Panel with Womxn in STEM

On January 22, IGNITE Worldwide welcomed girls and non-binary students from Rise University Preparatory, Everett Middle School and Yosemite High School to a virtual panel discussion with 5 womxn STEM professionals!

Beth Kester-Warner, a recruiting manager for ExtraHop Networks, welcomed everyone and shared some background information on IGNITE. She introduced each school instructor and teachers shared the STEM opportunities available in their schools, including classes in coding, computer science, tech workshops, website design, wearable LED technology and many more! Beth also touched on the need for women and non-binary people to create a diverse STEM field. STEM is one of the hottest industries and we take for granted the STEM we all encounter on a daily basis! STEM offers high-demand jobs, amazing salaries, and fun!

After the introduction, the panelists took turns sharing about themselves:

Harveen Kathuria, a Senior Manager in Product Management at Salesforce, loves that her job is to come up with new ideas and then lead her team to make those ideas a reality! It is important for her to listen to her surroundings and fulfill the needs of the public. 

Sahana Sasikumar, a Software Development Engineer Intern at Bond Intelligence, is currently a student in 12th grade and is starting her career in STEM. She shared how being the only girl in her STEM classes was intimidating, but she knows that STEM is her passion and she isn’t going to quit! Sahana said that believing in yourself is key.

Laneia Murray, a Software Engineer at Outreach, did not have many role models as a child and found their dream STEM career much later in life. They encourage students to try as many different areas as possible in STEM until you find a fit. Don’t be afraid to switch and try it all!

Valerie Olague, a Sr. Program Manager at Microsoft, shared that when she was younger there were no Apple laptops, Personal Computers or advanced computer software. She believes that if she had these things as a young woman her future would have been much different. Valerie encourages students to take advantage of all the advancements we have, because your potential has no limits! 

Kendrick Umstattd, a Software Engineer at Google Maps, had no idea what engineering was as a young woman. Her math teacher inspired her to explore STEM fields, and Kendrick enjoyed the puzzle solving aspect coding. Her passion to be a coding “detective” drives her to work hard and find new ideas!

After hearing from the panelists, students got a chance to ask questions, including:

  • Did you think you would study one thing and then change to a different career? If so, what inspired you to change your career path?
  • What was the moment or event that inspired you to dedicate your future in STEM?
  • What was your initial feeling about STEM? 
  • How would younger you react to your job and the technology that you’ve created? 
  • What skills or mindsets are necessary for success?

The panelists shared that many of them did not know about STEM growing up. Their paths were not linear and they found many different forms of inspiration along their journeys. Some started as photographers and biologists before becoming computer software engineers. The speakers all encouraged students to try as many different STEM areas as possible and to not be afraid to change your mind! Not only could you find your true passion, but you could also discover skills you never knew you had. 

All speakers agreed that STEM can be intimidating and you might feel uncertain of your capabilities, but don’t let that be an obstacle. STEM is a very versatile field, and there are so many different things you can do! It will take time to learn and feel comfortable in certain classes and situations, but take it one step at a time and always believe in yourself. There is nothing you can’t achieve if you put your mind to it!

Other advice included:

  • Follow your interests and take classes to fulfill your dreams, but always be open-minded to other opportunities that come your way. It’s ok to change your mind.
  • Find like-minded peers and a mentor or a support group to help you navigate STEM and decide on an initial path.
  • You don’t have to be perfect, and it’s okay to fail! You only need passion and a willingness to learn.
  • You have more capabilities than you will ever know! Never doubt you are able to pursue a STEM career, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

It was encouraging to see that the panelists all clearly find joy in their careers! Each speaker had different life experiences and goals, which allowed for many different perspectives and varied advice. Students were inspired to keep exploring and to keep being curious, which will help them become life-long learners. 

Thank you to everyone for attending and asking such insightful questions, to amazing volunteers Beth Kester-Warner, LaTeefah Johnson, and Jeanie Ramos for making this event possible, and to Harveen, Sahana, Laneia, Valerie, and Kendrick for being so supportive and inspirational and IGNITE-ing new possibilities!

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


of students gained perspective and feel more hopeful about the future

Here’s what the students thought of the event:

“It helped me see that there are opportunities to use STEM in many different careers. This was helpful to me because I love things like art, sports, cars and it was inspiring to hear that there are opportunities for STEM that involve those things. Thank you for sharing your experiences, both positive and negative. It really helped me consider a future career in STEM. It was really inspiring to see women and diversity in huge websites like Salesforce, Google Maps, Microsoft, etc. So thank you.” – 8th grade

“This inspired me to be more open-minded, more confident, and more willing to try new things.” – 9th grade

“This event really inspired me and boosted my confidence. It helped me realize that now I may think that I’m not smart enough and I won’t be able to accomplish anything in life but I actually can. This event has encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and try new things and to pick myself up every time I feel like I have fallen.” – 9th grade

“Today’s event has inspired me to go into the game industry, and try my hand at it. It opened my mind that there are people like me, who want to go into the technology industry. It opened my eyes that the world is changing, more job opportunities are opening and it’s not like how my parents grew up. It has opened my eyes that there are more jobs than just a doctor and lawyer. I would love to join the game industry and it helped me that I don’t have to follow what my relatives, and family grew with. Because the world is changing, I must change with it, and that I can follow my dreams.” – 7th grade  

“Today’s event inspired me a lot. It inspired me to follow my dreams even if people say you can’t. Also even though you’re the only one in your kind, that does not mean you should stop following your dreams. Also I know now that I should try new things and if I don’t like them, move on.” – 7th grade

“That women can do anything and don’t be afraid!” – 7th grade

“It’s made me realize that these jobs can be for everyone not just men, and I can make a good amount of money working in this field. I want to thank [the panelists] for going out of their way to talk to us about this field and now I’m more interested in STEM.” – 9th grade

It inspired me that I don’t always have to go to a certain school or a certain college to pursue my dreams. All I have to do is work on myself and practice on what I dream of doing so I can pursue my dreams.” – 7th grade

“This inspired me to go to more STEM classes and doing things without feeling like I am going to be excluded. Also it made think that I can do anything I want. Thank you for taking time out of your day for this. Also thank you for giving such great information.” – 7th grade

It has inspired me not to be discouraged in doing what you love. It made me feel that if I thought I could do something I can. Thank you for speaking to me and my peers. I love how you guys are you strong minded and I like your drive.” – 7th grade

“Today’s event taught me to not be intimated from STEM being dominated from men. It also taught me to be confident and go for what you want. Thank you for sharing your stories about how you got into STEM. Your stories inspired me and now I am even more interested in STEM.” – 8th grade

Today’s event inspired me by knowing the income potential, and various fields of sciences. I’m also encouraged by seeing other girls my age here. My dad works in IT. He team is all male. My mom is in accounting, most of her team is also male. Women must set their horizons broader.” – 8th grade

“The panelists explained things thoroughly. Now with thorough explanations and understanding, I know the bare layer of what to do and it’s really helpful. The volunteers were very kind. They also answered our questions in a very thorough way.” – 9th grade

“It was very fun and informational. Today showed me that STEM is a very good choice for a career. I really enjoyed todays meeting! I now have more ideas of what I want to do when I grow up.” – 7th grade

“I learned a lot today, and I would like to thank them for encouraging me and just proving that we could do anything even if in the beginning we might not like it or find it as interesting.” – 9th grade

“Up till now I used to think that I shouldn’t try and pursue big jobs like being a doctor, lawyer, or an engineer. But now I know that I can thanks to you guys, you have made me realize that it’s up to me if I wanna work hard for it and I really want to. Their stories have really inspired me to work on myself and not let other people put me down because at the end of the day they’re not living my life and they don’t get to choose for me.” – 9th grade

This event helped me get encouraged and helped me choose what I want to do. And it also helped me be OK about changing my mind. I’m auditioning for an art high school with design and architecture. I’m very nervous that if I don’t get in and this really encouraged me.“ – 8th grade

“It was really cool to see women who have jobs that they love. And it’s encouraging to hear from people who didn’t even know what they wanted to be–or who thought they knew, but completely changed paths. Their stories and advice were all extremely helpful and inspiring.” – 8th grade

“I learned how it helped other people with their future. I really don’t know what I want to do in my future so I think being here would help me know what I want.” – 7th grade

It inspired me to look for career paths that I wouldn’t normally.” – 8th grade

“You made me wanna pursue things I never thought of. You guys followed your passions and became really cool people.” – 9th grade

“When they were answering the questions they explained some of the thoughts and struggles about STEM and how some of them didn’t know [or] even think about being in STEM in the first place. It was very cool to see y’all today and hear about your jobs and experiences.” – 8th grade