A Conversation With Women In STEM

By Michael Rosa

On Saturday, December 5th, brilliant woman working in animation, virtual reality, tech education, design and mapping converged with girls from throughout the Bay area at The Girls’ Middle School in Palo Alto, Calif. to share how they bring their personality and passion to their work in technology.

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Hosted by DMA’s Made By Girls initiative, “A Conversation With Women In STEM” connected girls with role models to share in the surprises, challenges and triumphs of working in computer science.

Though each story was unique, every woman expressed the importance of finding passion projects, seeking mentors and asking for help to reaching dreams.

Each woman also spoke about the girls they were when they were the same age as girls in the audience, and gave themselves the advice they wished they had.

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After the panel, the women and girls were able to get to know each other better in smaller groups.

Girls were able to “visit” Tuscany through virtual reality demos with the Oculus Rift, build “bestie” e-cards using the Vidcode design program, and talk about college, friendship, hobbies and personal stories with each women.

Iris Cheung

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“Trust your own train of thought and line of thinking.” – Iris Cheung, Apple prototype engineer

Iris Cheung, a prototype engineer at Apple, spoke to her group of girls about her Arduino teddy bear and the nail polish color mixing machine she’s been working on in her spare time.

As a girl, she thought coding was boring and inefficient, but now that she’s seen the power of code for exploring the stars at NASA, making stories at Pixar and DreamWorks, and now as an engineer at Apple, she explained that she loved bringing her ideas to life with her tech skills and that “there’s always something new to create!”

Sargun Kaur

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“There’s a place for you in computer science!” – Sargun Kaur, Google software engineer

Sargun Kaur, a Google software engineer, did a show-and-tell where she shared her work at Google Maps and had her group of girls share their own games in Scratch.

Sargun also described her love for Harry Potter and joked that she pursued her creative projects to bridge the “wizard-human gap.”

Melissa Halfon and Leandra Tejedor

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“Everyone struggles. Use your community for help! – Melissa Halfon, co-founder of Vidcode

Melissa Halfon, co-founder of Vidcode, and Leandra Tejedor, Vidcode lead designer/front-end developer, led girls in a bestie e-card making activity, which will be featured in a Girl Scouts Hour of Code Techjam event in New York!

These women came together to found a company to reach girls through code, which has led them to work with Amy Poehler’s “Smart Girls” and YouTube.

“Coding touches every creative discipline,” said Tejedor. “Expressing yourself with code is really powerful.”

Dioselin Gonzalez

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“Mentors are people who want to help you for nothing in return.” – Dio Gonzalez, lead virtual reality engineer at Unity Labs

Dio Gonzalez, virtual reality engineer at Unity Labs, showed off some great virtual reality apps/games with both the Oculus rift and the latest Samsung VR headset.

Dio expressed the importance of being authentic and connected to your work. “You will be successful and happy wherever you can be yourself,” Gonzalez said. “Follow what you enjoy and make it yours.”

Helen Hastings

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“Anyone can be one class away from doing something great!” – Helen Hastings, co-director of She++

Helen Hastings, co-director of She++ (a national nonprofit that provides role models to girls and young women), talked to the girls about college as a senior computer science student at Stanford. “The slope is more important than the Y-intercept,” Hastings told the girls, encouraging them to pursue tech even if they feel discouraged initially.

“Although it sometimes feels like others are way ahead,” she explained, “If girls keep on trying, they’ll surpass others and get to wherever they want to be in tech and in life.”

Carmen Badea

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“Ask for help! Nobody was born knowing everything.” – Carmen Badea, staff software engineer at Intel

Carmen Badea, a staff software engineer at Intel, demoed a facial recognition program that was able to interpret each girl’s face and see where their eyes were landing on the screen.

She also shared how she was able to make an app in honor of a friend and the supportive community she built with her co-workers when she was at DreamWorks Animation.

A PLACE WHERE GIRLS EXCEL

At Digital Media Academy, we’re proud of our Made by Girls initiative and what it’s trying to do to empower America’s young women.

Find out more online about Made by Girls, including special new camps and courses designed expressly for girls eager to get into tech this summer.

Our thanks to all the great speakers and attendees who made this Made by Girls event so special!