On December 8, 2021, IGNITE Worldwide hosted a virtual Artificial Intelligence (AI) workshop with six women in STEM careers at Afiniti for Andy Dekaney High School in Texas. The girls and nonbinary students present learned all about the importance of STEM careers, while also discovering that these careers are accessible to anyone with the right mindset.
The students learned about the critical underrepresentation of female voices in technical careers, as well as the numerous ways STEM skills can be applied to any career. Furthermore, the Afiniti team illustrated the benefits of STEM careers, such as rewarding and meaningful problem solving. Eleni Theodousiou-Pisanelli, Senior Director, Investor Relations & Corporate Development, described Afiniti’s work creating AI to facilitate effective pairing of customers and service representatives.
Following this introduction to STEM fields, a panel of women from Afiniti shared a bit about their life journeys.
Angelica Vasconcelos, Vice President Global Delivery Lead, is a professor and tech speaker who came from an impoverished background in Brazil. Through intellect and determination, she earned a college scholarship to study music. Over time, she came to appreciate the similar creative skills required to engage in STEM careers and the arts. At Afiniti, in addition to performing technical work, she also promotes diversity and inclusion within computer science.
Belma Kaya, VP of Software Engineering, solves customer problems in innovative and efficient ways. She aims to inspire her daughters to know their self worth and be confident in life. Her father, a doctor in small-town Turkey, initially influenced her to join a STEM track for college. Despite failing her first math exam, she persevered and grew into a proficient STEM student and professional. She advises that the students never fear challenges in life.
Fanny Heneine, Senior Director of Strategy, described her experience frequently being the only woman in the room. She excelled at every subject in school, but in college had to make a decision about what to major in. She was socially pressured to study civil engineering, but did not enjoy it very much. However, this program taught her that her true passion was mathematics, so she decided to pursue AI. Her advice would be to always follow one’s passion.
Isabella Russildi, Director of Commercial Strategy, described the positive influence of her parents, who were both engineers. She excelled at math in high school and was certain she wanted to pursue a career in the hard sciences. In college, she studied engineering, but restarted when she realized finance was her true passion. At Afiniti, she gets to combine her interests in data science and business strategy.
Kaylan Coke, a Healthcare Commercial Strategy Associate, shared her circuitous path to a career in STEM. She was always interested in both STEM and the social sciences, initially deciding to become a doctor. However, she realized at a conference about technology in healthcare that she wanted to work in that field instead. She is incredibly passionate about inclusion within STEM because she knows firsthand the experience of being a woman of color in corporate spaces. Her primary advice is to follow your own dreams rather than others’ dreams for you.
Natalie Gomez, a Sales Enablement Associate, particularly enjoys her colleagues at Afiniti. She originally thought she would begin an artistic career because she had a natural creative aptitude and struggled more in STEM. However, she took a course in the programming language R, which inspired her to pursue a more technical career. She doesn’t code on a regular basis, but strongly values the skills programming taught her.
After these introductions, students asked the panelists questions.
Are there any misconceptions about STEM? Panelists have heard STEM is not personal, it’s all technical and antisocial, you shouldn’t do computer science unless you want to sit in front of a screen all day, but they haven’t found these things true at all!
What kind of technical skills should you start learning in high school? Coding is a particularly important skill to explore early on for a STEM career. It’s also good to look at elective courses with an open mind.
Can you do music and computer science together? You can use the same skills to do either; it may be difficult (but not impossible) to combine as a career path. Finding a mentor in an adjacent field would also be very useful.
After the Q&A, students gathered in small groups to work with AI in action!
During the activity, the students were introduced to the idea of AI as a kind of predictive data analysis. Then, they engaged in a rock-paper-scissors game, image recognition, and identification of a drawn picture. These activities demonstrated the versatility of AI in multiple real-world situations.
To close out the event, each panelist offered one last piece of advice to the attendees.
Angelica advised that STEM careers can change your life as well as others’ lives.
Belma said you shouldn’t be afraid to explore different career options.
Fanny suggested that one should research any topic before deciding to commit to a specific career path.
Isabella said it is always OK to change your mind on career paths.
Kaylan advised to follow your passion and forge your own path.
Natalie said to find a mentor who supports your desires and goals unconditionally.
Thank you so much to Eleni Theodosiou- Pisanelli, Angelica Vasconcelos, Natalie Gomez, Kaylan Coke, Belma Kaya, Isabella Rossildi, Tech Host Lindsay Hua, Teacher Tracey White, and IGNITE Blogger Sebastian Rodionov for making this event possible.
After attending this event:
Here’s what the students thought of the event:
“This event helped me discover that I have an interest in AI. Seeing how a computer can learn and, in some ways, outwit a human that taught it and strengthened its algorithm is fascinating. Thank you for your time and knowledge. Pursuing STEM has always felt like a big leap for me and I’ve always worried that I wouldn’t be cut out for it, but seeing people like me pursue STEM is so comforting and motivating to continue.” – 9th grade
“It let me know that I don’t have to like all fields of STEM. I’m inspired to pursue STEM more now that I know that I can go into a STEM career without being amazing at math, my weakness. I love seeing women in STEM because it lets me know that it’s always a possibility for me.” – 9th grade
“This event inspired me to research astronomy and maybe one day work on a space mission with NASA. I would like to say thank you for speaking and inspiring me to pursue my dreams. You are all very strong women.” – 9th grade
“This event has inspired me to be more interested in STEM. It is very fascinating how not many women are interested in STEM. I would like to make a change and I would like to inspire other young girls to consider STEM.” – 9th grade
“It inspired me to go forward with this course, especially with me being a female. I am really strong about more females/nonbinary people being able to do more of things that a man can do. Y’all are really inspiring and seem very kind and hard working females. I really hope I can be at the level you are at in the near future.” – 9th grade
“It made me be more open to pursuing a career in STEM. It also let me know that STEM isn’t just for men, but women and nonbinary people can also do it.” – 9th grade
“This inspired me to learn more and to explore other areas I want to learn to really find what I want to be.” – 9th grade
“Today’s event inspired me to try new things. It also opened my eyes to different possibilities in STEM.” – 9th grade
“Barely any women are in STEM and I would like to be one of those few that are at least interested in it. I am much more interested in STEM than I was before.” – 9th grade
“Multiple women talked about their experiences before and after entering STEM, and their accomplishments have inspired me.” – 9th grade
“This inspired me to see STEM in a different but positive way. I would like to know more about STEM so that it could benefit me in the future.” – 9th grade
“This event inspired me to pursue a career that not many women are in.” – 9th grade
“It has inspired me to look after my dreams, not what others want me to do.” – 9th grade
“This event definitely helps me understand STEM better. It’s inspired me to continue forward and want to learn more about STEM.” – 9th grade
“It inspired me to do STEM possibly in the future. They showed that as a woman you can do anything you want no matter what.” – 9th grade
“I wasn’t aware of STEM but now I consider this as one of the careers I’ll possibly pursue.” – 9th grade
“Today has inspired me to look out for my future and know it’s okay to not know what I want to do in my future.” – 9th grade
“Today’s event gave me the idea that even though there are ups and downs you can still manage to thrive and that sooner or later you’ll find an interest.” – 9th grade