Panel at Lincoln High School


10/22/19 | IGNITE Panel at Abraham Lincoln High School | by Tania Padilla

On Tuesday, October 22nd, Lincoln hosted 5 STEAM professional women for a panel discussion during lunch in the Library. We were wowed by the impressive turnout of 118 young women! We began the panel by welcoming the girls and thanking them for attending. During the opening introduction, I asked the students why they think we’re together for the event and why they think IGNITE focuses on exposing girls to possibilities in STEM/STEAM. The girls jumped right in offering insightful responses such as the gender disparity in technology fields and the lack of exposure that many girls have to opportunities. I affirmed and thanked them for their responses and added that STEAM fields, Technology fields especially, are the fastest growing industries with many exciting career opportunities and that those jobs pay very well.

After the introductory talk, I welcomed the speakers to share their stories. The panel began with Elizabeth Kupfer, Layout and Animation lead at Fable studios. She shared insight about pursuing a career in art and technology even though her family had other plans for her, and how her job working in animation integrates many diverse disciplines such as art, physics, and math. Following her was Jeannice Riahi-Samani who shared information about her career as an innovator and technologist that works to strengthen groups and organizations, and impressing us all with her extensive education background.

Then Zoya Khan shared her story, creating a strong empathic connection with many of the students when she explained that she felt like her parents had presented her with just 3 career options, Doctor, Lawyer and Engineer and how she decided to choose her own path studying neuroscience with emphasis on empathy as well as film and video studies. She advised the girls to “take up space” and know that they deserve these opportunities. She was followed by Shiya Luo who talked about her career as a software engineer and how she defined her goals and persevered. The stories were closed with Salma Gherraby who made a 24-hour journey from Morocco to the United States, who reminded the students of the many excellent opportunities that they have and told her story of overcoming great adversity to become an award-winning technologist and how to navigate with self-assured power in male-dominated spaces.



Then we had the Q and A portion of the event. Although the question reference sheets had been passed out to the girls, most of the questions were unique and authentic reflections of the girls’ curiosities. They asked questions such as “My parents told me that I should not pursue a career in something that I am passionate about because I might burn out on it, and instead I should choose something that I am okay with. Do you think that this is true?”, to which Elizabeth Kupfer responded that she chose a career of  animation, which is her passion and she has stayed passionate and excited about her choice. She noted that there have been periods in her life when she has felt overworked and then needed a break, but that was more a matter of self-care and that she has been happy with her choice to pursue her passion as a career. Jeannice Riahi-Samani and Zoya Khan also encouraged the girl to pursue her passions and do thorough research on the opportunities available in the fields that relate to her interests.

Among the many other questions that students asked was, “How did you decide what to study in college?”, to which Jeannice Riahi-Samani responded “This is a good time for you to begin seeking mentor figures that can help you navigate. What subject(s) have been exciting for you?”, the girl responded BioTechnology class was interesting and fun, and Jeannice suggested colleges that she could visit to see their labs and science programs to support her decisions of what and where to study. The Q & A was supportive and in tune with the students concerns and curiosities. The speakers generously offered their emails to be shared with all the participants to continue their support and mentorship, and help connect the students to meaningful and relevant resources.

We all left the event feeling inspired and excited about future opportunities. Some insights that girls shared in their surveys were “I was inspired by how powerful and assertive the women in STEAM fields are and the work that they’re doing to include young girls.” and, “A highlight was hearing the many outcomes of taking risks to do what you are passionate about, and how big of a role each of us has by choosing to do something we’re passionate about, even if it’s not traditionally “meant” for us, also to take a college risk, and not just study what I am already good at.” We are very grateful for the time these inspiring women volunteered to share their stories and wisdom with the next generation of powerful female leaders!!


After attending this event:


of girls/non-binary students are more interested in STEAM!


of girls/non-binary students want to study harder to attend college and further their education

Here's what the students enjoyed most:

I enjoyed how each speaker shared their personal story of pursuing their own dreams instead of following someone else's.

I enjoyed relating to some of the speaker's struggles and found their stories inspiring. They faced many hardships as women of color, but still found their path and became successful. I liked how one of the speakers related to the audience about the struggles of being Asian.

Hearing stories of panelists; their advice and answers. Just watching them speak made me feel proud to be a young woman.

I enjoyed learning about what the presenters had done. It inspires girls to keep improving themselves.

The story of the speakers inspired me, especially the story of 2 immigrants since I'm also from another country and struggle a lot with the new country.

I enjoyed hearing about their past experiences and what job they wanted to pursue before. It inspired me to trust in myself and go do what I want.

I was inspired hearing speakers talk about how they defied norms.

I enjoyed seeing underrepresented women in power positions.

I enjoyed hearing all of their experiences. It inspired me to research more about STEM.

All the women of color in STEM fields and now all said to follow your dream and its OK to take risks.

Just never change your interest if you're interested stick to it. Any careers could involve STEM. I am inspired to look up STEM jobs.

I learned that math can involve art.

I enjoyed hearing their stories and how they got interested in STEAM. It inspired me because it's possible that I can do it too and maybe I can also be successful.

I learned that art is involved in STEAM and that art actually includes math. I also liked that business part of STEAM.

I enjoyed seeing powerful intelligent women who are in male dominated areas.

I was inspired by the amount of STEM opportunities and how there are so many things to do in STEM.

Wide panel of women from different ages and backgrounds that inspired me to believe anyone can do STEAM.

I enjoyed listening to the stories of the hardworking and brilliant women. It makes me feel very fortunate to have so many opportunities.

I felt inspired by all the women that shared, I enjoyed listening to their stories and how they broke stereotypes and followed their passion.

I really enjoyed listening to their stories because being able to listen to their talk about how they were put down but were able to get back up is really inspiring.

How some of the women traveled the world to heighten their education and themselves.

I loved hearing people overcome societal barriers.

I really liked the diversity of all the speakers. It was inspiring to see so many diverse, successful women.

I enjoyed the diverse speakers' stories and the information about the different careers in STEAM. It inspired me to learn more about IGNITE and to pursue my interest.

I enjoyed the background stories of the women in the panel. Their background inspired me that I could do anything, no matter where I come from, if I just work hard enough.

I liked hearing about how these women have STEM/STEAM successful careers after working hard to achieve them. It inspired me to learn more about STEM/STEAM careers and work for one in the future.

I enjoyed hearing about how they all faced impediments and had challenges but in the end they broke barriers. It was motivating.

All of the speakers inspired me because they took risks which turned out successful.

I enjoyed learning about the panelists' experiences where they built up experience in STEM to where they are now. This inspired me because it taught me to keep trying in school to get to my goal.