Akanksha Nehete, undergraduate student in computing and software engineering, credits Fei Chiang, associate professor in the department of computing and software, as an influential mentor to her as a young woman in engineering.
Why did Nehete choose her as a mentor, Chiang asks.
“I appreciate how you encourage me every week to put my best work forward, and give me tasks that challenge me both technically and intellectually,” explains Nehete. “When I first met you, I had virtually no technical knowledge and expertise in AI and machine learning. However, your support and guidance helped me to add to my knowledge base and deepen my knowledge in data science, which has helped me further my career development.”
What is the best part of being a mentor to Nehete?
“From when you first started, to see the transformative change in your skills, knowledge, and confidence, through our time together,” Chiang says to Nehete. “As the weeks have progressed, I enjoy seeing you become more independent in your work, and hearing your perspectives in our discussions. I always enjoy our side, personal conversations to learn more about you!”
We sat down with both Nehete and Chiang to talk about the importance of International Women’s Day and the impact women in STEM have made on them.
What is the importance of celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD)?
Nehete: As a woman of colour in software engineering, it’s important to recognize the achievements women have made in these fields, which have not been traditionally valued for a long time in history.
Chiang: IWD reminds us to celebrate and recognize all the contributions women have made in our community and around the world. It is also an opportunity for us to remember all the ongoing efforts to achieve equity for women.
Was there a woman in STEM that made a profound impact on you in your life or career?
Nehete: Ada Lovelace is my role model. Her groundbreaking work on the Analytical Engine and her contributions to computer science helped to establish the field and paved the way for me to consider a career in science and technology.
Chiang: My PhD supervisor, Renee J. Miller, took me on as a young undergraduate research assistant. Several years later, when I was interested in PhD studies, she accepted me into her group, and I was thrilled to work in her area. Not only did she show me how to do research, she demonstrated how to be an empathetic leader, and to advocate and support students throughout their careers.
What does it mean to be an ally and why is it important?
Nehete: An ally is someone who raises awareness about the gender gap in STEM and advocates for greater gender equality in the field. It’s important because allies can provide support and guidance to women in STEM by mentoring them, providing career advice, and advocating for their professional development.
Chiang: Women are often intimated to ask for what they need. They may not always be confident to apply for opportunities. Having an ally to advocate and support you is important, to ensure your voice is heard, and your work is recognized.
What change do you hope to see in the world by celebrating women through initiatives like IWD?
Nehete: By celebrating women in STEM, we can help to break down the barriers that have traditionally prevented women from pursuing careers in these fields, and create a more equitable and inclusive society for all.
Chiang: By providing shared experiences and examples of the diverse women who have succeeded (from all backgrounds), this will encourage and strengthen young women to pursue their passions and career interests.
How does it feel to be viewed as a mentor for other women?
Chiang: Extremely humbling. I try my best to create new pathways and opportunities, and to share some of my unique experiences. If that’s helpful for women, then it’s extremely rewarding.
As part of the future generation of women, what lasting impact do you hope to make?
Nehete: I hope to advocate for more women in positions of power, to ensure that their perspectives and experiences are reflected in the decision-making processes that shape the direction of fields in computing and software.