have to do your homework, do your due diligence. For instance, math builds on itself, so if you don’t understand a concept in math or a particular theory, go a step back and understand that. If you don’t understand that, go back another step. Keep going back until you have the base, the foundation, and then go a step further. My advice is to go one step back and utilize your resources. Go to your library, hunker down, and do the work.”

And it’s important to remember that you don’t have to look or act a certain way to be able to “do the work” of engineering, Wendy says.

“There is no mold that an engineer is supposed to fit into. I like makeup, I like to wear dresses, there’s no ‘oh because of this I can’t look like that,’ or because I like this, I can’t like that. You can like what you want. Sometimes people think that to be an engineer you have to be this kind of person who likes toy cars or likes breaking things apart, but that’s not true. I’m not that kind of person. I’m not into breaking things apart. I like to ask questions. I’m very curious about a lot of things: history, science, how the brain works, architecture, feminism, civil rights. I don’t like to take cars apart and get dirty. But I’m an aerospace engineer leading two different teams on two different projects.”

Not only is Wendy boundlessly curious, but she also exemplifies a belief that everyone has something to learn and teach.

“Mentorship is a two-way street. Someone in middle school or high school could be mentoring their five-year-old cousins and learning from them too: you can give and share as much as you receive, no matter how old you are.”

From Microscale to the Sky: How Dr. Denise Wong’s Robots are Changing our Workforce

Dr. Denise Wong ● Robotics Engineer ● Exyn Technologies, Inc.

Dr. Denise Wong ● Robotics Engineer ● Exyn Technologies, Inc.

“As a kid, I always imagined myself being an engineer, it was just a matter of what kind of engineer I would choose to be!”

As a robotics engineer for Exyn Technologies, Inc., Dr. Denise Wong spends most days at work analyzing flight data from autonomous aerial robots. Exyn is utilizing robotics research to develop autonomous aerial robots for commercial applications. The robot that Dr. Wong works on at Exyn “is a quadrotor aerial robot equipped with a wide variety of sensors and a computer that allows the robot to fly autonomously, without a pilot, and maps new environments it has never flown in before.” The goal is to create a tool that can do tasks that are dangerous or impossible for humans, as well as unpleasant and monotonous tasks that humans would rather not do. For example, an autonomous aerial robot could explore areas of a mine that are inaccessible or unstable for people, perform inventory management in large warehouses, or monitor progress on large construction sites.

Inspired by her mother, a chemical engineer, Dr. Wong started her career in robotics on bit of a smaller scale, working with micro robots. She came to the U.S. from Hong Kong for college and first started studying robots as an undergraduate at Cornell University. She responded to an engineering email her sister forwarded looking for students to work on vibrating particle robots. She was encouraged to apply by the wording of the ad, targeting underrepresented students and students with no background in robotics. From this experience she learned how to design a robotic system as well as design and run experiments. This piqued her interest in research and robotics and she went on to receive graduate degrees in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in the robotics laboratory of Dr. Vijay Kumar. She entitled her thesis: Actuation, Sensing and Control for Micro Bio Robots. She notes that “biology is the best model for finding super small organisms that are well designed for things we’d like robots to do.” Dr. Wong says that working with genetically engineered bacteria that respond to sensor input, such as light, felt like being inside a “science fiction story.”

Dr. Wong initially found it a challenge going from researching microscale robotics to developing aerial robotics, since microscale robots involve different physics than aerial robots. The coding done in research is different than writing commercial code that needs to be more stable and interact with code written by others. In addition, research is a more solitary endeavor and Dr. Wong is now enjoying being on a team at Exyn and having a support network of people all working toward the same goal. She has learned a lot from this experience including how willing colleagues are to help if you ask. She advises anyone thinking of changing careers — 

 “don’t overthink it! It’s never too late to try something new!”

There is so much about digital technology that Dr. Wong enjoys, such as being able to solve problems that couldn’t be solved before and discovering new information from the large quantities of data that digital technology enables us to collect and analyze. New types of sensors allow humans to “see” things impossible for humans alone. For anyone interested in robotics, she advises students to look to the Internet.

 “There’s a lot of open source hardware and software, such as Arduino, that you can get experience and try out in a low risk way some of the common tools in the industry. Get experience with tinkering.” 

Dr. Wong also notes that it is equally important to understand the human-user interface, i.e. “how will a non-technical human interact with the robot?”, as well as other computing topics such as networking. She hopes that many people will consider robotics as a career. “Robotics is a great field with many, many opportunities!”

Mapping the Future: How Olivia Horace is Digitizing Local Communities

Olivia Horace ● GIS Technician ● City of Columbus, GA

Olivia Horace ● GIS Technician ● City of Columbus, GA

When Olivia Horace started high school, she intended on becoming an explosives technician. While it’s hard to beat the appeal of blowing stuff up, an inspirational high school teacher helped her discover she had a talent for computer programming and she turned her interests to software engineering. She found the world of programming purely by chance. Oliva was supposed to be in a wood working class, but was placed into a computer science class instead. At first she hated it, but once she realized they weren’t going to let her out of the class, she started paying more attention and found that she really enjoyed the challenge. The teacher encouraged students to solve problems on their own and Olivia quickly built the skills that allowed her to skip the first required programming class when she enrolled at Columbus State University.

Olivia’s most memorable project in college was a game she created for her object-oriented design class. It was the first time she really struggled with a project and couldn’t immediately figure out a solution on her own. After visiting the instructor, she was frustrated to realize that she needed to redo most of her work. However, she persisted, recreated the project, and did well on her final presentation. The accomplishment of running into concepts she couldn’t grasp, getting help with understanding, and then being able to successfully implement a solution in a short period of time gave her the confidence to face future challenges. It’s also a great example of the importance of failure and persistence in the learning process.

After graduation, Olivia took a job with the city of Columbus, Georgia’s Consolidated Government as a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technician where she maintains and fixes existing systems. She works on digitizing unnamed streets such as parking lots and driveways as well as cemeteries. These are important because emergency responders, such as police, firefighters, and ambulance drivers, rely on these maps being as accurate as possible to provide services to the community. Future projects include digitizing maps from the 1960’s into the system and matching them with local geography.

While Olivia didn’t intend to pursue GIS, she is learning a ton and is proud of the work she’s doing. It’s not everywhere you get the opportunity to learn how to map the world. And that’s her biggest piece of advice for future engineers:

“Don’t be afraid try new things even if they don’t initially sound interesting. You might be surprised!”

For women going into technology she recommends,

“not to be intimidated and don’t let others run you over! Share your ideas. Even if one person ignores you, it doesn’t mean others will. And network, network, network. The more people you meet, the more opportunities you will have for new possibilities.”

Olivia’s next stop is as a software engineer for company in Atlanta. Who knows where life will take her after that?

Changing the Nature of Engineering Education: Lynn Andrea Stein Is Leading Conversations About Identity and STEM

Lynn Andrea Stein ● Professor of Computer and Cognitive Science ● Olin College

Lynn Andrea Stein ● Professor of Computer and Cognitive Science ● Olin College

When asked, “What have you built that you’re most proud of?” Lynn Andrea Stein has a simple answer: Olin. After a decade on the MIT faculty, she joined the founding faculty of Olin College, a Boston-area residential undergraduate engineering college.

“Olin was created to change the nature of engineering education, as called for by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), National Science Foundation (NSF), and industry panels. In particular, Olin augments our students’ technical education with teamwork, communication, leadership, and understandings understandings of business as well as human context and communication. These are skills that traditional engineering education has not always done a good job of teaching.”

It also differs from many other schools of engineering because of its demographics: its student body has consistently been gender-balanced.

“Though it is gender-balanced, we quickly discovered that Olin is still part of the world and all of the social shaping that we experience. So we created the Gender and Engineering Co-Curricular Activity, now renamed Identity and Engineering: a group and regular conversation that helped all of us understand how the society we live in shapes our experiences. I think that framing has been incredibly helpful for generations of Olin students. And we have created programming that we’ve taken on the road to help people have conversations about how expectations and small differences can create a culture and a climate that is not experienced equally by everyone. From semester to semester who is in the room changes; I think pretty much everyone who comes experiences it as cathartic.”

In her own case, Stein learned early on that the sky was the limit from seeing the example of her mother, a practicing physician.

“I’ve been fortunate to have had lots of people who mentored me in various ways. I almost always found that I had to take different parts of mentorship from different people. Having multiple mentors at all times was really important. Because one person would be able to help me figure out my way through one thing and then have blind spots that another mentor could help me with.”

In particular, she cites the value of a peer community of women she found the first time she took a sabbatical, joining a cohort of 40 female fellows at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

“It was the first time in my professional career that I found myself in a group of women exclusively — all of whom were working on significant scholarly creative or other kinds of work, forming a community, learning to speak across disciplines, and giving me a sense of the power of being in an all female context. It was a very different kind of environment from the ones I had been in until then.”

Her positive experience with this community also catalyzed deeper thinking about the ways certain spaces restrict or enable our expression of our multiplex identities.

“They reminded me that while we talk a lot about the challenge of being a woman in tech, we don’t necessarily talk about the challenge of being a technologist among women. Many of us have the experience of walking into a tech space and feeling that in order to navigate that space successfully, we need to leave a part of who we are behind. We’re working to change that, we want to be able to bring our whole selves into the tech space. That sentence probably isn’t a surprise to any woman who has experienced tech spaces — we have a conversation about that. Sometimes, when I walk into a space full of women, I also feel that in order to be a good participant and successful in that community, I have to leave some of the tech parts of myself behind. We don’t talk about that. We need to start that conversation too. The [Radcliffe fellows group] was a group who accepted me as the whole person I amwas, in a way that had sometimes felt difficult — either being the woman I was or being the tech geek that I also am.”

Creating spaces where people are able to bring their “whole selves” is not only a passion for Stein in her pedagogical work but also the recommendation she gives to young women:

“Find a way to be yourself that’s true to who you are and that enables you to be yourself. It’s easy to believe there’s one way you’re supposed to be. If we have to reshape ourselves to be what the world expects of us, then we’re depriving the world of the gift of who we actually are.”


Written by Adora Svitak, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. These stories are proudly told in partnership with in a joint effort to showcase inspiring and diverse women in STEM at the 2019 ASU/GSV Summit.

Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators

Ruthe Farmer is Chief Evangelist at CSforALL

Ruthe Farmer is Chief Evangelist at CSforALL

“This girl gang of tech women will revolutionize the tech industry from the inside out.”

Ruther Farmer’s proudest accomplishment is launching Aspirations in Computing, a talent development program for young women that identifies participants in high school and then supports them through college graduation.

“That community now numbers more than 12,000 girls, and I continue to have a relationship with them. And now I’m in a position where not only am I helping to shine a light on them and put them in front of people and opportunities, but they are doing that for each other.”

She looks forward to the day when truly diverse teams build technology, because “we’re going to solve a much broader set of problems.”

“People tend to address things that are relevant to them; you’re going to innovate to solve problems that others like you are having, and dismiss other things as ‘less relevant.’ That’s why we haven’t seen as much innovation in women’s health, things like bras and breast pumps and menstruation tools.”

She is also optimistic about the ways increased female participation in STEM fields will impact organizational cultures.

“Having watched now 12,000 girls progress through high school and college and into the workforce, the way that they interact with each other is really inspiring. I’ve seen young women help each other on applications for a scholarship they’re all competing for. It’s ‘coopetition’ — cooperation and competition.”

Ruthe advises young women that not every decision is make-or-break: “I see young women getting really caught up in ‘oh, I have to get the right internship’ or ‘the right college,’ but you’re going to have many opportunities to make choices that will have an impact on your life. Take it in stride and keep moving.” She also cautions against comparing yourself to wunderkinds:

“In our society there can be this obsession with exceptionalism, and it sets people up to feel like they’re failing when they’re actually doing really well. You don’t have to be better than everyone else to be OK.”


Written by Adora Svitak, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. These stories are proudly told in partnership with in a joint effort to showcase inspiring and diverse women in STEM at the 2019 ASU/GSV Summit.

Teaching Teachers: How Harvey Mudd professor Colleen Lewis shares CS teaching tips for inclusivity with educators around the world

Colleen Lewis ● McGregor-Girand Associate Professor of Computer Science ● Harvey Mudd College

Colleen Lewis ● McGregor-Girand Associate Professor of Computer Science ● Harvey Mudd College

Colleen Lewis’s career in STEM began as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, when she met a charismatic friend in a physics class.

“She was going to be a computer science major. We started studying together, and she said to me, ‘Colleen, next semester I’m taking this CS class, take it with me? I said no that’s only for smart people, obviously not for me.’ But she is the most stubborn person that I know, so she got me into it kicking and screaming. I ended up loving the content of that first semester.”

The next semester Colleen decided to take another computer science class, without this friend and with decidedly less stellar results. She had to drop the class to avoid failing the class, and when she took it the next semester, she got 5/25 on her first exam.

“At that point, my friends might have thought, ‘maybe you’re not cut out for this.’ But later I did my PhD at Berkeley and taught that data structures class three times. Things can take time to learn, and that’s okay. We have to be really careful about the advice we give ourselves and our friends — even in cases like mine where it seemed that CS obviously wasn’t for me.”

As the McGregor-Girand Associate Professor of computer science at Harvey Mudd College, Colleen’s memories of her early experiences as a beginner in CS help inform her current work on CS education and reducing bias. Her project is a resource for educators at all levels who teach computer science hoping to create inclusive learning environments.

“Some tips for department inclusivity would be to listen to students, design an intro course that is welcoming regardless of students’ level of prior CS exposure, and to monitor performance patterns, looking for canaries in the coal mine.”

The CS Teaching Tips website includes printable tip sheets on subjects like encouraging help seeking, pair programming, lecturing, and more, with videos and example language by every tip to help guide educators. The tip sheet on department inclusivity reads,

“Have experienced and effective educators teach the introductory courses. This can lead to students finding the department welcoming and supportive. To address differences in preparation, you can encourage students with prior CS experience to skip the first course or offering multiple introductory courses. In addition to providing curriculum customized to their level of experience, students might be less intimidated if everyone in the classroom shares their background.”

For many educators who are committed to prioritizing diversity but unsure of exactly how to make that a reality, the website provides concrete and actionable steps that can be implemented right away.

At some schools, the tips are already visible in action. Colleen is proud of the way Harvey Mudd has fostered student community, showed students the breadth of CS as a discipline, optimized the introductory course, and encouraged students to seek help. She says that about half of her students and faculty colleagues identify as women. This is important for creating a diverse community and set of role models. She also speaks about how recognizing sexism must go part and parcel with recognizing interlinked forms of oppression.

“I think it’s important that computer scientists understand how the world works, including systems of oppression like sexism and racism. As a white woman, I think it is my responsibility to push back against the tendency for some ‘diversity and inclusion’ efforts to focus exclusively on White women. There is a tendency to treat white women as the norm and forget that sexism and racism are deeply interconnected.”

Her advice for young women who might want to follow in her footsteps comes from her time slogging through that first data structures class in Berkeley.

“Debug the process. The first time I took data structures, it didn’t go well. I would go to the lab, but wouldn’t know what to do, and I wouldn’t ask for help. Turns out that’s not a great way to learn. A lot of it was pushing through the anxiety of not knowing.”

Ultimately, Colleen’s advice to “debug the process” and be okay with uncertainty isn’t just good advice for studying CS — it’s good advice for life.


Written by Adora Svitak, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. These stories are proudly told in partnership with in a joint effort to showcase the inspiring women in STEM at the 2019 ASU/GSV Summit.

Creating Diverse Pathways into Tech

Brenda Wilkerson is the President and CEO of

Brenda Wilkerson is the President and CEO of

“I had no exposure to CS in high school and was a pre-med major in college.”

Brenda’s CS journey began by accident. But two programming classes sent her down a different path, and she entered the corporate world as a programmer at Sears. She later became an adjunct professor, teaching continuing education classes to students in a Chicago community college.

“In continuing education, you find the whole gamut of people — from people who have BAs and MAs and are coming back, people 18 to 80 years old exploring tech for the first time. I wanted to become a bridge for those people who wanted to learn tech skills to change their lives.”

After running the division for a decade, she started creating apps for small businesses, and then pioneered CS education classes in Chicago public schools at a time when CS was in only 10 out of 200 high schools. An important part of her work was advocating for CS to be accessible to students outside of the region’s most affluent schools.

“I’m excited about the impact that we can have on an industry that impacts everything in our lives,” she said. She’s passionate about welcoming people from all backgrounds to technology.

“It’s not just for all of us who have gone through the traditional pathways, but those of us who get in through all pathways. Whether you are a student considering it, or whether it is your 4th or 5th career. I’m excited to change the dynamic of who gets to address problems. We have the opportunity to change the story for global problems — from domestic violence to clean water access.”

We can only innovate as far as we push ourselves out of traditional, narrowly defined sites of prestige, though; as she says, “let’s stop hanging out in the same 8 universities.”

Written by Adora Svitak, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. These stories are proudly told in partnership with in a joint effort to showcase the inspiring women in STEM at the 2019 ASU/GSV Summit.

Dr. Aygul Zagidullina’s Hope for the Future

Dr. Aygul Zagidullina ● Google Developer Expert for Google Assistant, Technology Speaker and Women in Technology Advocate

Dr. Aygul Zagidullina ● Google Developer Expert for Google Assistant, Technology Speaker and Women in Technology Advocate

“Technology is so powerful, that we can use it to make the world a much better place.”

For Dr. Aygul Zagidullina, technology has always been a part of her life. Her first major coding project was the official website for her high school. From there she and her classmates won a citywide competition which inspired her to keep learning more about coding. She studied quantum computing in university, using computer programming to model chemical reactions and earn her PhD.

After her scientific research at the University of Stuttgart, Dr. Zagidullina found herself on a new path working in marketing for Google in Germany where she had a chance to work with some truly top-notch people and brands like Eurovision Song Contest, Fools Garden and many others. She currently is based in London and develops apps for the Google Assistant, Dr. Zagidullina was recently recognized by Google as a Google Developer Expert (GDE) for her contribution to the global developer community. 

She is most proud of the Sunscreen Check app she wrote. Getting ready to deliver a conference keynote on a hot day in Dubai, she asked Google Assistant for the UV index and sun protection recommendations. When Google Assistant had nothing to offer, she did what engineers do when they find something missing, she built it! Sunscreen Check helps users “stay safe under the sun, avoid sunburn, and reduce the risk of cancer by choosing the right sun protection for your current location.” Sunscreen Check is used by thousands around the world and was officially recognized by Google with a “Keeping Users Engaged” milestone pin. This app is a meaningful example of how technology can be used to improve people’s lives.

In addition to creating new apps, Dr. Zagidullina blogs, organizes technology events, and speaks at conferences all over the world (18 countries and counting). She believes nothing is more valuable than human connection. She wants to break the stereotypes people have about “tech people” and increase accessibility and participation in using technology to solve problems. 

Dr. Zagidullina was named as one of the NEXT 100 Top Influencers of the European Digital Industry in 2013. One of her upcoming projects is running a free five-day workshop on programming for the Google Assistant in London as part of her Google Developer Group efforts.

In the future, Dr. Zagidullina sees great things for the tech industry and hopes that more people are drawn to it for passion rather than monetary gain. There is such potential in developing innovative technologies, such as sensor networks and AI, to make life improvements, especially in health and education.

To overcome challenges, Dr. Zagidullina recommends surrounding yourself with positive people, remembering why you started, and being persistent. 

She advises women not to be discouraged by the low numbers of women in tech; “be excited to be a groundbreaker. Be a part of positive change and make it your mission to help break stereotypes.”

She's Got Game(s): How Asema Hassan channeled her passion for art into creating video games that fight dementia

Asema Hassan ● VR Programmer ● DZNE

Asema Hassan ● VR Programmer ● DZNE

Asema Hassan is addicted to developing video games. She has channeled an early interest in art into a career creating and programming video games. Asema has a particular passion for games that can change the world for the better; games that can be used to improve education, promote personal growth, and build communities. Asema had her first full time job as a software engineer at a game studio while completing a Master’s Degree in Computer Science at COMSATS Islamabad. She developed over 35 educational games before moving to Germany to complete another Master’s in Digital Engineering at Otto von Guericke University, specializing in Artificial Intelligence. She now works as a Virtual Reality, VR, programmer for DZNE, the German Center for Neurodegenerative diseases, developing simulations and games to fight Alzheimer and dementia. Asema is especially excited about how advances in VR can increase the power and influence of games.

Asema doesn’t just create games, she is also an advocate in the game development community. She volunteers at gaming conferences and co-founded the International Game Developers’ Association (IGDA) Pakistan in 2018 to help build a community network for game developers in Pakistan. Asema is currently an Advisor and International Representative of IGDA Pakistan and actively mentors game developers in the community to create a viable career path in games and to help improve the quality of game production. She is also working with Pakistani Women in Computing (PWiC) to establish a PWiC Europe — Berlin Chapter.

Asema started her education in a school founded by her parents to educate the children in their village in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan. They had lost their jobs in Kuwait after the first Gulf-War (1990–1991) and had returned home. Asema’s experience in the Jhelum Valley Public School watching first hand her parent’s passion for education, has been a constant motivation to always strive to learn and accomplish more. When she finishes one project, she is ready to move on to another. The Jhelum Valley public school has now been operating for more than 20 years and currently serves more than 350 students ages 5–16. Although the students are in a rural area where electricity and Internet access is scarce, Asema dreams someday of bringing gamification to the school to help improve student outcomes.

Asema has faced her share of challenges, but always looks to the positive. She encourages others to try to do the same.

“Never give up, no matter how hard the situation gets, keep moving forward. Enjoy every step of your journey towards a goal. But remember once, you have reached a goal you will look for another one. It’s a natural human tendency to evolve and grow with time and circumstances.”

Asema is optimistic that more women in tech will help improve the culture in ways that improve circumstances for everyone. Such as opportunities for part time work, remote/flexible work schedules, and the recognition that working too much is counterproductive. “Crunch time can be avoided by planning ahead!”

For women interested in getting into games, Asema advises not to be afraid. There are lots of opportunities and women already in the gaming industry. Look for a mentor.

“It is tough for women, but you have to stay focused on what you want. Keep learning and keep improving yourself. Find someone to support and push you.”