On Tuesday, October 24, 2023, IGNITE Students from the West Valley Innovation Center were invited to participate in the first-ever AWS Youth Tech Day! The IGNITE Program Field Trip to the AWS Skills Center in Seattle was a collaborative effort between IGNITE Worldwide and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Over 20 volunteers from AWS gathered to support the event and interact with the students, including inspiring Panelists Jaime Vest, Ming Huang, Leah Schultheis, and Maria Petrova and special guest Peter Cray, VP of Strategy and Operations, AWS Sales, Marketing, and Global Services.
The exciting atmosphere of the AWS Skills Center set the tone for the event, which featured a mix of STEM activities, including trivia and a block coding exercise that instructed students to animate characters dancing. One lucky student had their dance selected to be acted out by the AWS Volunteers and students! Throughout the day, students were encouraged to raise their hands and ask questions directly to the speaker, including whether diverse experiences impact one’s career and if language barriers hinder success in the tech world.
The IGNITE Panel comprised accomplished Amazon STEM professionals Jaime Vest, Sr. Technical Product Manager; Ming Huang, Enablement Product Manager & Global Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Leader; Leah Schultheis, CRM Product Manager, and Maria Petrova, AWS Skills Center Seattle Lead. Each individual shared invaluable advice with the students by highlighting shared experiences and life events that led them to where they are today. Their key messages emphasized curiosity, openness, and the importance of involvement in diverse experiences. The Panelists encouraged students to be confident in themselves, make informed decisions, and have courage in their dreams. “Speak up for yourself; when you find your passion in what you do, you will have more confidence,” said one Panelist.
The students inquired about a range of topics. The questions and answers provided amazing insight and included some of the following:
- Question: “As a company, what are you doing to bridge the gender gap?”
- Answer: “First, recognize that the problem exists. Employ diverse people to ensure all voices are heard – and identify advocates and allies to make space for other women to succeed. Affinity groups for diverse voices (such as Asians at Amazon) help engage, inform, and enable the organization to move forward; these groups also create opportunities for members to increase their knowledge and skills. Pay transparency is important as well. “
- Question: “Have you personally had issues working in a male-dominated field?”
- Answer: “I didn’t think I could have a career in tech because I didn’t think I belonged – the people in my classes and workspaces were mostly men. Know your own worth in the workspace. What helped me was to find a mentor – find another woman who has shared experiences or a male ally who will advocate for you. Find your interests by trying new things, and don’t forget to advocate for yourself; confidence and passion will create opportunities.”
The advice shared with the students further enriched the AWS Youth Tech Day, providing them with an even more comprehensive understanding of the tech industry’s challenges and opportunities. As an added surprise to the day, students also had the opportunity to hear from and speak with Peter Cray, VP of Strategy and Operations, AWS Sales, Marketing, and Global Services. Cray shared his personal story of working in the tech industry and how critical diversity in STEM is for innovation, encouraging the students to “inspire curiosity” in themselves and others.
Educator Devina Khan highlighted the transformative impact this exciting event had on her students. Having come to the AWS Skills Center in Seattle from a smaller city, the students were thrilled to witness the innovative atmosphere, which they found “AWeSome.” The friendly and generous volunteers from AWS left an indelible mark on the students, helping them envision themselves in similar roles in the future. The event was more than just a day; it was a catalyst for inspiring students who will be the next generation of tech leaders.
Thank you to the incredible team of Volunteers who made the AWS Youth Tech Day a resounding success. Nisha Agarwal, Keith Baker, Destinie Barrow, Renae Bloom, Jen Churchill, Jen Dobbelaere, Brandon Dunaway, Nicole Evans, Andrea Fyke, Muskan Goyal, Patrick Kennedy, Kaushik Kompella, Marissa Levy, Candice Ma, Megan Maus, Amy McKenney, Kathy Nolan, James Santa Maria, Justina Schwartz, Jerrell Tate, Billy Thompson, and Jennifer Vasil – your dedication and passion ignited a spark in the students’ hearts. Special appreciation to our esteemed Panelists, Jaime Vest, Ming Huang, Leah Schultheis, and Maria Petrova, for sharing their guidance and personal experiences with the students. Additional thanks to Peter Cray for sharing his wisdom with IGNITE Students. A sincere thank you to Educator Devina Khan for orchestrating the event seamlessly. Your commitment to your students will undoubtedly shape their future endeavors.
Want to learn more about this event? Contact Danielle Long at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After attending this event:
Here’s what the students thought of the event:
“Today inspired me by making me feel like I belonged in STEM as a girl. Hearing everyone’s story about their paths, to where they are now, really showed me that if you set your mind to it, you can achieve it. The biggest takeaways were, believe in yourself, and don’t let people tell you what you can’t do.” – 8th Grade IGNITE Student
“It was nice being able to hear people’s opinions to some of our questions and broaden my perspective. I really enjoyed talking to the employees and being able to hear their stories. It’s reassuring to know that you can get to the same path but go on a whole different adventure due to impostor syndrome or obstacles that happen when you’re trying to pursue your degree in STEM.” – 11th Grade IGNITE Student
“Going through some of the exhibits that were available to learn about inspired me to continue further in the STEM field. Listening to the people from the panel talk about their experiences and what got them through their rough patches in the field showed me that as long as you persevere and keep going, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. I just wanted to thank the volunteers once again for all the inspiring information and their experiences with STEM and with the company. It truly was amazing to listen to all of them. My main takeaway was that even though there is a gender gap in STEM, that doesn’t mean that you can’t pursue a career in this field. Even though everyone has a different background, different experiences, and mentors, you can achieve anything.” – 11th Grade IGNITE Student
“This event helped me continue in a STEM career and to not give up. I really thank the volunteers there for taking their time to give us a fun day.” – 9th Grade IGNITE Student
“This event inspired me to say I can do that and I’m special. I think it was really cool to meet all these people that got told they couldn’t do it, and there they are proving them wrong. I want to say thank you for giving me this experience, and I can do any career that I want to do in life.” – 8th Grade IGNITE Student
“I was inspired by the four women who talked to us and I had a lot of fun.” – 7th Grade IGNITE Student
“This event inspired me to not be afraid to go into a workplace that has mainly male coworkers. This event also inspired me to do what I want to do, and I can go into any work field I want to do. My big takeaways are how big of an accomplishment it is to be able to go into a STEM field even when you are the only girl and stand up for yourself. My other takeaway is that I was given the opportunity to come to this event and learn about all this amazing information and workshops.” – 8th Grade IGNITE Student
“Today’s event made me feel confident and hopeful in my future, especially my STEM career. It was lovely to hear all of the inspirational STEM professionals talk and ask questions. I really liked the hour of code part; it was very fun. I also enjoyed all of the amazing workers; they were very nice and helpful.” – 8th Grade IGNITE Student
“This event inspired me because of all the women talking about how they thought they had no future, but they did. It’s really inspiring to hear their stories saying how they went from not even wanting to do it anymore from people putting them down, but they still had hope. That to not give up and keep fighting. That I can do anything and I’m special.” – 8th Grade IGNITE Student
“The event inspired me because the panelists taught me that you never give up on the career you want to pursue even if it’s mostly male dominated because if you believe in yourself then you can do it. My big takeaways from this event were that I am special and that I can pursue any career that I have an interest in.” – 9th Grade IGNITE Student
“The event encouraged me to be in the STEM field. It also inspired me to be more confident in myself and to prove others that just because I’m a girl I can do things. My big takeaways are that our generation is the future of technology. Another one is that just because you want one thing at first doesn’t mean you have to stick to it, like a career choice.” – 9th Grade IGNITE Student
“This event inspired me to explore more job options and to not be turned away when the workforce is mostly men. Keep learning and stay curious!” – 10th Grade IGNITE Student
“I was very inspired by how the women panelists had their own problems in life but they still did it. I’m so happy that I got to be there and talk with them; they were really wonderful, and I wish to go again. My big takeaway is that I just wish we had more time!” – 8th Grade IGNITE Student
“I loved how all the people told us their life stories. I love how they described everything in detail.” – 8th Grade IGNITE Student
“I was inspired by the panel’s experience in the field and at Amazon. I was especially inspired by one of the women’s experiences as an engineer, and how once you are an engineer you are always an engineer. This stuck with me because I am interested in STEM and engineering, and I’ve been scared to pursue it if I end up not having a job in it, so how she talked about her experience reassured me. I like how diverse the jobs in Amazon are, like how they are a manufacturing business as well as a streaming service.” – 10th Grade IGNITE Student
“Today inspired me because I saw how strong the panelists were and how they climbed up to who they are now. I think it’s cool that they are trying to encourage women. ‘I am special. Take more opportunities.’ was great to hear.” – 9th Grade IGNITE Student
“This event inspired me to keep going with what I want in my future, and not give up, but keep moving forward with what I want and don’t let people stop me.” – 7th Grade IGNITE Student
“I related to what the speakers had to say and the motivation they gave us has given me inspiration. I learned that women in STEM are girlbosses and that could be me one day! Thank y’all so much for having us! I learned so much and loved our visit!” – 10th Grade IGNITE Student
About AWS Skills Centers:
AWS Skills Centers are where the cloud-curious can discover new career possibilities. Explore interactive exhibits, participate in live classes with AWS instructors, and make connections at networking events. It’s all free, and everyone is welcome. No matter where you are on your cloud journey, there’s a place for you to learn at the AWS Skills Centers.
About IGNITE Program Field Trip Events:
IGNITE Field Trips offer a memorable, behind-the-scenes look at STEM in action and the wide range of career opportunities at the host company. Company employees interact directly with the students through an office tour, hands-on STEM activities, and IGNITE Panel and Q&A discussion.
About IGNITE Worldwide:
IGNITE Worldwide is a 501(c)3 nonprofit STEM education organization that aims to change gender and racial equity in STEM permanently and systematically. We work directly with teachers during the school day to provide programming that promotes gender equity and representation in STEM academics and careers. Through our award-winning program, IGNITE provides engaging, hands-on events that connect students with STEM professionals from industry leaders from around the world. Learn more at www.igniteworldwide.org.