Our newest scholarship winners, two women of color, talk about how confidence is the key to opening doors for women and girls in tech.
The Future Leaders in Technology Scholarship bridges the gap between opportunity and access. Virtasant awards three young scholars - two high school students and one college or university student - towards pursuing a degree in computer science, electrical engineering or data science. The award helps advance students in marginalized groups, including LGBTQA+, Native and indigenous, Latinx, Black and women. These groups are historically and still missing from the tech industry’s workforce.
The college award offers $2,500 to a university or college student and $1000 to high school students. In partnership with the scholarship search platform, Bold, Virtasant has given out six awards in total to “support the innovative minds that represent the groups and communities that are still getting left behind in tech.”
College student Dilce (Dee) Oliveira is double majoring in robotic engineering and interactive media game design at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Adya Aditi Parida, a high school senior, will attend Syracuse University in New York to focus her studies on computer science and AI. The winners, both 19-years old, talk about their past successes so far and their plans for the future.
As one of the few US teenagers to give a TED Talk, Dilce (Dee) Oliveira was in her last year of high school when she learned that her school’s series didn’t allow student speakers. “I pestered the organization many times, I wanted to have my voice heard,” she explains. “I thought what I had to say was important.”
Her persistence led to her admittance into her school’s event, which led her to apply to give a TED Talk. “They accepted my application,” she said. “They chose two students from my school to talk - me and a classmate.” The talk covers her approach to engineering and technology as a young professional who identifies with both fields. Her interest led to her current studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA.
“I call myself an engineer and a computer scientist and a coder, with robotics—it’s all things that come together. People forget the intersectionality that comes with everything.
It’s just like how I’m a woman, also a person of color and my identity intersects, so does my interest in STEM and tech.”
One example of this intersection is how Oliveira combined robots, mechanics, physics and design for a fiber optics dress that reacts to its surroundings. She combined her passion for fashion and tech and created the dress by hand during the 2020 COVID lockdown.
“I refuse to look at STEM and tech as binary sources of intellect,” she explains. “I refuse to live by binary code. Everything is really connected. In engineering we unlock a new way of interacting with the world. Realizing the intersectionality of technology is really what changed my life.”
She thanks one mentor who helped her along the way. Her engineering teacher in high school was a woman named Jayne Everson. “She is the reason why I’m able to be so forward and really create space for myself,” said Oliveira. “She really taught me how to speak up and voice my opinions and really get in there.”
This guidance is one key thing that Oliveira needed to continue her education. “Going into a field that is a predominantly white and male profession was difficult for me,” she explains. “Going to college and already feeling like I wasn’t taking up space that wasn’t already mine saved me so much time, in terms of having to learn those things, while learning how to do my job.”
Oliveira, who is proving already to be one of the future leaders of technology, says the scholarship will help her pay for books, a laptop, as well as room and board.
“It means the absolute world to me that I was chosen,” she said. “I love that somebody read the idea I’ve been working on for years and built it up and believed in me and my ideas, the future I want to have in technology. It’s validating.”
She adds: “I’m honored to be chosen as a Black woman in this way. I’m hoping it inspires others to know that they can do it, I just hope to be as inspiring to others, as this scholarship was to me.”
To read Dilice’s winning essay, click here.
Adya Aditi Parida
As a new high school graduate, Adya Aditi Parida was just one of eight girls in her class of 50 students. Likewise, in such a male-dominated industry like tech, she wants to help women going forward.
In light of this goal, Parida started a Whatsapp group for women at her high school, Delhi Public School Ranchi in Ranchi, India, with just five girls who study science, math and tech. “We really started from scratch,” she said. However, the group “Girls Who Science” has since grown into over fifty girls. The group is called “Girls Who Science.”
“It’s easy to feel marginalized or as if your voice isn’t being heard,” said Parida. “We should have a space where things aren’t rigid, where we aren’t afraid to speak up. That’s how [Girls Who Science] started.”
It expanded beyond the Whatsapp group into Zoom meetups during the pandemic when her school shut down. Now, the group meets in person for self-starting lectures, problem-solving brainstorm sessions, quizzes and discussions.
“Girls have so many ideas,” said Parida. “They just need a way to express it and not feel judged.”
The Whatsapp group continues to help each girl, one by one. “Whenever a girl had a problem, she would post it in the group and we’d all try to help her,” she said. “It’s a really supportive environment.”
Adya says she’s grateful for the opportunity this scholarship is bringing her. “This is the first scholarship I ever won, I am over the moon,” she explains. “It aligns my passion and interest in increasing women’s representation in STEM, vouching for more diversity in computing and programming. That really attracted me to it.”
The environment in her male-dominated class wasn’t exactly hostile, but it was still impactful. “When you have so many members of one group, it dominates and suppresses the voice; they didn’t do it intentionally but it just sort of happens,” she said.
She’s looking forward to attending Syracuse University in New York as a freshman next year. It will be a change of pace from rural, eastern India, which struggles to keep up with the forward-thinking country.
“The situation has improved a lot over the years. 10 or 20 years ago in India, you wouldn’t hear of women leaving their house alone, never mind going into an engineering career,” she said. “It has shifted a lot and there has been progress. My hometown is very small. Here it hasn’t caught up with the national pace.”
Women Who Science has created room for more girls and women to enter STEM and tech. “It has helped us with our science and math capabilities,” she said. “And to be more confident in general. Once you’re more confident, you can be braver in class and speak out. Ask questions. Ask for help when you need help. We have a purpose, a path to follow. Role models to look up to. that is our biggest impact, influencing younger women.”
Adya’s goal is more than just career-orientated. “No matter what I am doing in life, it doesn’t matter where I am at, I just want to give hope to girls,” said Parida. “To uplift them, give them courage. I’d consider my life well spent if I could make that happen. That would be my dream job.”
To read Adya’s winning essay, click here.
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