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Find The People Who Are Different

 “I remember the guys saying that my skirt would get in the way of my programming ability,”

Marie, a second-year Computer Science student, recalls her middle school and high school experiences.

“They said that often. None of them felt comfortable with the only girl in the room leading the Robotics Team. They’d ask me if my hormones were out of whack, things like that. That was my first taste of the tech industry.”  

Today, Marie has worked in Georgia Tech’s College of Computing Outreach Department for over five years. Thinking of her Hispanic heritage, she says she draws her inspiration and passion from seeing other women of color in outreach and education. She assists in directing and designing curriculum for several on-campus technology workshops geared toward children, including those enrolled in the Atlanta Public School system. She also helps with the coordination of numerous STEM events hosted by Black Girls Code, Atlanta Science Festival, and Girl Scouts of America.

“I want to keep working with kids, and I don’t plan on stopping. I want to be in an executive position because I want girls to see a woman in charge in technology. I want to be a role model.” 

“Kids think that if they aren’t good at math then they can’t make it in engineering or computer science. I want them to know that’s not true. I wasn’t very good at STEM. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to apply to Tech because I didn’t know if I could afford it, let alone get into the school. But I knew I wanted to enroll here eventually because Tech allows students to specialize in the fields they really want to pursue. When I didn’t get in, I went to Kennesaw State for a couple of years. I worked a job, and I co-oped. I applied as a transfer student, and here I am. This is my first semester.” 

Marie says, “It’s definitely tough. The learning curve is steep. I think I missed out by not taking my intro classes here, and it’s difficult. It’s like: I got in, but should I be here? Maybe I just don’t know Tech culture well enough. I’ve never been to a school where asking for help was frowned upon. It’s almost like showing weakness if you do. I question what I want to do a lot. I easily could’ve gone into marketing or management, but I want to program. People here expect me to focus on User-Interface or People Medias because it’s design-oriented and I’m a woman. But I’m interested in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and human interaction with technology — all male-dominated fields.”

She reflects, “I want to make the industry a better place for women and people of color, and that starts with me. If I don’t keep going, the girls coming after me will come into an industry that hasn’t changed. I want them to know programing isn’t just what you see on TV. Programming can be used in everything and it can be anything — music, clothes, games. I want them to know it’s not about how good you are at STEM. It’s about building that confidence. And that’s what I want to do.”

She offers the following advice to others in her position:

“Find the outsiders. Find people who are different. Get to know their stories, and get to be friends with them. When you develop a diverse perspective, you see yourself doing things. When you see people going against the status quo and succeeding, you can imagine that success for yourself, too.

Old tradition is not always good tradition

 

Annalise is a Jamaican American from Fayetteville, GA. She was a business administration major with a concentration human capital. Annalise entered the Georgia Institute of Technology as a first generation college student without a clear vision of what she wanted to do with her time at college, but was open to trying to new things. Annalise tended to go with the flow and did what her mentors and respected adults told her to do.

‘Engineering sounded cool and is a wide field’

so she began as a biomedical engineering major.

Spring semester of her sophomore year, Annalise failed all of her classes. Through battling poor mental health and financial issues from losing her scholarships, Annalise persevered and returned to school despite being advised not to reenroll. She changed her major to business administration.

Initially, Annalise was not very involved at Georgia Tech. One day during her freshman year, her friends invited her to a Georgia Tech’s Society of Black Engineers (GTSBE) meeting, she reluctantly went. This was the start of Annalise’s passion for the National Society of the Black Engineers (NSBE). GTSBE helpedAnnalise grow out of her shell, make friends and travel around the country. Annalise served in many leadership roles within GTSBE. She was the conference planning chair and practically chartered a plane to Anaheim, CA for the NSBE national convention for students to attend. Shanice later went on to become the president of GTSBE. As the president of a professional engineering organization as business administration major she faced some challenges such as could not move forward into regional or national leadership despite her undeniable passion for NSBE. A benefit of her contradictory major was that she recruited more people to join GTSBE because not being an engineering major was no longer an excuse.

Annalise’s work in NSBE, team leader advisory board, and student government association also led to her major change. She realized:

I could make a career out of this.

Although by degree Annalise is not an engineer, she is a problem solver through her experience at Georgia Tech, which has helped her excel in leadership positions a professional endeavor. Despite having a horrible semester her sophomore year Annalise solved her problems to graduate and secure a job with Amazon.

Based her time at GT, Annalise, a graduating senior, describes GT culture as hard work and tradition.

‘Old tradition is not always good tradition.’

For example, most of the homecoming activities are rooted in Greek life and makes it hard to others to fully participate. Georgia Tech’s love for tradition is interesting in that we are focused on ‘creating the next’. If something could be changed about this student’s experience here Annalise said

‘I would make students more proud to attend this school.’

Georgia Tech has a diverse community, but the focus should not be on the numbers. ‘There is a difference between exclusion, tolerance, and inclusion.’ So what if we have diverse community by numbers, if the people are unhappy? Annalise believe GT should work to make the campus a more positive environment

“Go back to your country”

Anonymous, who describes herself as open-minded and hard-working, is a third-year student studying Industrial Engineering at Georgia Tech. She is a Georgia native, having grown up in Atlanta all of her life and attended Atlanta schools prior to her time at Georgia Tech. However, as an American, she finds herself in a unique intersection of culture. Her father, a practicing Muslim, is Yemeni, and her mother, of Catholic faith, is from Mexico. Though appreciative of her dual heritage, she describes the experience as challenging in the sense that individuals of Middle Eastern or Latin American descent are often subject to discrimination.

When asked broadly about the idea of diversity at Georgia Tech, Anonymous responded by saying the Institute frequently takes pride in the statistical diversity of the student body. She used the word “fakeness” in relation to how students at Georgia Tech understand diversity:

Students here know that diversity is important, on paper. But they don’t actually believe it’s important. So many students don’t embrace diversity because they aren’t directly affected. I don’t hear many conversations about diversity.

The conversation naturally led to a discussion of “GT Culture” as a newly defined topic and an issue. She characterized GT Culture as “very silent,” explaining that students “tend to act as though things aren’t happening.” With frustration, she interpreted the behavior as students’ fear of committing offense as well as their widely differing opinions.

In the context of her personal experience on campus, Anonymous describes her classroom experience as uncomfortable at times. “Industrial Engineering is not a very diverse major,” she stated. She explained that many of her classes are composed of white male students. She also feels as though white students, as well as male students, “get more respect here.” She quickly provided the example of her Physics class, in which “girls are made to feel stupid for asking a question.” Having been a member of an all-male lab group, Anonymous said that whenever she asked a question, the members of her group did not acknowledge her. However, if another male student in the group asked the same or similar question, the other group members would immediately provide assistance. “It’s on the students and faculty to come across as approachable.” Anonymous also describes another frustrating experience:

For CS 2316, I had a white, male professor, ex-military. Near the end of fall semester, the students in my class were notified of a grading error that, for me, would bring one of my test grades from an 85 to a 65. I was in danger of not passing the class. But when I spoke to my professor about my concern around the issue, he responded by telling me to “go back to my home country and set myself on fire.” I notified the administration of the incident — I filed a complaint through the institute. They acknowledged it at first. But no follow up. Nothing.