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Students inspired at tech conference for women

Twelve engineering and science students attended event promoting women in STEM
By: Matt Amha
December 05, 2017
Female engineering and science students

Photo: Future leaders in tech (Ryerson science and engineering students) were sponsored by the university to take part in three-day initiative promoting women in STEM.

Ryerson University sponsored 12 science and engineering students to attend the external,Grace Hopper Celebration, a three-day conference in Orlando, Florida in October. The largest event of its kind, the Grace Hopper Celebration shows support for women in tech and helps lay the groundwork for the female leaders of the future.

This year’s keynote speakers included Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Also speaking were Diane Greene from Google Cloud, Fei-Fei Li, a professor at Stanford University, and Sue Black, founder and CEO of #techmums.

Organized by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, the conference has been an annual event since 1994, and was designed to help women in the computer sciences. The event provides career resources, research, and candid conversation across a number of industry related topics, all of which are tailored for both women already in the field, and younger women looking for a way in.

We spoke to three of the students sponsored by Ryerson to attend the event. Here’s what they had to say.

Q:  At the first day’s keynote, you heard influential women in STEM speak about challenging the status quo. Which of their stories resonated the most with you and why?

Miranda Pinto (fourth-year, mechanical engineering)
The presentation by Melinda Gates was most inspiring to me. She spoke about the challenges women face when they take the unconventional path of entering the technology and computer science sector. She assured that you don't need to have a bachelor of computer science to apply advanced technology in changing the world. This resonated with me as I am working towards my bachelor of engineering in mechanical. Although my degree isn’t seemingly technology focused, I’ve catered my education to be employed in the industry, while applying the best of my mechanical background.  Mrs. Gates recognizing the different walks of life and routes of entry into the field helped break down my feeling of intimidation to be in the industry.  I believe in myself and I am proud of the education I have earned in the way that it challenges the status quo.  

Q: Do you think the status quo has changed? If yes, why? If no, why not? In your opinion, what do you think needs to be done?

Sabrina Ciardullo (third-year, biomedical engineering)
No, I do not believe the status quo has changed regardless of all the wonderful changemakers in tech.

I still feel that there is a huge stigma attached to women in computing and engineering. We are still forced to prove ourselves time and time again to even be considered for a seat at the table. A voice is earned through hard work, passion, dedication and owning what you want, and should not be dependent on gender. I believe the characteristics that make a woman strong and opinionated are still viewed as negative traits, whereas male counterparts are praised for the very same traits.

This type of conference is an amazing way to tackle the stigma, as it empowers women. Conferences like Grace Hopper are amazing opportunities as well, in order to continue to inspire and drive current female engineers. However, if women really are to be equal in the computing world, then men must join this conversation and understand why the current status quo is not adequate. As Grace Hopper suggests, saying this is how things have always been, is not OK. We need to change the norm, and determine how to ensure women are heard.

Q: How would you describe your experience at the Grace Hopper Celebration?

Deborah Mepaiyeda (second year, computer science)
The Grace Hopper Celebration was memorable, inspirational and uplifting. I learned so much and got to connect with other women in tech. Many incredible keynote speakers motivated me to continue to bring awareness to the gender imbalance in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It also made me reflect on the importance of diversity in STEM. I believe that diversity is essential. It helps us understand one another and draws people together. This event helped me understand the value of diversity in a whole new way.

Moreover, the celebration gave me the opportunity to get to know the other 11 students better and see things in ways I didn’t before. Now that I have returned I will share my experience with others, especially other girls in computer science, with hopes that it will encourage them in their journey too.