As we’ve entered Women’s History Month and gear up for the spring, it’s important to celebrate the wins of women.
Our newest scholarship winners — all of which are women — talk about how important opportunities are key to opening doors for them when it comes to their budding careers in tech.
The tech industry still struggles with gender parity. Women hold only 24% of computing jobs. We remain underrepresented in software engineering (14%) and computer science (25%) jobs. For example, women software engineering hires have increased a mere 2% over the past 22 years.
But there are some signs of progress as women continue to break the glass ceiling in tech leadership roles. According to a recent report from Deloitte Insights, women’s roles in the global tech workforce have grown by 6.9% from 2019 to 2022, while their participation in technical roles has increased by 11.7%.
The Future Leaders in Technology Scholarship bridges the gap between opportunity and funding for an aspiring scientist or technologist's future. Here at Virtasant, we award three young scholars (including two high school students and one university or college student) as they work towards pursuing a degree in data science, electrical engineering, or computer science. This powerful award helps advance students, especially those in underrepresented groups, be it Black or African American (who make up only 5% to 8% of the tech workforce, LatinX or Hispanic, LGBTQIA+, Native Indian or Native American (who make up roughly 1% of leading tech companies), and women (who account for one in every four tech jobs). We see and know that these marginalized groups are still missing a heavy-hitting presence in the tech industry.
This time around, our college award presents $2,500 to one university or college student, while two high school student award winners each get $1,000. Since the Virtasant awards program started in November 2020, we have given out 11 awards, totaling $16,000 in funding to support aspiring future leaders of tech through Bold.org.
Each winner is awarded on the passion, drive, and impact of their essay, which answers these questions: “What area of tech are you interested in studying and why?” and “Tell us about a problem that you hope to solve by way of your future education and career in tech.”
Here are this year's three winners, who tell Virtasant about their plans and the stories behind their award-winning essays.
The High School Award Winners
Northwood High School, Silver Spring, MD
Samragyee Dhakal is a 17-year-old high school student at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, MD, who recently found a love of computer programming. After taking a computer science class in high school, she fell in love with coding.
“Almost intuitively, I developed a flow,” she writes in her winning essay. “Lines of code became my colors, the keyboard my brush, and the monitor my canvas. Coding became my art, and art is my gateway to discovering new worlds.”
Dhakal wants to study to be an engineer, and right now, her main tech interests lie in carbon analytics, as well as a prediction model for lung cancer using linear regression. “These projects drove me to research how computer science, particularly data, can benefit women beyond just breaking the glass ceiling,” she said.
Dhakal hopes to get more women into tech. It starts at home, helping teach her younger sister to learn about tech, math, and computer science. It leads to her own personal goal to hire women in the future for her computer science projects, so they can advance their careers and help build a bridge to a brighter future that “anyone can walk across,” she says.
In her essay, she writes about the statistics of women in tech—that there are fewer women in computer science in 2023 than there were in the 1980s. She believes this dip has a lot to do with little girls being discouraged from going into STEM.”
When she got the news that she had won first place for the Future Leaders in Technology Scholarships High School Awards, she was not expecting it. “I felt a bit surprised when I initially found out I won the scholarship, but I am so grateful for this contribution to my education,” she tells Virtasant. “As mentioned in my essay, I see education as a vessel for exploring ideas and solutions to real-world issues. So, winning this scholarship is one step closer to achieving my dream of relieving the patriarchy through STEM.”
Bartlett High School, Memphis, TN
Shanice Handley is an 18-year-old high school student based in Memphis. She is ready for college, having applied to several of them, but is still waiting to hear back about her application for Computer Science programs, and is excited about this next big step in her life.
She credits recently attending Kode With Klossy, a free coding camp for girls aged 13-18 that takes place across the country, where she got the opportunity to code for the first time. “I fell in love with coding,” said Handley. She quickly picked up web development, then created her own website focusing on intersectional feminism. “I want to study computer science because of its relevance in several disciplines, specifically social justice,” explains Handley. “I also want to advocate for young women of color in STEM and show them that they can succeed in the field. Supporting my community motivates me to spark change.”
Her winning essay focuses on her website, Awujo Resources, and how it became a hub on how people can act to support the issues they care about. “From reproductive health to voting rights, I highlighted the hard-hitting issues affecting people across America and the world,” she writes in the essay. “This website ultimately showed me how human-computer interaction can include underrepresented groups and the issues plaguing us. I want to show young students of marginalized backgrounds that they have a place in their chosen fields even if they're the only Black person, Latinx person, woman, or queer person.”
Winning the scholarship was great news to Handley. “Being a recipient of the Future Leaders in Tech scholarship is affirming,” Handley tells Virtasant. “I constantly struggle with feeling like I have a place in STEM and computer science as a young Black woman. Receiving this scholarship reminds me that I do have a place in computer science and I can succeed in this field.”
She adds: “I’m grateful for this scholarship, as it brings me closer to removing the financial burden on my family and me as I pursue my college education. This scholarship is bringing me closer to living the life I want, where I can dive into my passions of computer science and social justice without worrying about my financial situation. I'm ecstatic that I am a winner and grateful to Virtasant for selecting me.”
The College Award Winner
Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Arisa Chue is a 20-year-old university student who is currently in her second year of Stanford University. Chue is currently pursuing a Computer Science major at Stanford with the aim of graduating in 2025, having started in the fall of 2021.
Chue’s academic interests lie in the intersection of linguists and the computer science branch of Natural Language Processing (NLP). She’s currently studying how using artificial intelligence can translate our speech. “I am researching how machines can better comprehend our jargon,” she explains. “More specifically, how do we as programmers improve these machines to increase their capabilities?”
She is already in the workforce, having recently completed a software engineering internship at Meta Platforms in 2022. Currently, she serves as a Section Leader for Stanford’s introductory programming class, leading weekly discussion sections with students and grading assignments and exams.
Her winning essay focuses on her grandmother, who suffered a stroke and left her half-paralyzed on one side, which made speaking difficult. Her grandmother’s difficulty with speech and recovery with speech therapy sessions inspired Chue to start her study in NLP, “connecting humans, machines, and languages through computational methods,” she writes. “This perfectly combined my academic pursuit of computer science and my newfound interest in linguistics.”
Supporting women is key for Chue, who is the president of her school’s Women Interested in Science and Engineering (WISE) organization. She is also a member of Stanford’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE). “Outside class, I find it meaningful to create spaces for women to spread their love for STEM because I believe I can impact the gender imbalance in future STEM classes,” she said. “It leads to more diverse workplaces.”
Winning this scholarship is a game-changer for Chue. “The scholarship helps me continue to focus on my education and be successful at Stanford,” she tells Virtasant. “It enables me to explore the myriad opportunities available to me at Stanford, such as research labs, working to lift outcomes in the local community, and study abroad, among others. I remain incredibly honored and grateful for the scholarship.”