In-Person Women in STEM Panel with Phillip and Sala Burton High School

On Thursday, January 19th, 2023, IGNITE Panelists in the fields of mechanical and electrical engineering and computer science met with 130 IGNITE Students at Phillip and Sala Burton High School in San Francisco.

Panelists kicked off the event by introducing themselves:

Aarti Gupta, Principal, Head of Data and Analytics at Intuit, is a self-described statistics nerd who has been studying and working in the field for twenty years.

Ayesha Omarali, Software Engineer at Lucasfilm, was the only woman in high school robotics. She advised students to recognize and explore the things that interest them, even if they are scary or unfamiliar, and to trust their gut!

Bhavi Jagatia, Astrodynamics Engineer at Planet Labs, fell in love with space exploration when she learned about the moon landing at 4 years old–and she decided she wanted to be an astronaut! She worked hard to qualify for scholarships to pursue her interest in aerospace engineering and moved from India to the US at 17 to attend Cornell University. While there, she found a love of orbital mechanics and is now working her dream job at Planet!

Bianca Luna-Acosta, Security Consultant at Bishop Fox, grew up just across the Bay in Oakland as a child of immigrants. Bianca was interested in tech through video games, but thought that actually working with computers was for “smarter” people until she took her first coding class and tech boot camps–and she loved what she was learning and turned out to be good at it, too! She met a mentor at one of these boot camps who helped her get her current position.

Fleurette Tapado, Senior Manager, Quality Assurance & Quality Control at Cruise, found high school challenging, though she enjoyed math and earth science. She was good at math, and the passion and love for earth science she saw in her teacher, Mr. Tyler, was both contagious and inspiring. This enthusiasm led Fleurette to pursue engineering, which she now uses at Cruise.

Jing Sun, Software Engineer at Google, has worked on Android applications for almost a decade and was raised by her mother in a remote town in China. She loved the certainty she found in STEM classes, and chose to study computer science even before she had used a computer, simply because it was a popular major. She found during her studies that she felt empowered to change people’s lives. When she first started at Google, her mother’s Android smartphone was among the only ones in her hometown. Now every teenager and adult there has a smartphone. Changing people’s lives motivates her to go to work every day.

Rachel George, Technical Program Manager – Vehicle Software at Tesla, was a shy child, but has gained confidence through her studies. She started with Tesla as an intern on the factory firmware team and was asked back full-time after graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Science degree last year.

Students asked questions, including:

  • What advice do you have for a woman in STEM or surviving in a male-dominated world?
  • Is your salary reflective of the time and effort you put in?
  • How do you know if an opportunity is good or bad?

Panelists gave advice, such as: don’t be afraid to venture into the STEM field and take control of your destiny. Men are still the dominant gender in the field. However, we are examples that when you do what you love, things will come to you at the right time.

Educator Audrey Portley-Bernstein shared how important it was for IGNITE Students at Burton to see some of their experiences reflected by the Panelists, and observed that “Students were very open to discussing things they were concerned about, even choices of colleges.”

Thank you to all the Panelists, Aarti Gupta, Ayesha Omarali, Bhavi Jagatia, Bianca Luna-Acosta, Fleurette Tapado, Jing Sun, and Rachel George, for engaging with students at Burton and sharing their stories. Additional thanks to IGNITE Educator, Audrey Portley-Bernstein, for contributing notes toward this event report.

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 made me feel more comfortable in pursuing a STEM career as not only a girl, but as a woman of color. Hearing about the panelists’ experiences made me more confident in myself because I related with a lot of their stories.” – 12th grade

“I thought this event was powerful and fun. I liked the advice to keep a list of your accomplishments.” – 10th grade

Today helped me, even though I am far away from pursuing my dreams. The panelists inspired me to stay here in the US, even though I came from far away.” – 11th grade

“This event really helped me understand why I should go into STEM. The panelists were really cool and I enjoyed hearing their stories.” – 10th grade

“This experience helped me realize that more women can invest in a career in STEM and not just men.” – 9th grade

“I thought this event was cool.” – 9th grade

“Today inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and try new things. It also helped me feel more comfortable with my decisions. Thank you to the panelists for sharing their stories. I enjoyed learning about things that I previously didn’t know.” – 11th grade

It was great to hear how each woman described their experiences.” – 10th grade

“Today’s event made me realize women can do anything and it was nice hearing everyone’s stories!” – 11th grade

“This event really inspired me and made me open and interested in a career in STEM.” – 10th grade

“Today I learned that I should always go towards the opportunities that are there for me and find a mentor that can help me.” – 9th grade

“Today’s event made me want to take coding classes. Listening to different stories made me interested in STEM.” – 11th grade

This event was amazing and made me happy because they provided such good information.” – 11th grade

I really enjoyed listening to the panelists’ stories and about their careers. They were very inspirational and I definitely feel more confident going into STEM.” – 12th grade

“This event showed me that these women gained more confidence in their STEM fields.” – 9th grade

“Today’s event inspired me because, despite the majority of STEM employees being male, these women were motivated to pursue their dreams. Also, I liked how knowledgeable they were.” – 11th grade

“Today I learned that girls can do anything.” – 11th grade

“I like how the panelists were all persistent and able to pursue the careers they wanted. I’m really happy I had this opportunity to learn about these careers.” – 9th grade

“I liked the variety of jobs that were covered.” – 9th grade

“It was inspirational when the panelists talked about how lucrative being in STEM can be.” – 9th grade

I was inspired by the stories I heard about why the panelists chose to go into their fields.” – 12th grade

The panelists’ stories and jobs were really interesting.” – 9th grade

“It was nice to hear from women about their experiences.” – 12th grade

It was cool to see how women can thrive in male-dominated fields.” – 11th grade

I learned to not be discouraged and there are a lot of opportunities if you have the courage to try. I appreciated the panelists for sharing their stories and was inspired by many of the questions that every panelist answered.” – 12th grade

“It was great hearing all of the different stories about how each panelist chose their career. It was inspiring that each was lead by passion and love, despite what got in their way.” – 12th grade

This event inspired me to study and explore what career I want to apply for.” – 11th grade

Today made me more curious about how things worked when it comes to women’s jobs. It made me think about how my future would work out depending on the career I choose. It was nice to listen and learn more information.” – 10th grade

We got to learn about each panelist’s path and ups and downs. This inspired me because we all go through some challenging stuff.” – 9th grade

“I think today was really great because I got to learn how the panelists picked their careers and the dynamic of working with mostly men.” – 10th grade

“Today inspired me because this school year I have really struggled in getting into engineering but now I feel better about it.” – 12th grade

I’m inspired to try new internships and realize science is pretty cool. It was nice to see women of color in the STEM field and their stories were interesting and inspiring.” – 12th grade

“Today’s event inspired me because of how the panelists talked about their struggles and how they stayed resilient. I have always been interested in STEM, but never really knew what to do. This inspired me to just try and see what happens!” – 10th grade

“This event inspired me because of the way the panelists spoke about their college experiences and how they got to where they are now. Listening to them talk about high school was relatable because I am in highschool now. I wasn’t interested in STEM before, but it was nice hearing so much about it.” – 10th grade

This event gave me more insight into STEM.” – 9th grade

The panelists gave me motivation to pursue something out of my comfort zone. They inspired me to not give up. It doesn’t matter what my background and history are – anything is possible!” – 10th grade

This event gave me more confidence.” – 11th grade

“Today inspired me by hearing how the panelists struggled as women in STEM. It helped me become more confident in my future.” – 12th grade

I feel more encouraged because I know I’m not alone if I want to join STEM. It also made me realize how much women are needed in STEM. I am grateful for the panelists taking time out of their day to share their experiences. It has made me feel more interested and empowered to do something in STEM.” – 11th grade

It was really nice to hear women speak so loud and clear. I learned a lot of great information.” – 9th grade

“This event gave me a different perspective on STEM because a lot of women do it and have a lot of courage in what they do. They inspire a lot of girls like us to want to get jobs related to STEM.” – 9th grade

“Today inspired me to be more confident in what I want to pursue as a career.” – 10th grade

“Today’s event was very helpful in learning about the STEM community and about the women’s journeys to where they are now. I love that they are being themselves and that has inspired me to be more comfortable with myself. I bet there are so many other young women who need to hear their stories and would be inspired to do something in STEM.” – 10th grade

Today’s event showed me how any young girl like me can pursue a career in STEM. It inspired me to reach for my goals regardless of my gender. I appreciated the panelists’ stories and the things they shared today.” – 9th grade

“I loved how all the panelists were very detailed with their answers. All their life experiences were inspiring. They were somewhat close to our age and we learned a lot.” – 12th grade

“This event inspired me and made me have a different perspective on career choices and opportunities available.” – 9th grade

“Today inspired me by making me realize that I have more power than I knew.” – 12th grade

“The panelists shared ideas and careers that I never thought of or considered. They were passionate for what they chose as their career and it inspired me to open my mind to new ideas and thoughts.” – 10th grade

This event made me start thinking about my future. It made me want to look into future careers or internships. The stories were inspiring and made me more interested in learning about STEM.” – 10th grade

Today made me think more about jobs in STEM.” – 9th grade

I thought that the panelists’ personal experiences were inspiring. Their journeys and drive got them to where they are today. I loved everything that was shared today.” – 12th grade

This event led me to be more informed on the different opportunities and careers there are in STEM.” – 12th grade

Today I learned a lot about growth and challenges.” – 11th grade

“This event was very interesting. It inspired me to pursue the things I am passionate about. The panelists’ stories were very interesting and inspiring.” – 9th grade

I now know more about what I’m going to experience when I figure out my career. It inspired me to think about my future.” – 10th grade

“Today’s event has inspired me to look for something that’ll help inspire more women to join STEM. It inspired me to engage in the STEM community and to step out if my comfort zone.” – 11th grade

The panelists really gave me inspiration to work hard for my future.” – 9th grade

“The panelists talked about how they were able to overcome challenges as women. They spoke about how successful they are now and I learned that it was harder for women to get a job like this in the past. The volunteers were able to break the barrier and got the jobs they were aiming for.” – 9th grade

Today’s event taught me not to be scared of new opportunities and that being uncomfortable in a new environment is normal. The panelists offered a lot of helpful insight and made me feel more confident. – 11th grade

Being able to see these women on the stage allowed me to envision myself in their shoes. Their backgrounds were very informative and relatable so it made me feel like I could do it too. It was nice being able to listen to their experience and I appreciate them taking the time out of their day to come and talk to us. I learned a lot and was able to reconfirm my goal of pursuing STEM as a career.” – 12th grade

“Today’s event showed me that I can be successful in STEM fields. It inspired me to persevere and get a good education so I can get a good job. It was very encouraging to see people like me be successful. I thought that it was cool that the panelists were very passionate about their jobs and I found their stories very motivating.” – 10th grade

Being a women is powerful and we have a lot of options. This event made me want to share my story one day.” – 10th grade

This event helped me understand STEM careers. It showed me I could be powerful when I accept and embrace my femininity. I also am inspired to not be afraid to take opportunities even when I’m not exactly qualified for it. It was really fun to learn about all the cool positions there are.” – 12th grade

“I felt inspired that things can change in the future. I learned that you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and to not be hesitant because you have nothing to lose. I love things that involve space and it was cool that the panelists shared similar interests.” – 11th grade

“After this event I am more interested in hacking now. This experience impacted me and helped me think more about what I’m interested in and how to get into that career. I like how they are all very strong leaders who like creating things to help humans and contribute to developing the future.” – 9th grade

It was interesting to hear the stories of how the panelists got to where they currently are in their careers and life. It was encouraging and I feel reassured.” – 11th grade

Today showed me that there are a lot of jobs that I can pursue. I didn’t know that being a hacker was a job you could get. Thank you to the panelists for coming to share your experiences. Having someone else go through experiences that you want to is always helpful for getting advice.” – 10th grade

“I was inspired by how a lot of the panelists were the only girls or one of the only girls in their classes or workplaces. In my engineering class there are only four girls so I related to their stories.” – 10th grade

It was very interesting to hear about the different STEM careers. The stories and paths the women took to achieve what they have today were very inspiring. The challenges they faced to get to where they are showed that with road blocks, there is still a way to achieve your dreams.” – 12th grade

The event inspired me to keep pursuing STEM. I found it very helpful to hear how other women got to where they are in STEM today. It was super encouraging for me to persevere.” – 10th grade

This event inspired me though the shared experiences. They told truthful thoughts about how they got into STEM and how they felt getting to where they are now. It was nice to get such great advice.” – 10th grade

“This event inspired me to push through hard situations and prove to myself that I’m capable of doing something society has stereotype for. The panelists all had bumps along the way to get where they’re at now, but like them, I just can’t give up and will take opportunities that are out of my comfort zone.” – 11th grade

“Today’s event inspired me to be a more outgoing person and to never be defeated by society’s stereotypes and depictions. Always pursue what your passionate about and never give up. I really liked how the panelists were able to share their experience with us and I really liked how they gave us very impactful advice for us and our future careers.” – 10th grade

Seeing these women have jobs they worked hard to get was very inspiring. All their stories were inspiring and it feels good to see not just men having STEM jobs.” – 9th grade

“Today’s event has helped me see that being a woman in a field normally lead by men can be scary. I related to how they felt but also understood that I shouldn’t let my dreams go down due to being the only woman in the field. This experience helped me visualize my future career better.” – 11th grade

The guest speakers were really inspiring and relatable. They were really helpful in answering our questions about what it’s like being a woman in STEM. Their advices were really good!” – 12th grade

“After hearing about each speaker’s experience in joining the STEM field, I feel even more confident that I can join any field as long as I am persistent and dedicated. Learning about how they followed their passion and now have jobs they love inspires me to find a passion that I can do as a living. The advice given today, I am confident I will take with me even after high school. For example, “be comfortable in the uncomfortable” and “take the opportunities like applying to internships as well as jobs that might require something you might not have”. I learned a lot about jobs and just being in STEM as a female.” – 9th grade

I was inspired by how powerful women can become in STEM. It made me feel that women can become leaders and make money just like men. I would like to share how thankful I am to the panelists for coming all the way to Burton High School and using their personal time to talk to young ladies about pursuing a career in STEM. I hope that one day all the students who attended the panel will become successful in STEM because of how inspired we were by the women today.” – 9th grade

It was inspiring to hear women of color talk about their passion for STEM.” – 11th grade