Panel with Google

On November 19th, IGNITE Worldwide welcomed students from Denny International Middle School, Jefferson High School, Saghalie Middle School, Broadview Thomas K-8, Hoover Middle School,  Rainier Beach High School and Central Academy (in Ann Arbor, Michigan!) for a virtual panel and Q&A discussion featuring Google!

Stephanie Vaughn was the IGNITE Tech Host and Lauren Milan, Google, User Experience (UX) Leadership Recruiter, facilitated the panel and began with an introduction to IGNITE and women in STEM. The students learned Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” People who work at Google make:

  • Self driving cars
  • Cool devices like phones, computers, tablets, headphones, and ‘smart’ clothing
  • The world’s most used search engine
  • Tools that map the earth’s cities as well as our planets/stars
  • Business tools for email, calendars, video meetings and documents
  • Youtube

Clara Woods

Clara is a Software Developer on Google Photos. She loved her math and science classes in school and it was at high school that she joined and truly enjoyed a Girls Who Code program. Clara loved logic and solving problems at college, she majored in Mathematics and Computer Science. Others in her college classes had started coding at school and she found it intimidating, however, she did not let that stop her from pursuing her passion. Today, Clara is very happy to be at Google! Clara’s advice to the students is ”Don’t be afraid to try new things.”

Cici Lu

Cici is a Software Developer with Google. She also worked at Microsoft for one year after graduating from college and since then has remained at Google. Cici loved solving problems as a child and her high school was focused on STEM. She was involved in many STEM activities at high school, including designing a contraption to drop an egg without breaking it. Cici was also self-aware about her passion for helping others and she knew that technology can help people and improve lives. Around then Cici was also very motivated to build technology solutions that are gender and racially inclusive. This ultimately led her to the STEM field.  Her advice to the students is “It’s ok to fail and ok to ask for help.”

Joyce Ma

Joyce is a Software Developer at Google. Her STEM journey started in high school, but her passion was biology back then. It was during her biology studies that a teacher and a student put together a website for Joyce to be able to showcase all the data that she had been collecting for fun on the plant ecosystem. It was at this moment that Joyce specifically remembers thinking that it was so cool and that she wanted to be able to start up a website herself. She also recalls seeing a teammate at school draw a rectangle with software that her and her team had developed. She just knew at that point that this was her path. Joyce went to college in China and then got her Masters in the USA. At Google, she has learned a great deal including it is ok to fail, learn from those mistakes! Her advice to the students is “There are lots of women in STEM careers, seek out allies.”

Rachel Hornung

Rachel is a Machine Learning Engineer at Google. She ended up at Google by chance and through encouragement from her professors. Rachel lived in Germany as a child, she enjoyed science experiments and did a year abroad where it was mandatory to take a coding class. She participated in coding challenges, but she did not have confidence in herself so she pursued Business at college and then realised that she was not interested in this field.  Rachel worked at an Aerospace company and has worked on robotics. This led her back to wanting to be a Physicist. She is a firm believer in trying different things out! Even if the description of a STEM club sounds boring, just try it. You might be surprised. She did not have a clear plan but she found that when she followed her gut things just worked out. Her advice “Don’t get discouraged by other people’s prejudices.”

Monica Caraway

Monica is a UX Researcher at Google, she loves her user experience research. She has had a lot of different jobs, e.g. designer, english teacher, bookseller, restaurant hostess. Her advice “You don’t need to have your whole life figured out now. Seek out the things you are passionate about”

Safia Ali Safia is Head of Design at Google. She grew up in Pakistan and her role models were wonderful mothers, grandmothers but there were not any females in her life that were career oriented. There were not any organisations like IGNITE growing up and even though Safai was actually a good student, she did not like the regimented style of teaching. She loved art and pursued it in college, eventually focusing on web design. Safia’s advice, “Find that one thing you are really good at, you will make a career out of it.” Artists too can make a decent living nowadays. Try robotics, try the variety of STEM classes and see what excites you. Safia ended with “Learn how to work well with others. Being a team player is a key trait.”

Students asked a wide range of questions including:

Q: What kind of degree is needed to pursue a career in machine learning?

A: Any computer science degree is a good place to start, here you will learn computer science fundamentals and then you move to specialisation such as machine learning.

Does Google have internships for highschoolers?

High school internships at Google are limited and COVID did not help, but please do stay tuned! Google plans to stay connected to IGNITE and with the teachers here today.

What beginner classes are available to learn UX and UI design?

Jacob Neelson courses are an excellent good place to start. Other options are also Adaptive Path (1-5 day courses) and Openclass which is FREE!

What kind of technical skills can I start learning now?

Most important is curiosity, problem solving, collaboration, design thinking, analytical skills. The technical skills will always evolve with the technology stack. Be curious about the mechanics behind the scenes of anything.

Take something that interests you, for example an application or website and tinker on it. Always ask “why”. You will be taught how to make something but in engineering we need to know why we are developing something, this will inform the how.

Thank you to Lauren Milan and Sara Kuethe at Google for working with IGNITE Worldwide to put together this amazing, inspirational day! Thank you to IGNITE’s Tech Host, Stephanie Vaughn, and Blogger, Khyati Vyas for making this day possible. Thank you to all the panelists who were open and vulnerable sharing their stories with the girls.

After attending this event:


of students are interested in STEM

Take STEM Class


of students know more about STEM career choices and the benefits of working in a STEM field

Ask Teacher about Additional STEM Activities


of students feel more confident in pursuing STEM


of students gained perspective and feel more hopeful about the future

Here’s what the students thought of the event:

This event inspired me because when the different role models told us their experiences, it helped me believe in myself. All of the motivating messages that the STEM staff gave us helped me see that I am able to achieve and be successful in life. This event I participated in has been a huge experience in my life and will have such a positive impact on me forever. – 7th grade

This panel really inspired me to pursue a career in STEM because I saw people like me who have succeeded in their jobs. That is a truly amazing thing. – 7th grade

Today’s event inspired me because I saw women who looked like me and it made me feel represented. It also makes me feel more curious and hopeful about my future. – 11th grade

Today’s event inspired me to work in a STEM company. And to ask my teacher to give me some websites to do more coding since this year I don’t have Computer Science at my school. – 8th grade

It really told me that STEM doesn’t revolve around gender or race. If you work hard enough you can achieve anything. – 9th grade

I’ve always been interested in engineering, but hearing from the panelists made me feel excited about the future of women in STEM. It really gives me the confidence to know that the STEM field is growing more exciting and that there are a lot of pathways into this field. The panelists emphasized that it’s okay to fail and to try out new things, which I think is really important. – 11th grade

It really made me feel so confident in myself because I like how hard they try to be what they want. – 6th grade

What really inspired me was hearing about everyone’s story of how they got to where they are today. I learned that you need to get out of your comfort zone and try new things to grow. Also that if you really want something, you can get there. – 11th grade

Today’s meeting was inspiring in the sense that I never actually get to hear and speak to women (especially people of color) who take male-dominated jobs like the ones on the panel. It makes me feel more reassured about wanting to pursue a job in STEM. – 8th grade

I really enjoyed this event because it showed me that I could have a career in STEM if I wanted to and it showed me that a lot more girls are also interested in it too. – 7th grade

Today I learned to not judge the activity without trying it out. It’s ok to fail and to ask for help. Every girl is as strong and smart as every boy in the world. – 7th grade

I really appreciate everything they said. I often worry about not having a plan, failing, not being the most experienced, etc. but they definitely made me feel better and more confident. – 11th grade

I enjoyed this meeting a lot. It made me change my mindset on things and I’m more confident in myself. Thank you! – 11th grade

I would like to tell the panelists that they really helped me and I hope to be like them someday. – 9th grade