On Wednesday, May 11, IGNITE students at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle welcomed volunteers for two STEM-focused panel discussions during their career day.
Math teacher Kathy Beahn introduced the students to the benefits of STEM careers, including flexibility, improving the world around them, and a variety of opportunities and educational pathways that can all lead to stable and remunerative positions.
The panelists then shared about their career pathways and the obstacles they have faced.
Jasmine Wilkerson, Director of Data Science at KenSci Inc., has had two careers in the STEM field. Jasmine worked as a research scientist in genomics for 12 years before becoming a data scientist. As a child, she was told that engineering was for boys, but she could work in medicine if she wanted to pursue STEM. She was grateful to work alongside doctors and nurses, using genomics to help identify possible diabetics and improve medical science, but she was ready for a change, so she went back to school in her thirties to prepare to work in data science. She continues to learn all the time in her career.
Raquel “Rocki” Wilson works as a Senior Analyst in Third Party Governance at DocuSign, identifying and reducing risks for her organization. She started her professional life by opening Big Bubba’s Burgers, a Washington based restaurant, with her father, and later switched tracks through the 6-month paid internship program at Year Up Puget Sound. She was hired after her internship, and wants other young adults to know that pathways like hers provide alternatives to four-year college degrees. Rocki had her first daughter in 2014, and found that her career in tech gives her the flexibility to have a family and work outside the home.
Shalini Thyagaraja, Senior Program Manager, has worked at Microsoft for 12 years. She has two teenage daughters, both of whom are interested in STEM but nonetheless find that there are very few young women in their coding and robotics classes. Shalini was born in Malaysia but spent her early education days in India, attended high school in the Middle East, and then came to the United States at the age of 19, at which point she had to learn how to adapt to a new culture and learn living on her own! She was quite homesick, but she tapped into her resilience so she could take advantage of the educational opportunities. She advises students to stay curious, find opportunities, and keep asking for help.
Wendy Lee, Product Owner at The Boeing Company, is responsible for discovering users’ needs, prioritizing what to build, and working with the team to deliver the maximum value of the product. Wendy spent her early childhood in Myanmar and moved to the United States in the eighth grade. She loved to sing in high school and took computer science as an elective, though she found it very challenging at first. She was inspired to get better at her computer skills and did extra research to improve. Now, she never gets bored in her work and gets to learn something new every day.
Shaude’ Moore, Program Manager at Amazon Web Services, graduated from Decatur High School in Federal Way, south of Seattle and now works on the security of user accounts and personal information. When she started her position, she was the only woman in security on the West Coast—eight years later, there are now six women, and Shaude’ hopes to inspire more equity in her division. She holds degrees in human services and business administration, and she has had the flexibility to be in school throughout her career, so much so that she is currently working on her doctorate in education.
After these introductions, students asked questions including:
- How did you find a job in your field without a degree in that field?
- How many years of college did you complete?
- What keeps you going on a rough day?
- Do you experience different treatment from men?
- Have you had someone tell you you can’t do something because you’re a woman? What do you advise someone who hears this?
- How do you start networking?
- What clubs or activities do you recommend for someone in high school?
- What does your family think about your success?
Panelists had wonderful and inspiring advice, including:
- Studies show that women often feel they need to meet all job requirements before applying to a new position, but this just isn’t true! Cybersecurity, for example, has over 1 million open positions and the skills to perform this work can be learned on the job. This also means that a certain degree is not necessarily required to enter STEM—it’s helpful to make connections and build skills, but there are many ways to do so.
- Not all STEM positions are all math, all the time—much of the work requires creativity and storytelling, and solid communication skills are crucial to many positions.
- It is helpful to find allies in your organization to support you as well as equity in general. Biases do exist, and they can be unconscious rather than malicious.
- Networking can include just reaching out to people you would like to emulate!
- If someone doubts you, consider whether you can just disengage and ignore them. If you can’t, keep showing up, work hard, and prove them wrong!
Thank you to the amazing volunteers and educators who made this event possible. Thank you to Panelists Jasmine Wilkerson, Raquel “Rocki” Wilson, Shalini Thyagaraja, Shaude’ Moore, and Wendy Lee for sharing their journeys with students, and to Rainier Beach High School educators Geoff Bolan, Kathy Beahn, and Michiko Yee for supporting this event.
After attending this event:
Here’s what the students thought of the event:
“This event really inspired me to keep on going with my dream job. Now I know that I can make it and that I don’t have to be scared.” – 10th grade
“I feel like I could do things that I can actually do, but that a lot of people think I can’t do.” – 12th grade
“I felt empowered to meet five different women from different backgrounds and workspaces. I like how they all were passionate about their jobs and women in STEM.” – 10th grade
“There are many ways you can be in STEM and a lot of opportunities. They did a great job making me feel comfortable. ” – 12th grade
“The women speaking really opened up my mind as to the different paths to STEM. Thank you for sharing what you did. It really gave me knowledge.” – 11th grade
“It inspired me to be more ambitious in pursuing computer science and opened my view on how working in a male-dominant field as a woman can be possible. It was really helpful hearing how they came to work in the field.” – 11th grade
“Thank you for coming and just being so inspiring. It was also very nice to hear about you having a successful professional life as well as a family.” – 11th grade
“It was inspiring to hear people talk about how their path wasn’t always clear and they still made it.” – 11th grade
“Thank you so much for coming today! You really inspired and helped me!” – 10th grade