On May 23rd, 2021, the All Girls STEM Society hosted their first-ever Magic of Mentorship Panel in collaboration with Athena, a San Diego-based group that advocates for women in STEM. We’re so thankful to Athena for connecting over 30 girls with three amazing mentors: Taylor Bruni, who works for Oracle in a software sales capacity, Farzaneh Orak who works as a software engineer at the Costar Group and Ida Khodami who is a partner at Two Bear Capital. In addition, AGSS Founder and current college student Veronica Tang (Majoring in Computer Science and English) and recent graduate Rachel Hong (Majored in Computer Science) were kind enough to come back to talk to girls about their high school and college experiences.
The girls were split into four breakout rooms by grade to talk to the mentors as they rotated through the breakout rooms. The mentors first got to know participants by asking them about their interests, favorite classes and potential career ideas. Afterwards, the girls got to question the mentors about their careers, life advice and the experience of being a woman in STEM.
Many of the mentors were first asked for general advice to which Ms. Bruni responded“study whatever you’re interested in, even if you’ve never heard of it before, because you never know if you like it until you try it. Don’t pigeonhole yourself, just try different things and you’ll figure out what you like.” In the same vein of trying new things, Ms. Orak spoke about her experience recently teaching herself the piano. She noted that “in society, we are suffering from a mindset that if you are old, you cannot do new things, but we are humans and we can adapt and we can learn and we can improve.”
Mentors also spoke about how they came to be involved in their field. For example, Ms. Khodami became involved in biotechnology when she and a group of her friends invented a device for vein detection for inserting IV drips. She noted that this first experience with her field propelled her to do what she does now. Ms. Orak spoke about why she loves engineering, stating that “It’s not about the first year of algebra that you learn, what you learn in engineering school, whether it’s electrical or mechanical, is problem solving. Knowing that engineering background is allowing me to make the impact that I want to make. It’s a very interesting field, it’s all about problem solving and creativity, that’s why I want to stay in this field as long as my brain still works.”
Finally, the mentors spoke about their experience as women in STEM, and their advice on thriving in a male-dominated environment. Ms. Bruni gave advice on speaking up, and noted that “I’m the only girl on my team, but when I first started off, it felt pretty 50-50,” in reference to a common phenomenon of entry-level positions being roughly balanced in terms of gender, but higher-level and leadership positions being male-dominated. She continued “I guess I would say, don’t overthink it. At first, I would not speak up or ask a question because I’d think that everyone else already knew the answer, but these other guys, they don’t know more than you, they only act like they know more than you, so if you have a thought, just say it. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Ms. Orak spoke about finding support systems of other women in STEM and said that “My secret ingredient is to have a support system. I always had a group of women, software engineers outside of the company that I could talk to about problems and it helped me not feel alone. Reality is that there is a gender disparity there, but companies are working on that and you need to be strong and find your voice and find support systems to help you navigate.”
For more opportunities to connect with the mentors at Athena, click on this link: https://www.athenasd.org/athena-forums/agss-forum for a forum to post questions or comments for the mentors to respond to! Thanks again to the Athena mentors for their time and energy :)