Voices Of Change — Diversity in STEM Can Change the World

| Danielle Olson, Microsoft Program Manager

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. They can be determining factors in whether or not talented people come to work for us, and whether people buy our products. Through our investment in diverse partnerships on a broad range of opportunities, we continue to work to increase the pipeline of diverse talent, increase retention and match talent to job opportunities that are vital to our success in the future.This month, we are honored to feature the voices of local leaders who represent our commitment to diversity and use their drive to help the community in which they serve.

— Microsoft New England Staff

I always thought of myself as an artistically brained person. My stereotype of an engineer was that of a left-brained, analytical, introverted person, like Bill Nye the Science Guy. Until my junior year of high school when I took a “Girls Exploring Engineering” course. I was paired with a mentor who was a civil engineer, and she inspired me to realize that you don’t have to sit in a box to be successful in a career. You need to have both the ability to be creative and analytical in order to be successful. That motivated me to join my school’s robotics team, and that’s when I decided I wanted to pursue engineering in college.

I applied to MIT because I was inspired by robotics — and the movie Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr.’s character went to MIT to study mechanical engineering, which I thought was so cool. I learned about an MIT program called MITES (Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science). a program that fully funds students to go to MIT for six weeks. This was a life-changing experience for me.

It was so inspiring to be alongside other people who looked like me and were passionate about learning engineering and science, because I was the only person of color in all my AP classes in high school. I fell in love with MIT because of all radical, creative, crazy energy on campus that I felt during MITES.

STEM education provides an ability for your voice to be heard, to have a seat at the table, when really important decisions are being made in terms of how a product is being designed for the people that are going to use it. In the tech industry, it’s more important than ever to have diversity of thoughts when you’re coming up with solutions to really hard problems, because at the end of the day, an elegant solution covers a wide, wide expanse of different users.

Last fall I had the awesome experience of creating the first-ever Black & Africans at Microsoft (BAM) regional chapter in New England. Together with Women@NERD, we organized the first ever mock interview workshop for college students in the Boston area. We invited students to come in and watch a mock interview done by two full-time Microsoft employees, and then they got to do an hour of one-on-one interview practice with them. We had a mixer at the end where they learned about Microsoft careers.

The event got students excited about careers at Microsoft and helped them get over some of the nerves they had with interviewing. Especially with people who are international students, minority students, or just underrepresented populations in general, it can be really, really intimidating to go into an interview cold turkey and just immerse yourself into a culture that you’re not familiar with. We’re trying to give students the opportunity to get that confidence and realize that they are excellent candidates.

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Students at Gique

This is something I talk about all the time with Gique, an educational nonprofit that I started with a friend during my senior year at MIT. We started Gique because we identified as folks that were always at the intersection of left and right brain. Growing up, you’re taught algebra, humanities, science, and history in silos, but when you when you leave the classroom and go off into the world, you don’t experience the world in those same silos; everything is always indelibly intertwined. We wanted to find a way to showcase that — to share that being an engineer and scientist is very much a creative job.

We chose to start our pilot after-school program at the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester because in communities where there are hard things happening and tough problems, it’s so important to have participatory designs. That’s how you really make lasting change. It’s not dropping somebody into a community — it’s having people within the community be part of the solution.

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 5.34.15 PMThis semester we started an after school program at the Boys and Girls Club called #HackDorchester. We have teams of three students paired with a mentors, who are current student in the Boston area, and they have a budget to design a product or solution to one of five problem areas: housing and employment, climate change, citizenship, education, and public health.

At first glance, the fourth to eighth graders are working on what people would consider adult issues, but the reality is that students know what’s going on in their communities. They are experts at their own daily lives and we’re trying to tell them, “You are an expert. You can start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can. And you have the power of using STEM to make an effective change in your own community. You have the potential to change the world for the better.”

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