On Thursday, March 16, 2023, Cruise was thrilled to host 22 IGNITE Students from Westmoor High School, Jefferson High School, and Claire Lilienthal K-8, to teach them about autonomous driving. Cruise’s goal is to transform the transportation industry by making a safe, reliable, sustainable, and inclusive self-driving car service for ride-hail and delivery. Cruise was excited to introduce the vehicles to the students, teach them a little about how the car “thinks”, and share stories from women Cruisers.
To start the event, IGNITE Facilitator Kelsey Abdollahian welcomed the students and explained the day’s agenda. Kelsey is a Technical Program Manager in Hardware and co-chair of Empowering Women of Cruise (EWOC), the women’s employee resource group. She shared a little about the company and played an inspirational 2020 video from founder and CEO Kyle Vogt.
After sampling some of the free snacks, the students took two tours. First, they visited the garage, where the Operations team deploys the vehicles, and technicians maintain, troubleshoot, and upgrade them. R&D technician Jose Nunez walked them through the AV technology and operations. Next, Vanessa Hadlock (Vehicle Reliability Engineer and former Cruise intern) led them to the Origin, an AV designed from scratch by Cruise, GM, and Honda. The students got to see (and sit in!) this brand-new vehicle that will soon deploy on public roads.
After the tour, the students grabbed lunch and learned a little about the IGNITE Worldwide organization. Then they heard from three women panelists at Cruise:
Fleurette Tapado is a Sr Manager of Quality Assurance. Her team ensures that the AVs are high quality and safe. She described how, when she first started her career, she was sometimes challenged by others for the way she looked and for being a woman. She pushed past others’ negative thoughts, grew her confidence and expertise, and expanded her career.
Caitlin Stanton is a Software Engineer working on acoustics boards, writing software that listens for emergency vehicles or enables customers to talk to a remote operator. She talked about wanting to be an architect before falling in love with coding at a summer boot camp.
Jamala Massenburg is a Sr Manager of Hardware Programs and plans for the introduction of new hardware components. She shared how she has worked on the design of products from educational toys for children to the Amazon fire TV stick, showing the wide range of opportunities for engineers.
During the Q&A, the panelists answered questions such as:
- What challenges had they faced being women in tech?
- How do you build confidence?
- What education is needed to get into the tech industry?
After the panel, the students participated in an activity to learn how an AV drives. They divided up into small groups, and each took a turn being Controls (operate the vehicle), Planning (tell the vehicle where to drive), and Perception (describe the world around the AV). This exercise showed the students how the different pieces of technology fit together to make the car go. The students had a lot of fun trading roles and challenging the AV to make it through complex driving scenarios.
The students, teachers, and Cruise volunteers all had wonderful feedback and left the event with grins on their faces. There was only one regret – next time, the students want to take a ride in an AV!
A huge thank you to Cruise volunteers Nithila Raman, Vera Link, Carolyn Oswald, Kahye Song, Ramya Nagarajan, Marquis Scott, Erin Miller, and Sony Mohapatra. Thank you to the Cruise tour guides Jose Nunez and Vanessa Hadlock. Additional thanks to the panelists Fleurette Tapado, Caitlin Stanton, and Jamala Massenburg, as well as IGNITE Facilitator Kelsey Abdollahian. We also thank the students from Westmoor High School, Jefferson High School, and Claire Lilienthal K-8 for their enthusiasm!
After attending this event:
Here’s what the students thought of the event:
“This event was really inspiring because it proved that if I try, I am able to pursue a career in STEM. I think it is really important that today we saw real-life examples of women in this field. It showed me that if I want to, and put in the work, I can pursue a career in STEM. I can learn a lot more when I know my options.” – 7th grade
“This event showed me that even though I am a girl, I can do whatever I want. I enjoyed learning how the cars were developed and I am inspired by seeing women do jobs that women don’t normally do.” – 7th grade
“Before this event, I was pretty undecided on what I wanted to do, but now I feel something is motivating me into challenging myself and exploring different fields of the tech industry. I want to take the time to really lay out my potential options and see what I want to do. A big takeaway for me was that I realized the scope of what I could potentially do as a career is bigger than what I imagined. I thought I would need to be good at a particular skill in order to take STEM up as a career, but this trip changed that perception and inspire me.” – 12th grade
“I really enjoyed today’s event, especially the panel. I learned more about the logistics of how Cruise works and heard more personal experiences from the panelists. As women in STEM, we already feel the need to be perfect or over-achieve, but in reality, as long as we try and put ourselves out there, it’ll be okay. I also learned the thought process of creating self-driving cars is really complex.” – 12th grade
“The panel was amazing! Hearing from all the women who work at Cruise and getting the career path inspiration was great. My big takeaway was not to be scared to try new things. All the volunteers were amazing and they talked about how they became who they are in STEM.” – 12th grade
“I liked the environment of this workspace and what it offers. I think it is very cool to work at a company that makes self-driving cars. I loved how we were able to see behind the scenes and how they were able to make the car work without a person driving.” – 12th grade
“I explored the many aspects of the STEM field and what autonomous cars can do and need to operate. It opened my eyes to see how many components come together to make one thing. The big takeaway was that girls need to be more involved in this field to fill the gender gap and apply to internships for more experience and opportunities in the field.” – 11th grade
“Today’s event inspired me to get a job I want, even if others say I shouldn’t do it because of my gender. It was new and interesting to get to know more about Cruise.” – 7th grade
“I am inspired to see women in jobs that women don’t normally have. I also learned how many people it takes to build a car.” – 7th grade
“This event inspired me because, during the panel, the speakers spoke about how they got to where they are. I learned about how they found their passion and how they overcame challenges. Also, they told us about the code and technology in their cars. My biggest takeaways are not to change yourself for others and to pursue what you’re interested in.” – 7th grade
“This event helped me understand what it is to be a woman in STEM. It helped me figure out how to be confident and a strong woman. It also inspired me not to be afraid to do what I want. My big takeaways were that it is okay to follow your dreams. I also learned not to let someone else change my dreams.” – 7th grade
“Today’s event inspired me to grow up and be a scientist. I also learned that it takes a lot of parts to make a system.” – 7th grade
“Today’s event inspired me by teaching me about tech. It also taught me a lot about self-driving cars and that it takes a lot of parts to make a system.” – 7th grade
“This event inspired me to look into self-driving cars more and to be more confident in pursuing my dream job. Self-driving cars are way more complex than I thought, and the programming is very difficult.” – 7th grade
“This event inspired me by showing me how and where self-driving cars are made. I learned about how many women are in STEM compared to men.” – 7th grade
“Today’s event inspired me to learn how to build more things. I loved the staff that was with us and they made me feel comfortable about STEM and how the Cruise cars can navigate.” – 7th grade
“It was really amazing for me to hear women in STEM talking about their experiences. I really appreciate hearing what it’s like to be the only woman in the room, and I learned a lot about how maybe you’ll surprise yourself with something you are good at.” – 7th grade
“Today’s event inspired me by showing me the cool things Cruise makes and by hearing the stories from people working on the projects. Women can be whatever they want to be, and some dreams are achievable.” – 7th grade
“The panel was good and they talked about helpful things. I learned that it’s harder to program than you think, but it’s worth it.” – 7th grade
“This event inspired me because I am a woman and now I know I wouldn’t be alone in STEM. It showed me that women can pursue their interests as well.” – 7th grade
“I want to try coding, mechanics, and other STEM fields. It was nice to see women as role models. Today showed me I can do anything I want to, whether it is a male-dominated field or not.” – 7th grade
“This experience inspired me by making me more confident. Thank you to the volunteers!” – 7th grade
“This event inspired me by showing me the challenges other women faced to get into STEM. It taught me that women can pursue their interests.” – 7th grade