Katja Liebing/Courier - Students listen to guest speakers at the She.Codes computer science conference
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Five professional women gave their perspective on how to make it in the computer science and STEM-associated fields during She.Codes’ annual #Include Women in CS conference on Nov. 18 in the Creveling Lounge.

Kristiana Rendón, president of She.Codes, started off the event by explaining that the goal of the club is, “to be able to get girls to come into computer science and more women [into] innovative projects.”

“I’m one of one of the very few girls in the class; I want to bring more women to CS,” Rendon added.

The first speaker of the evening, Michelle Easter, chronicled her journey from a fashion model in Tokyo to eventually becoming a NASA mechatronics engineer, where she researches and builds software for mechanisms by using code and mechanical techniques. She explains that it wasn’t easy evolving to her new career.

“You need to have a thick skin,” she said. “I’ve buckled down on it and gone through full force.”

Not only did these women speak about their educational path, but they also talked about their experiences and their journey in the computer science field. They battled feeling very alienated for being a women studying in Computer Science and STEM related fields. This however only made them stronger and more determined to get through their goals. The constant, pervasive stereotype that only men pursue computer science and just being in a male-dominated field can take a toll on girls’ motivation.

“When anyone tells you that you cannot do something please prove them wrong,” Claire Sanders, a PhD student in computational materials science at Caltech, urged the crowd.

The next panelist, Dr. Stephanie Tonnesen, an astronomer who is currently working toward her postdoctoral Fellow at Carnegie Observatories, explained her view of being a women in this field.

“I never for a moment question whether being a women might make [it] a little bit more difficult for me to succeed in the STEM field or in CS,” she said.

Dr. Lulu Qian, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Caltech spoke about the constantly developing mindset one must have in order to succeed. “It’s important that we build things to better understand things and then we understand things to better our ability to build things,” Qian said.

The event’s recurring theme was to motivate women to pursue careers in the computer science and STEM-related fields despite any setbacks and the panelists encouraged all individuals to pursue their dreams and to take any opportunities that they can grasp.

Maggie Oh, a technical program manager at the technology innovation branch of Lucasfilm, argued the importance of choices and what choices lead up to. “Having options whether it is in computer science or your hobbies and what you want to explore leads to critical thinking,” Oh said. This mentality is crucial for anyone to have in their careers.

After the panelists spoke, the audience had a chance to have a one-on-one Q&A session with the speakers. A networking dinner followed after where audience members had the chance to sit down and talk to the panelists.

“What I learned from the speakers is to not take any experiences for granted, because any experience can contribute to shape my characterics in the future,” PCC student Alex Vladimirov said.

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