On March 26th, IGNITE Worldwide hosted a virtual workshop with various artificial intelligence and data scientists and business leaders at Afiniti. Girls and non-binary students attended the event from across West Contra Costa Unified School District, San Francisco Unified School District, and Oceanside Unified School District. Students learned about how Afiniti leverages artificial intelligence to improve customer social interactions. Additionally, they were informed about the underrepresentation of women and non-binary people in STEM fields, which leads to less inclusive designs of widely used products. Finally, the girls learned about the many advantages of a STEM career, such as high demand, generous pay, and widespread career satisfaction!
After the facilitator, Lindsay Hua, gave a brief introduction, the students entered breakout rooms to engage in several fun activities! Students learned through a slideshow the differences between narrow and general AI, as well as several examples of each type. Armed with this exciting information, the students entered the interactive section of the workshop!
In the interactive section, students got a chance to learn how AI can recognize rough drawings and how it can even win at rock-paper-scissors through pattern detection. Students especially enjoyed the quickdraw activity!
Following the hands-on activities, the girls had the opportunity to hear directly from a panel of STEM professionals at Afiniti.
Ameera Taseer, Director of Data Science, shared her acute understanding of difficulties girls face when pursuing STEM, and her strong desire to help lessen this social stigma. She described her aptitude for mathematics and sports, and her rebellion against feminine social norms. In college, she was initially intimidated by the overwhelmingly male environment, but gradually became more confident in her technical talent. She advised the girls to be true to themselves and to not fear being “behind” with their life goals.
Alyssa Guo, Director of Data Analytics, described how she engaged in traditionally feminine activities like cheerleading, but also took advanced STEM classes. She emphasized that one can engage in both stereotypically masculine and feminine activities and shouldn’t be pressured into one rigid persona.
Ayanna Fowlkes, Director of Commercial Strategy, spoke about her non-traditional path to a STEM career. In particular, she described her perfectionism and insecurity with her own abilities. Ayanna’s mother taught her that you shouldn’t let fear of failure discourage you from following your dreams. Ayanna transitioned to a STEM career at Afiniti recently and never looked back!
Liuxia Wang, Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Director, shared about her early interest in mathematics while in an environment where girls were not encouraged to succeed academically. She went to the United States to pursue a PhD in mathematics and began her career when AI was an emerging technology. Liuxia explained how more women have joined her workplace over the years, and yet that more progress still needs to be made in this area.
Hannah McCain, Director of the Commercial Team, described how she took a non-standard path to a STEM career. Inspired by her siblings, Hannah studied finance, which was another male-dominated field. Hannah made a transition to Afiniti, much like Ayanna, and despite the risk, she has enjoyed her new position immensely!
Yesra Maqsood, Data Science Architect, initially wanted to be a doctor, but realized she didn’t enjoy biology in high school. She decided to study engineering because she was skilled at mathematics, and later joined Afiniti after another career switch to computer science. Yesra emphasized that it’s never too late to switch careers.
The students then had the opportunity to ask the panelists their own questions, which included:
- Did you ever want a different job than the one you ended up in?
- How did you decide what to major in during college?
- Did you know what college you wanted to attend?
- How did you get a job at Afiniti?
Panelists responses and advice included:
Changing your direction is something that will happen throughout your life. Don’t let anyone force you in a direction that isn’t best for you, and choose your own path.
Being or doing things that are perceived as feminine or masculine are not exclusive, and you can do anything you put your mind to! Don’t let gender stereotypes limit you or prevent you from going in one direction or another.
Creating a network is important for success in most things, and particularly in the STEM field.
Try your best and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s never too late to pursue what you’re good at!
Do hard things and try things that you’re interested in even if you don’t think you’ll be good at them!
Thank you to everyone for attending and participating in this event! We would especially like to thank Tech Host Caroline Dollman, Facilitator Lindsay Hua, volunteer Sebastian Rodionov, and Panelists Ameera Taseer, Alyssa Guo, Ayanna Fowlkes, Liuxia Wang, Hannah McCain, and Yesra Maqsood for helping to inspire girls to pursue STEM careers!
After attending this event:
Here’s what the students thought of the event:
“This event inspired me and it also taught me that no one is stopping me from doing what I love or want to do in the future.” – 7th grade
“I was very inspired by all the STEM AI workers talking about how they pursued their dream. I also liked that everyone talked about themselves and how they got there.” – 6th grade
“I was inspired by how many stories the women had about experiences with overcoming stereotypes. It was great to see that I will be able to pursue any career I want to do.” – 7th grade
“Today’s event inspired me because I have always been interested in how AI and computer programming work.” – 6th grade
“I learned how beneficial it can be to be confident in whatever you do. I was also inspired by the fact that many of the presenters didn’t take “no” for an answer.” – 7th grade
“I am very interested in how computers and computer programming works. AFINITI seems like a great place to work at!” – 6th grade