Sygma Technology is excited to announce the following winners for our 2019 Scholarship:
Jin Ah Park from Northeastern University
Kaylin Moss from Marist College
Victoria Irene-Marie Medina Hicks from Texas A&M University
To apply, students had to submit an essay on underrepresented groups in the STEM field.
Congratulations, Jin Ah, Kaylin, Victoria!
Jin Ah’s Essay
I have always had an affinity towards technology – the innovation, change, and complexity. Unfortunately, my mother did not support this affinity. Growing up in a patriarchal household and as a housewife with barely a high school education, she believed in gender dynamics and dissuaded me from “male” pursuits. Despite my perfect grades or constantly being one of the top students in my classes, I was still not good enough. I was smart, she always told me, but I was never smarter than a man.
This thinking trickled to my studies. At UC Berkeley, I strayed from pursuing STEM degrees and pursued Economics. Economics provided a good blend of mathematics under the safety net of the “liberal arts” label. However, my interest could not have waned, and I found myself dabbling in a few engineering courses, including Computer Science. I was hooked but didn’t pursue this interest as my mother’s words rang clearly. I did not believe I was smart or talented enough to be an engineer, a “male” pursuit. Consequently, I placed more emphasis on learning how to work alongside, not create alongside, engineers in the industry.
After graduation, I joined Microsoft as a financial analyst and witnessed technology empowering the lives of billions every day. I watched engineers develop technologies to help increase productivity, eliminate invisible barriers through more inclusive design and products, remove biases through artificial intelligence training, and create positive real-world impact. But, as months passed on, my excitement waned, and I felt constrained. My background limited me from directly contributing to these changes at the product level. I wanted to make an impact. Why couldn’t I?
With this frustration and determination, I am currently pursuing a Master’s in Computer Science at Northeastern University with the Align Program – a program designed for students with diverse backgrounds to begin a career in technology. With my Master’s, I take my first steps towards not witnessing but directly developing impactful products. My diverse, non-traditional background and gender will provide a new perspective and not be a restriction. I plan to use my degree to directly contribute to projects that create positive, real-world impact.
Specifically, my interests lie in artificial intelligence in the field of computer vision. I want to apply computer vision to a variety of social good projects for various industries, such as crisis response, education, and equality. I believe that computer vision capabilities such as facial and object recognition and object classification have endless potential and use cases that can be used to tackle some of the most difficult and crucial social problems that span countries. An example of one impactful application is using computer vision for search and rescue missions, either to accelerate the searching process or in areas in which searching would be difficult due to the terrain. Leveraging technology to supplement or enhance human capabilities to help society as a whole, and even save millions of lives, is personally rewarding and fulfilling. Following graduation, I plan to work in a large technology company for a few years to learn how to become a good developer and develop my fundamentals. Afterward, I plan to join a nonprofit for an NGO to work solely on social good projects. The potential for me to contribute through my graduate education and make such an impact in the world is staggering and exciting.
Like me, there are many minorities that do not believe that they can go into the STEM field. Some barriers, such as socioeconomic obstacles, are more difficult to overcome and require larger societal changes. However, there are several other opportunities to help underrepresented groups learn about and pursue a career in STEM. One method would be for companies to have underrepresented minorities represented in executive-level positions. By having greater diversity within a company in leadership positions, the retention rate for underrepresented groups will increase due to a greater sense of community and belonging. This will have lasting positive effects on the organization. Another method would recruit diverse talent by focusing on recruiting efforts at schools that historically have higher levels of underrepresented minorities. This can include having company representatives come and speak to the students to learn more about possible career paths, reviewing resumes and best-recruiting tips, or holding mentoring sessions. By having such events at these schools, students will gain more exposure to various career paths in STEM and will gain more confidence in their abilities to go into STEM.
For those with work experience who want to go through a career change, an interesting alternative appears. Coding bootcamps and master’s programs, such as the one I currently attend, are created to get individuals of various backgrounds exposed to STEM. One specific program, ADA Developer’s Academy is a one-year training program specifically for women and diverse minorities. This program combines six months of full-time classroom training with a paid internship to guarantee its students a path into STEM. It gives each woman in the program a chance to apply their classroom learnings to a real-world setting while providing guidance and support to make the transition.
However, the most effective method would be to expose underrepresented groups to STEM majors and careers from an early age. Going to elementary schools and giving students opportunities through hands-on activities would be a simple way to get them exposed to STEM. Even better would be to bring in various professionals from underrepresented groups to talk and teach the children about STEM. This illustrates to children from a young age that people that look just like them are successful in STEM, so they also can be successful. Several organizations are encouraging minorities to pursue a career in the STEM field through this strategy. Girls Who Code offers after school clubs, summer immersion programs, and mentorship opportunities to get girls exposed to and interested in computer science. Similarly, TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) partners with high schools across the US and Canada to co-teach computer science curriculum with the high school’s classroom teacher.
With these methods and my journey into discovering STEM, it is clear that are no “male” or “female” pursuits and there are no pursuits that are only possible due to a certain race or ethnicity. Everyone has the potential to pursue a STEM career –our journey is ours and no one else’s.
Taco Tuesdays, football Sundays, some days are sacred. When I was in middle school, I had sunset Fridays. Each week I walked to a local marina and prepared for a show. Glistening orange rays burst from the horizon and the ocean became melted gold. Then a plastic bag would drift in the breeze, a plastic bottle would bob up and down in the waves, or the tide would reveal a compressed can of soda. A spectacle ruined. Each week I threw away the trash, and each week I would come back to see the marsh degraded by more filth. I sought a larger solution to this exponential problem and discovered computer science. Technology empowers me to solve practical problems with digital solutions. My profound connection with nature led me to pursue a career in computational sustainability, where I will focus on environmental sustainability and renewable energy in cities.
Computational sustainability is an emerging interdisciplinary field that works to fulfill the needs of the Earth, society, and economy via scientific methods. I aspire to be a frontrunner in my career and in my community as a lead software developer and data scientist. I hope to work with environmental scientists, architects, and biologists to design infrastructure to support sustainable urban areas. I love the problem-solving aspect of computer science; what problem is direr than the state of the natural world? I especially want to focus on low-income cities, because those populations have some of the least access to clean air and water. Such cities are home to African Americans and other historically underserved groups. As an African American, I feel a great responsibility to help my community. I will speak for the marginalized, who are continually silenced. By advocating on their behalf, I can engender monumental change. These low socioeconomic areas are more susceptible to waterborne diseases. Not being able to afford adequate health care or clean water is a stark reality for some who reside in inner cities. Pollution from fossil fuels seeps into natural resources, contaminating drinking water. Access to clean water is a universal human right, the time for positive change is now. Sustainable energy methods are linked to a cleaner environment. Solar and wind energy reduces the tainted emissions released into the air and water. In addition, the majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and cities are a major source of pollution. Computers are able to analyze vast quantities of data and give humans important insight. I aim to help develop the software necessary to gather valuable data from a city and generate optimal solutions. As a future computer scientist, I aim to be a leader who brings each member of my team into the conversation.
I hope to be the type of leader who ensures each member of my team is heard. To me, to be a leader is to sacrifice. A true leader sacrifices time, pride, and predisposed biases for the betterment of the team or community. Yet these types of sacrifices are challenging, especially implicit bias. It is hard to give up a seemingly intangible item one is not aware one possesses. Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to speak on this topic while on a student panel at the Enterprise Computing Community (ECC) Conference. Marist College, the school I am attending, hosted the ECC Conference, where one of the themes was underrepresented student groups in technology. Most of my collegiate computer science courses are composed of Caucasian males, signaling that not enough women and other underrepresented groups are interested in computer science during middle school or high school. I spoke about steps for increasing diversity in the technology field. Changing the narrative surrounding STEM is imperative in increasing gender and racial diversity. Many believe tech careers are mundane and only involve complicated mathematical problems. I used to belong to that some until my high school web design teacher connected the arts to computers. More women and minorities will be interested in STEM if they are able to connect science with their hobbies, interests, and passions early in their academic career.
Diversity of thought is essential in the technology sector, where innovation drives progress. I admire IBM, because they value new perspectives, and actively encourage minority students to pursue a career in STEM. IBM’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program is an example of how IBM strongly advocates for minority students in science. P-TECH partners with high schools, and colleges to ensure high school students from low socioeconomic backgrounds graduate with a high school diploma and associate's degree. What I like about P-TECH is that it encompasses more than academics, it teaches soft skills through mentorships, internships, and workshops centered around STEM. All of this is completely free for students. This past summer, as a part of my internship with the Marist College IBM Joint Study Program, I had the opportunity to mentor high school students from Newburgh, New York. In addition to taking computer science courses at Marist College, I was able to talk to them about what it was like to be a student at Marist, and intern with IBM.
As a college alumnus, I will have the soft and technical skills necessary to make my mission into reality. Unfortunately, without financial assistance, the cost of my computer science degree will hinder my success. When my father was laid off, my family was limited to 1 income, and we are still recovering. Despite a full-time job over the past summer, student loans, and working throughout the semester, I can not fund my degree without additional financial aid. Marist College is more than 800 miles from my home state, South Carolina. In addition to school fees, housing, textbooks, and tuition, the price of transportation is especially expensive. Protecting the environment and championing for the underserved are my top priorities. This scholarship would enable me to stay on my path of altruism, leadership, and academic success.
Tack. Tack. Tack. The sounds of my keyboard as I begin to type this essay. If it weren’t for the inventions of simple commodities to the computer such as the monitor, the motherboard, the keyboard itself, etc., then being able to write this essay in the hopes of advancing my college career would not be possible. However, different technologies require different skills. While computers can be used by anybody, medical technology requires knowledge. I plan to use technology to improve the lives of others by diagnosing and treating illnesses that make life unbearable.
I plan to use machines such as the MRI machine or the x-ray machine to tackle my passion for my future medical career–cancer. Cancer has always been a driving factor in my life, and it was the reason that I chose to pursue the medical field. My grandfather went into remission from lung and esophagus cancer in 2012 only to be diagnosed with stage four brain cancer in the same year. He died March of 2013, and my family has not been the same since. I never want anybody to experience the pain that I felt all those years following the death of my grandfather, so I hope to help people diagnose their cancer early so they can live long and fulfilling lives.
I would not be able to diagnose cancer in the future if it wasn’t for the invention of common medical machines, and the tests used to find traces of mutations of cancer or tests that accurately measure red and white blood count. I want to be able to use this technology to ensure that people can recover quickly and remain healthy for as long as they can live.
As a child, I was never motivated to go into a medical field by anybody. I was never given direction to a specific field of interest until my grandfather died and I found my passion. I was raised in a less-than-stellar neighborhood, and my entire Mexican family lived in a small house that didn’t even have actual flooring. If I were to be directed to the medical field earlier in life, I feel as if I would’ve been able to recognize the signs of my grandpa deteriorating. The vomit, headaches, and blood were all passed off as migraines.
I feel that underrepresented groups can be encouraged to go into the STEM field if schools put more time and care into their science and technology programs. If teachers weren’t paid such low salaries, students would have a better learning experience. Growing up, the phrase “budget cuts” was passed as an unfortunately true joke when the teachers tried to write with long-dried EXPO markers, or when the science class was nothing but an hour-long movie from the ’90s about outdated science.
Students from minority groups would be more interested in STEM if they were shown to be represented in those fields. It is a harsh world for minorities who want to pursue high-skill STEM fields. For example, I once had an advisor tell me that I would never be able to reach medical school. If it was common to see minorities on advertisements or posters for universities known for their STEM programs, then I believe that minorities would believe in themselves and see themselves in STEM positions.
Most minorities are financially disadvantaged, so gaining interest in the STEM field is difficult. STEM requires a significant amount of money, so having events or activities that are free could motivate more minorities to be interested. Funding from the government or local charities could go directly to schools so that events can be held to show students the possibilities and future they could have in STEM.
In this generation, every person wants to live a purposeful life. Pursuing a degree or career in science could save lives while pursuing a career in math and technology could revolutionize the way that spacecrafts work. Being a minority shouldn’t have an effect on somebody’s future success, so massive allocations in funds from the government or charities towards the development of STEM programs and events should be made as soon as possible.
A prime example of the support of STEM areas for minorities is Google. Google has always helped students and educators in STEM education. For example, they have a program dubbed “Made with Code,” that motivates young girls to learn how to code in a male-dominated workspace. Google allows students to have creative ideas and learn how to apply them to real-world situations with worldwide competitions. There is no use in education if it cannot be used to help the world in any shape or form. Google has put over $50 million dollars in nonprofit organizations that close the education gap in schools worldwide. Google has always been a good company in my eyes–a company that believes in humanity and the ability to succeed even in the harshest of situations. Minorities need to believe they have the capacity to succeed, or else the passion for STEM fields will never increase.
Microsoft once influenced me to join a STEM field. I wanted to be a video game designer because Microsoft once sent videos displaying the wonders of the technology field. Microsoft has openly supported STEM programs such as Black Girls Code. Black Girls Code was founded because Kimberly Bryant realized that there was little to none representation of minority girls who code. Now, they hope to train 1 million girls in STEM by 2040.
The New York State Department of Education started a program named CSTEP (College Science and Technology Entry Program) in order to motivate disadvantaged students to pursue STEM in college. The program has shown that the scholars who were a part of CSTEP have become successful professionals.
Without organizations and programs to motivate disadvantaged students to join STEM, there would not be as many people of color in STEM workforces today. While I was not able to see myself growing up as a successful doctor, I hope that the underrepresented generations to come are able to have an equal opportunity to advantaged people. There are right and wrong steps in each path of life, but guidance ensures success.