Persisting in the Name of Passion: How Parisa Abadi Went From Mechanical Engineering to Heart Repair

Parisa Pour Shahid Saeed Abadi ● Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering ● Michigan Technological University

Parisa Pour Shahid Saeed Abadi ● Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering ● Michigan Technological University

Parisa grew up in Iran, and her parents never had the chance to attend college themselves. However, they always knew the importance of education and encouraged Parisa to pursue her passions from a young age. With their support, she studied math and physics in high school and later, aerospace engineering at Sharif University of Technology, the top engineering school in Iran.

After Parisa got married, she moved to the United States with her husband to pursue her master’s degree and eventually, her PhD. in mechanical engineering. During her doctoral program at Georgia Institute of Technology, Parisa published journals on electronic material and nano-material. She also began working on a project she feels particularly proud of, involving scaffold partition engineering.

“We make heart muscle tissue in our lab using patient-specific stem cells. These types of cells can then be used for the treatment of a damaged heart due to heart defects or after a stroke.”

Working on a medical project with a mechanical engineering background was not easy at first, but it helped Parisa discover her interest in applying her knowledge to medicine. However, finding a postdoctoral research job without the appropriate background proved to be a challenge. She searched for a job for an entire year, but couldn’t find an opportunity that felt right. Parisa was patient and continued to believe in herself. She was determined to find a role she felt passionate about. Luckily, her decision not to settle paid off, when she received funding for postdoctoral research at Harvard University as an American Association of University Women fellow.

Once she arrived at Harvard, Parisa was able to take the medical school classes she needed to pursue her combined interests in human health and mechanical engineering. Parisa tackled the challenge of leveling up her biology knowledge and excelled in classes with the help of students around her. She eventually received another fellowship from the National Institute of Health to continue her postdoctoral work at Harvard.

Despite its challenges, Parisa skillfully finds a balance between being a mother to her 16-month old baby and her career.

“It’s always challenging because I don’t have as much time as other people might have. Sometimes the field is so competitive… and it’s a lot of responsibility. But when you like your job and you love your family, you enjoy both.”

Even with a busy schedule, Parisa still finds time to do outreach in her community. She leads Women in Science and Engineering workshops, gives tours of her lab to middle school girls, and encourages young female students to pursue careers in STEM.

“I feel like I have a responsibility to try and encourage women to go into STEM fields and help get more undergraduate women involved in research. Hopefully they will be inspired to go to graduate school and become faculty. We need more female students and faculty in academia.”

Parisa is now an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Technological University where she continues her research on mechanical behavior of materials and medical devices. Parisa has overcome many challenges and has achieved much success, but above all her story reminds us that persistence and patience will get you far.

Parisa Pour Shahid Saeed Abadi received a 2015-16 AAUW American Fellowship that funded her postdoctoral research in mechanical engineering 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.

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

Speaking Up & Owning It: How Four Female Leaders in STEM Boldly Pursue Their Passions

Wogrammer is proud to partner with NCWIT to amplify the voices of 4 inspiring female leaders in STEM who shared their best insights and strategies for overcoming self-doubt and boldly pursuing their passions.

Madelyn Tavarez ● Software Engineer ● Pinterest

Madelyn Tavarez ● Software Engineer ● Pinterest

Best advice for learning to confidently own your voice:

“Find your tribe, your community. Having a support system that will cheer you on, help give power to your voice, and be there when things get rough will give you the strength you need to fight for what you believe in. Do your best work. Doing good work increases your confidence and gives you the credibility to make others listen to you. Think long and hard about what your values are and make sure your actions and the work you are doing are aligned with them. Also, know that you don’t always have to be ‘on,’ balance is important and it is important to take time to relax and recharge so that you can continue fighting the good fight.”

Best strategy for bolstering self-confidence before a big meeting or presentation:

“I will go into the bathroom and repeat a ton of powerful affirmations out loud while looking in the mirror. I tell myself that I am powerful, confident and engaging and that everything will turn out great. I even tell myself that everyone in the audience wants me to do well and win. It sounds silly but it helps. I always end up leaving the room less nervous and more confident and empowered than when I came in.”

Erin Mitchell ● Industrial Engineer ● Collins Aerospace

Erin Mitchell ● Industrial Engineer ● Collins Aerospace

Best advice for learning to confidently own your voice:

Do not be afraid to be [perceived as] aggressive. Aggression shows passion. This is something you should never try to filter or hide because you are afraid of what other people will think of you. You are not simply “lucky.” You have worked incredibly hard. Do not diminish your successes. Strive for success, always. But, remember failing is okay. Failing and falling will teach you more about yourself than immediate success. You are strong. You are capable. You are powerful. You are courageous. Do not let anyone convince you otherwise.”

Best strategy for bolstering self-confidence before a big meeting or presentation:

I saw a TED Talk on power posing by Amy Cuddy, and that changed my entire idea of body language. I will go stand in the bathroom and ‘get big’ before something I have to speak at. Additionally, I think a big piece of this is taking pride in what I do — if you are proud of something, that means you are confident in the role you had in it, and it will come off as such.”

Senior Student ● Alameda High School ● NCWIT AspireIT Leader

Senior Student ● Alameda High School ● NCWIT AspireIT Leader

Best advice for learning to confidently own your voice:

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s okay to admit that you’re not the smartest in the room — if you want to learn, people will want to teach. Additionally, just because you’re the youngest in the room, the only woman at the conference, or the one Asian person in a meeting full of white men, does not mean that your opinions are not valid. Take time to celebrate yourself and your achievements.”

Best strategy for bolstering self-confidence before a big meeting or presentation:

“Before pitching an idea or going into an important meeting, I remind myself that I was invited because I deserve to be heard. Not only that, but the people in that next room want to hear what I have to say. If those reminders fail, I just suck it up and try not to waste time worrying!”

Daniela Markazi ● Robotics Engineer ● John Deere

Daniela Markazi ● Robotics Engineer ● John Deere

Best advice for learning to confidently own your voice:

Don’t be afraid to speak up! I used to be quite shy. However, I have learned to embrace my voice and share my thoughts, feelings, and opinions with others. Let’s embrace our strength as women and aspire to be inspired by strong role models, and let’s take the time to help, inspire, uplift, and recognize other women who want to pursue a higher level of technological education, career, and life!”

Best strategy for bolstering self-confidence before a big meeting or presentation:

“Whenever I need to bolster my confidence, I take a deep breath, embrace positivity, and smile. However, before the event, I make sure that I am well-prepared for the task at hand. I conduct my research on the topic, the event, the company, and the people involved in the scenario to gain knowledge and understanding, and practice, practice, and practice some more to ensure that I am ready to present my point of view. According to Alexander Graham Bell, ‘Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.’”

Dancing in the Studio and in the Halls of Microsoft: How This College Student is Making Waves in Tech

Swetha Prabakaran ● Computer Science, Dance & Performance Studies Double Major ● UC Berkeley

Swetha Prabakaran ● Computer Science, Dance & Performance Studies Double Major ● UC Berkeley

Swetha’s journey in STEM started in high school. She was on track to go to college as a pred-med student until she had to take a year-long CS class that her magnet STEM program required. Although Swetha was initially unhappy about this mandate, she ended up becoming very proficient with CS and enjoyed her class.

“I had the best teacher ever, Ms. Ria Galanos. The experience of having someone mentor and nurture me to try new things that I didn’t think I was interested in was a complete 180. Ria Galanos was also the reason why I started advocating for diversity in tech and becoming so passionate about paying it forward; I’m still close with her and keep in contact to this day!”

Swetha’s inspiration and motivation came from her family and mentors, who helped her build confidence and demonstrated for her the value of giving back. Her desire to serve others would eventually lead her to starting a non-profit, Everybody Code Now, which empowers the next generation of youth by exposing them to basic programming skills. Swetha’s outstanding philanthropic work led to one of her most memorable career moments to date, when she was invited to speak at the White House during the second term of the Obama Administration. There, she was honored as a Champion of Change at just 15 years of age.

More recently, Swetha is known for her significant role in co-directing and choreographing Microsoft: The Musical as an intern. This musical was a project she and another intern started together. Over 150 Microsoft interns and full-time employees were part of the production, which was completed in 8 weeks.

The full version of Microsoft: The Musical, co-directed and choreographed by Swetha

Swetha is also currently the lead student coordinator for an innovation and entrepreneurship class at UC Berkeley, where she is also a full-time student. The Newton Lecture Series brings together 300 to 400 students to hear from change-agents from around the world in various disciplines. These men and women share their perspective on what makes innovation and the role of innovation in different industries.

In spite of her inspiring accomplishments, Swetha is not immune to dealing with challenges.

“One thing that’s always been hard for me is wanting to do everything all the time all at once. I get impatient with myself and ask why I’m not doing more. But my mentor once told me that I can do anything but I can’t do everything.”

Swetha approaches this struggle of finding a healthy balance in her work and ambitions by taking life one day at a time. To channel her headspace to be free of stress and anxiety, Swetha makes time for dancing, which she has enjoyed since she was young.

Dancing also helps Swetha get out of the tech world, which she believes can sometimes feel like a bubble, especially living in the Bay Area. As a Computer Science and Dance & Performance Studies double major, Swetha gets the opportunity to lead and learn in completely different, yet related spaces.

“Having one foot in both art and tech makes me stronger in both worlds. Some people would see it as being uncertain of what I want, but it’s the thing that makes me unique and powerful. And as a woman in tech, leading in the male-dominated computer lab at school and then going to the dance studio, where it’s predominantly women, is really empowering for me.”

Swetha recalls her first experiences in tech and remembers feeling like she had to do what everyone else was doing and hide the fact that she was a dancer. Swetha wants people to know,

“There’s no benefit in hiding yourself. Your superpower is bringing your whole self to every space and to be authentic. It’s the most powerful thing you could do for yourself and everyone who looks up to you.”

Swetha ultimately links her authenticity to embracing the process of learning, growth, and change.

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

From Observer to Leader: How Computer Vision Researcher Ilke Demir Found Her Voice

Ilke Demir ● Senior Research Scientist ● DeepScale

Ilke Demir ● Senior Research Scientist ● DeepScale

Ilke Demir is a commonly cited scholar, machine learning conference speaker, and an advocate for women in STEM. But she had no idea she would accomplish all that she has today. 

Ilke grew up in Turkey, where she liked physics and science from a young age. The first time she was introduced to computer science was when she entered into a national high school Olympiad challenge.

“That [the computer science olympiad] was the reason I was introduced to programming for the first time and I was so excited. I couldn’t believe it when I had my first ‘aha’ moment!”

During her undergraduate studies, Ilke worked in a robotics lab for an internship and was so interested in learning more about computer vision that she decided to pursue a PhD in Computer Science. Although it was an intimidating risk to take, Ilke left her friends and family in Turkey to study at Purdue University in Indiana.

During her first few years as a PhD candidate, Ilke struggled with speaking up and sharing her opinion, and usually went along with the wishes of the group. In her final year, however, Ilke became involved in a women’s network called WiSH, or Women in Shape. Ilke organized a group of WiSH women to present a Deep Learning for Geometric Shape Understanding workshop at a leading computer vision conference called CVPR. Collaborating with other women on this workshop helped Ilke grow as a researcher and as a leader.

“Before the research workshop, I was silent and in the backseat; an observer instead of a participant. But that first workshop showed me that not all collaborations should be scary. Normally those meetings rarely have people similar to me — but in that group everyone was alike and familiar, thus I felt free and confident to share my opinion. I realized I could be that version of myself in every other situation.”

Ilke originally planned to stay in academia after her PhD, but she received an exciting offer to work as a researcher at Facebook. Although it was a difficult decision, Ilke knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that she couldn’t turn down. Again, Ilke picked up her life and moved to California. The risk paid off, because it was at Facebook where she worked on the project that she is most proud of thus far.

“Currently about 70% of the world doesn’t have street addresses. To solve that, we applied deep learning and computer vision algorithms on satellite images … and assigned each 5x5 meter square a street address. This is applicable to developing countries with no addresses at all. According to our studies, the mailmen are now able to find the recipients and deliver the mail much faster. Seeing that real world impact was incredible.”

When it comes to advice for navigating their careers, Ilke believes that women should look back on their previous accomplishments in order to overcome current challenges. Whenever she feels like she doesn’t deserve to be where she is or starts feeling imposter syndrome, she visits her own Google scholar link as a reminder of all of her incredible achievements. 

Currently, Ilke is working at a startup called DeepScale where she develops deep learning and computer vision methods like temporal models to learn segmentation masks from videos. One of the many applications for this technology is autonomous vehicles.

“I’m excited about what deep learning and AI can do to advance computer vision.”

Ilke’s career is only just beginning, and she took risks and made bold decisions to get where she is today. Her work is at the forefront of technology and AI research, and her contributions will continue to make a difference for years to come.

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

Trailblazing in STEM for Native American Women: Catching Up with Aerospace Engineer Kristina Halona

Kristina Halona ● Program Manager, Antares Systems Engineering ● Northrop Grumman

Kristina Halona ● Program Manager, Antares Systems Engineering ● Northrop Grumman

Wogrammer is proud to partner with AAUW in celebration of Native Women’s Equal Pay Day 2019. We caught up with Kristina Halona, an inspiring female leader and advocate for Native women in STEM. We were curious to know what she’d been up to in her STEM journey since we last interviewed her and how her Navajo culture played a role in where she is today.

From hearing stories about the creation of space, to working on rockets that send cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), Kristina’s career journey has been nothing short of spectacular. She credits her journey in STEM to her native Navajo culture and values.

Storytelling is at the heart of Navajo culture. Stories connect one generation to another, inspire imagination, and keep the culture alive. Kristina Halona, an aerospace engineer, vividly remembers being on the reservation and listening to her grandfather’s stories about the Navajo Holy People. Kristina recalls a particular story that she believes set her on the path in STEM and sparked her interest in space. In this story, Changing Woman created the earth and the sky. All the Holy People then came together to arrange the stars in the universe. Black God, a god of fire, meticulously placed each of the stars in the sky while the Coyote, who was a trickster, grew impatient. He waited until the Holy People began arguing to daringly grab the blanket of stars himself and throw it into the sky, resulting in the constellations we see today, like the Big Dipper.

“As a Navajo I grew up in a matriarchal society. The woman is everything. Our mother is the main person of the household and she is the leader, which isn’t like American society where males traditionally lead the household and are the breadwinners. I think this aspect of my culture helped me to take on the STEM field.”

Since we last interviewed Kristina in 2016, her journey in STEM has continued to evolve. She is now working with Northrop Grumman as the Program Manager of the Antares Systems Engineering Group. Antares is a rocket whose mission is to take cargo to the astronauts living at the ISS. Her group will be working on this mission until 2022, and they do two launches a year. Her group’s focus includes the development requirements, interface design, and stability and verification of the rocket.

Kristina reflects on her significant leadership role as empowering, in spite of the fact that she is usually the only woman and person of color in many of the spaces she is involved in.

“My voice and my opinions matter as a female and as a woman of color. No one else in the program has my point of view, which makes me want to use that in my leadership role. It keeps me going.”

Kristina’s confidence and belief in the strength of truth wasn’t cultivated overnight. She grew up shy, introverted and was never used to being a leader and having a voice. She recalls being in undergrad and being the only female and person of color, so everything she did was noticeable.

“I had to work on being an extrovert and getting out of my comfort zone because my job requires me to seek things out and talk to people. Confidence a learned skill that you gain as time goes on. More power to the women and young college students who are already using their voice to empower others and be leaders in the spaces they’re in.”

Kristina is passionate about helping other Native American women obtain opportunities in STEM and be change-makers in their indigienous communities. She advises young Native American women and any women from underrepresented backgrounds to find a mentor in order to confidently own their voice as a leader.

Most importantly, Kristina advises young women to always give back and mentor women of color or those from the same tribal affiliations. Kristina gives back as both a mentor at her alma mater and as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), whose mission is to increase the number of indigienous people and Native Americans studying in STEM.

Native Americans only make up one percent of the US population. Kristina wants young students to get a good education and even come back to the reservation and help the community as STEM professionals. Ultimately, Kristina is a trailblazer for Native American women in STEM.

“Never give up and remember why you’re choosing this path. I always look back to being at home on the reservation and hearing my grandpa’s story. Don’t forget about the one thing that makes you passionate in this field. We need more women to push the status quo, use their voice, and continue to be in the room and be seen.”

Kristina Halona received a 2008–09 AAUW Selected Professions Fellowship that funded her master’s degree in engineering at George Washington 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.

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

Harnessing the Power of Tech to Build Communities and Healthy Habits: How Selina Tobaccowala Paved Her Own Way to Silicon Valley

Selina Tobaccowala ● Founder & CEO ● Gixo

Selina Tobaccowala ● Founder & CEO ● Gixo

Selina Tobaccowala was destined for that Silicon Valley life. Not the HBO version that may come to mind, with flashy cars and inflated term sheets. But a more genuine, authentic version about a woman passionate about STEM from a young age, using technology to change the world.,

“For me tech was always something I was excited by, something I was interested in from a young age. My father worked in tech and had sparked my interest really early.” From that early age both her parents played a big role in encouraging her interests in STEM, her mom driving her to summer camps and computer science clubs all around New Jersey.

Selina realized early on how technology could be used to impact people’s lives in real ways. While completing her BS in Computer Science at Stanford, she co-founded Evite, having the foresight to see how tech can bring people and communities together (almost a decade before the major social networks came around!) As VP of Engineering at Evite, she learned how to utilize her talents and deep understanding of technology to create a tool used by millions of people. This became an important skill that Selina carried with her to all her future roles.

Moving along her STEM journey, Selina continued to develop her passion and skills at Ticketmaster and SurveyMonkey, where the late Dave Goldberg, then CEO, was an influential mentor for her.

“Dave was an amazing mentor and leader. He prioritized building a highly profitable business right alongside building a culture that supported diversity and families.”

This mentorship taught Selina the importance of diverse and representative teams, and how they not only impact culture but can build more meaningful products. Those leadership skills are proving very valuable as Selina is back at the helm of leading her own company.

An entrepreneur at heart, in 2016 Selina left the comfort of big tech companies to embrace the startup life again. In founding Gixo, she combines her deep expertise in bringing communities together with a passion to create healthier fitness habits.

“What got me excited about Gixo was getting people interested in real fitness experiences. Lots of investment has gone into programs and products for wealthy people. What about everyone else?”

She goes on to share that,“If you can get people to move 21 min a day, it has tremendous impact on healthcare costs, and an outsize impact on health and wellness.” This ability to impact people’s lives in a very real way is exactly what motivates Selina’s professional roadmap.

In reflecting on her career in tech, her focused nature and genuine interest shielded her from some of the gender disparities.

“In retrospect, I must have been one of the only females. It didn’t occur to me then. It was just something I looked forward to and was happy doing.”

However, upon moving to Silicon Valley in the mid-90s, that perspective changed.

“It wasn’t until I was well into my CS degree that I noticed I was one of the only women. I didn’t think I was affected by the fact that there were very few women at the time. It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized the negative impact of it being a male dominated industry.”

Though for some she may seem to fly under the radar, Selina is clearly and powerfully setting an example for young girls and women interested in making a meaningful impact with technology. She is the ultimate ‘poster child’ of Silicon Valley, using tech to change real people’s lives and is doing what women are often told they can’t do — raise a lot of money, start big companies and lead powerful teams.

Adding to that, Selina channels her expertise as a board member of Redfin and on the Advisory Board of Hubspot, two publicly traded companies. Boards are another arena where we have seen how increasing diversity leads to positive impact on outcomes.

Bringing more women and girls into the tech industry is a cause Selina cares deeply about. She has experienced first-hand how tech can be used to change people’s lives and is a strong advocate for encouraging more women to be part of this change.

“What I have really been dedicating time to is I’m on the diversity committee for Stanford School of Engineering. How do we make change at that level.”

Selina’s advice for anyone interested in STEM is to take risks and try new things.

“If you have an idea that you’re excited about, set milestones and try. You won’t learn faster than trying. Give it shot.”

This story was written by Wogrammer for Reinvented Magazine’s inaugural edition. Reinvented Magazine is on a mission to reinvent the general perception of women in STEM fields while inspiring interest in STEM for young women nationwide. To learn more, visit

Grassroots Campaigns Aren’t Just for Politicians: How Data Scientist Sarah Asio is Bringing Innovation to Uganda

Sarah Asio, PhD ● Data Science Lead ● Johnson & Johnson

Sarah Asio, PhD ● Data Science Lead ● Johnson & Johnson

Sarah’s journey to STEM began as a young child in Uganda with a fascination for mechanical appliances and electronics around the house. When she began college, she was set on majoring in electrical engineering, but changed her mind once someone told her about the endless possibilities of an industrial engineering degree. She quickly realized that this path would still allow her to enjoy math and science, but in a manner that could positively influence her community back home in Uganda.

“In Africa, infrastructure and development are really important. I understood that my economy needed more input in this area and I made a more informed decision to pursue my first degree in industrial engineering. It would be the best way to make an impact in my country.”

After college, Sarah moved to the United States to pursue her master’s degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and later went on to pursue her doctoral degree in industrial engineering at Texas Tech University. Sarah eventually made the big switch into data science when her first role at Bayer focused on digitizing agriculture. She developed digital tools and solutions to empower farmers to produce more food with less seed and ground.

“I was able to connect my original passion of making a difference and trying to empower economies to mature and remain sustainable, while also providing for indigenous people so they can develop as a nation.”

Sarah’s current role as Data Science Lead at Johnson & Johnson combines business strategy and developing technical solutions that align with the company’s values and global presence. She believes that data science is the new “gold” that goes hand-in-hand with artificial intelligence. In the next decade, she predicts that services and products will be completely transformed by decades of data from end-users, consumers, and practitioners. Sarah expects to see services across industries that are more customized to the consumer’s needs, as she believes that this type of data has the power to diagnose problems occurring societally and make a real impact.

Sarah herself is no stranger to the challenges and obstacles of the indigenous people in her country. She at one point struggled to afford her studies in the states but credits her Christian faith and persistence in applying for scholarships as her way of overcoming financial challenges. Because she did not have family in the US, Sarah found a sense of community in international student groups that helped her navigate life and education in the Western world.

Outside of her work as an engineer and data scientist, Sarah keeps her ties to Uganda strong.

“I’ve always had a passion to empower people with knowledge and help them see what they’re capable of doing.”

Sarah collaborates with local partners in Uganda to find local talent that want to learn different areas of data science. She teaches them basic courses in STEM, and helps steer them in the right direction to obtain technical certifications.

“I strongly believe in the grassroots approach in finding and training local people with the skills and talents to innovate what they have in order to solve problems in their culture and community.”

Sarah is most proud of this work she has been able to do with Ugandans to assist them in creating influential and innovative products for their communities. When it comes to confidently navigating the workplace as a woman, Sarah encourages women to unapologetically own their accomplishments.

“Look at what you’ve achieved and know that you have the right to be in the environment you’re in. Stand boldly for yourself and let no one overlook you or sidestep you. Own your own truth. Speak confidently and be proud that you earned the right to be there on merit.”

Sarah loves to spend time learning as her journey in STEM continues to evolve. Her personal philosophy is to learn more about other people and use a grassroots approach to help them better understand themselves and how they can help their communities with what they have.

Sarah Asio received a 2010-11 AAUW International Fellowship that funded her master’s degree in industrial engineering at University of Nebraska, Lincoln. 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.

This story was written by Stephanie Nweke, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. Connect with her on LinkedIn. We are now accepting applications for our Fall 2019 Journalism Fellowship. Apply here by October 6th!

Immune to Failure: How Being Bad at Coding Led Rochelle Valdez to Work as a Cloud Developer at Google

Rochelle Valdez ● Google Cloud Developer ● Google

Rochelle Valdez ● Google Cloud Developer ● Google

Rochelle Valdez is a one-of-a-kind leader, coder, and organizer. Despite obstacle after obstacle, she has been able to find success as a developer at Google. She grew up in the Philippines on the streets of Manila, and at only ten years old, her family moved across the world to a small town in east Texas. Throughout her life, it was made clear by her community and family that she was expected to work in the healthcare industry. However, after being enrolled in a nursing school for a few years, she realized she had to make a change.

“I came to a point in my life where I had to stop pretending or I was just going to see my life pass before my eyes without really living it. I made a decision to quit nursing school, my job, and pack up all my things.”

Rochelle moved to London, where her mind was finally opened to all the potential opportunities she could pursue. Seeing confident and strong women in all different types of roles helped her realize she held the same potential within herself. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies, she realized she didn’t want to pursue the subject further, leaving her without a career direction. When Rochelle came across the Hack Reactor bootcamp, she knew she wanted to attend but faced another obstacle: she didn’t have the financial resources. She ended up moving back in with her parents in Southern California to work as a store associate at a wireless phone company. After a year and a half, Rochelle was able to enroll in Hack Reactor’s Javascript fullstack program. While she struggled with coding initially, she was able to grow stronger and more confident through her experience.

“I credit my perseverance to sucking at engineering and coding for a long time. I was the weakest in my cohort. So I built up this immunity to looking dumb, failing, and being rejected — all of those things I was kind of like, ‘Alright, bring it on!’”

One of the greatest challenges was adjusting from a small startup to life at a giant company like Google. She was hired as a contractor and her team was entirely remote, so she had to step up and figure out what she was going to do on her own.

“My first day at Google I bawled my eyes out. It was really tough mentally coming from a small startup that felt like a family to being a small fish in this immensely scary ocean. I was left to figure out what I was supposed to do. It was one of those moments where I could have just sat back and waited for something to happen or take control of the situation to make the most out of it.”

And Rochelle did just that. After that experience, she had her contract extended and received recognition from her entire department, her manager, and director. She learned early on that whatever it was she feared the most was what she needed to face head on. When it comes to navigating the workforce as a woman, Rochelle has some sound advice to those trying to make it in their careers.

“I would play out an experiment on yourself. Pretend you are a man and speak with the confidence of a man. Do not apologize, do not use hedging words. Just state them as facts. And see what happens.”

Once Rochelle started playing this little experiment in her head, it reframed her idea of what it meant to be confident. No longer did she think she needed to speak louder for people to listen; rather, she knew she could present herself in a confident manner so that people could trust in her and her ideas. Although Rochelle faced many obstacles and failures along the way, her experiences led her to become the brave and outspoken person she is today.

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

From Art School to Software Engineering: How Meg Viar is Paving the Way for Female Tech Leaders

Meg Viar ● Software Engineer ● Nomadic Learning

Meg Viar ● Software Engineer ● Nomadic Learning

Meg Viar will be the first to say that how your journey begins is not where it will end. She attended art school at the Maryland Institute College of Art and later received her masters in education from the University of Nevada- Las Vegas. So, how does one jump from art to tech?

Well, it takes time for seeds to grow into trees.

When Meg was a kid, she was active on Neopets, a virtual pet website. She enjoyed building custom items for her pets and began nurturing the desire to build things early on. She was first exposed to coding as an educator, when she taught second and third graders how to code. During this time, she found a coding bootcamp scholarship opportunity. Although Meg didn’t receive the scholarship, she was still able to get a part of the bootcamp tuition funded as a member of AmeriCorp. Her bootcamp journey led her to opportunities to build great software products. She’s most proud of the back-end solutions she built at her last job, Megaphone.

“When I first started at the company, I had no experience with GoLang or working at the kind of scale they see with their ad serving technology. I took time to learn the basics, hopped in, asked for help as needed, and was able to make valuable contributions to that software.”

Working at Megaphone was a major turning point for Meg because it emphasized the importance of on-the-job learning, especially since she came from a non-traditional background. Software engineering can be scary because the answer is not always obvious, but this is also one of the most rewarding parts of the job for Meg. It leaves room for critical thinking and creativity. She finds herself constantly drawing on her experience as an educator in her work as a software engineer, applying educational theory to her own learning in the field.

“I struggled with worries about whether or not I was a ‘real’ software engineer. When I discovered the importance of problem-solving and self-directed learning in the field, I was better able to recognize the value I brought to the team.”

In order to overcome her ‘imposter syndrome,’ Meg also built self-confidence by drawing upon her experience in working with LET’S GO, a non-profit whose larger-than-life vision was to build a STEM identity in underserved students. LET’S GO focused on cultivating persistence and creative thinking in the students they worked with. Meg applied these same principles to build confidence in her work as a software engineer.

Mentorship was also a crucial part of Meg’s career and confidence-building journey.

“One thing that was helpful to me was having a woman as a manager, who was another software engineer. She was generous in sharing the steps she took and how she was able to navigate her career.”

Meg saw her mentor speak internationally at conferences and be transparent about her journey in STEM. Her mentor helped her to remember that she didn’t need to be isolated while working to establish herself. Finding a network of people she identifies with in her own field of interest is one of the most rewarding aspects of Meg’s career today. Her fulfilling experience with her mentor encouraged her to seek out opportunities to mentor other women. In Washington D.C., she worked with high schoolers through Girls Who Code, a non-profit that aims to increase women in computer science. Meg’s mentorship role helped her to focus on coding and “get over the hump of what programming is and who it’s for.” Peer mentorship also helped Meg build and maintain a sense of community.

“As women, we’re often our biggest critic and we judge ourselves by an unmanageable standard. Go out with confidence, take stock of your own skills, and bring value to your team. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.”

Ultimately, Meg is proud of the community and network she has built of both young and experienced women in STEM. She still loves to learn, and serves as a reminder that the knowledge you gain from one chapter of your journey can benefit you down the road in ways you might not expect!

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

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.