September 1, 2015

Empowering Young Minds: Verizon Co-Hosts Panel with Girls Who Code

Careers in STEM – the fields of science, technology, engineering or math – currently account for more than 10% of jobs in the United States, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are one of the fastest growing job sectors today; however, despite this growth, there is a rather large deficit of women interested in or employed in STEM jobs. 

To address these trends, the Verizon Foundation hosts many educational programs focused on increasing student interest and achievement in STEM fields, and in particular, encouraging high school girls to consider STEM-based careers. A month ago, Verizon co-hosted a panel with Girls Who Code – a non-profit working to close the gender gap in technology – to discuss the realities behind working for a startup. I was fortunate enough to moderate this session with panelists Scott Russo, COO of AdTheorent; Chika Ota, Director of Design at Smart Vision Labs; and Nicole Cardoza, Founder at Yoga Foster.

Here are a few highlights from our discussion:

Catching the Entrepreneurial Spirit

According to AdTheorent’s Scott Russo, learning the value of hard work at a young age is invaluable. He ran a thriving lemonade stand business at just 9 years old and to this day, still attributes his strong work ethic to those early entrepreneurial failures and successes. Now as part of the booming tech industry, Scott shared with the audience that in order to continue to develop professionally, he believes entrepreneurs need to stare failure straight in the eyes to make themselves better leaders. He also believes strongly in recognizing those around you for their contributions when building a team with common goals.

Wearing Many Hats

As the Director of Design at Smart Vision Labs, Chika Ota has contributed way more to her organization than just design concepts and product roadmaps. This adaptable work ethic and ability to wear many hats is what Chika believes makes her successful. While it wasn’t in her original job requirements, she recently took on HR responsibilities and ran with it by conducting over 400 interviews in order to significantly grown the Smart Vision Labs team. The end result was that Chika has been an instrumental part of defining the company’s culture and growing the team while having the added bonus of variability in her daily routine.

Marrying Passions

Sometimes preconceived notions of STEM and being a woman can be limiting to one’s sense of ability, and that’s something Nicole Cardoza learned prior to founding Yoga Foster. Although she didn’t consider herself to be a STEM-oriented person, a professor in college recognized her proficiency with computers. This validation of her skill changed her perception of her STEM abilities and she took the plunge to learn how to code. Nicole eventually combined her tech background with her passion for yoga and youth, empowering public school teachers with free, quality yoga resources for the classroom with her non-profit.  

I was thrilled to have supported the event by moderating the panel, and I hope the 40 young women who participated in this event were inspired by the unique stories and lessons shared by panelists.  

Tags: Verizon Foundation , STEM , Girls Who Code , women in tech