Celebrating STEM Sisterhood

NYU Tandon holds its eighth annual Women in STEM Summit

group of female students

“The 2019 NYU Tandon Women in STEM Summit was a fantastic opportunity to learn about some of the sizable accomplishments made by women in the fields of technology and engineering, and to ponder the bright possibilities of a future in which STEM is truly diverse and inclusive,” student Deborah Alabi (’21) said, referring to the celebratory daylong event held at Tandon on March 7.

The event kicked off with a breakfast event aimed at male allies and culminated with an evening keynote that left every attendee more determined than ever to close the STEM gender gap.

The importance of allies

Associate Dean for Academic Administration and Professor of Technology, Culture, and Society Kristen Day kicked off the morning, explaining that there exists a tremendous need for men to take up the mantle of ally and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other men in rejecting toxic masculinity, questioning bad behaviors, challenging stereotypes, and giving encouragement and respect to female colleagues. She introduced a panel (moderated by NYU Associate Vice President for Career and Leadership Development Bethany Godsoe) that included College of Arts & Science Professor of Chemistry Marc Walters, Google’s Josh Isaacs, Verizon Media’s Tylon Jenkins, and Tandon student and activist Alexander Him (’21). The four agreed that being an ally meant engaging in the active, consistent practice, over time, of unlearning and re-evaluating beliefs and behaviors, and Him drew an enthusiastic round of applause when he advised, “Practice ally-ship from wherever you are right now; don’t wait until you perceive that you’re in a position of power to act. Students, especially, have a unique opportunity to become allies because we’re always collaborating on projects and are constantly exposed to new groups and new people. We can learn about each other, work with each other, and give each other platforms to thrive.”

Learning at lightning speed

Afternoon found attendees gathered to hear a series of “Lightning Talks,” organized by Associate Dean of Student AffairsAnita Farrington, who had first conceived of the idea for the Summit eight years ago. Explaining that the theme of the 2019 event was Innovators in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, she promised a lineup of smart, driven speakers who are changing the STEM landscape.

That lineup, introduced by Dean Jelena Kovačević, included:

  • Jasmine Hsu, a software engineer at Google Brain, who discussed the many women’s initiatives at her company as well as her own niche in cognitive science.
  • Wendy Jackson Dowe, the president of Sky Pix Group and one of the few female FAA certified drone pilots in the country.
  • Aleksandra Mojsilovic, the head of IBM Research’s AI Foundation, who is focused on using artificial intelligence to achieve social good.

  • Carlotta Mummolo, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at NJIT, who was enjoying a homecoming of sorts since she earned master’s and doctoral degrees at NYU Tandon.

“These are all accomplished women, and they will each tell you that no matter how accomplished you are, you must still continue to work at it,” Dean Kovačević asserted. “Of course, you will fail at times, but failure will help you grow, so embrace it along with your successes.”

Getting keyed up

During the Summit’s closing event, Farrington reminded everyone to take a moment to absorb all the strides made in recent years at Tandon. “I feel confident in saying that we’re the hardest-working school within NYU,” she said, “and we have the statistics to prove it. Back in 2010, only a quarter of our incoming students were women, but that figure has climbed to 43 percent thanks to the efforts of many.”

After a talk by Genevieve Fried, a technology fellow at NYU’s AI Now Institute, the Summit’s keynote speaker, University of Pennsylvania Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Michelle Johnson, took to the stage to discuss her work designing and developing innovative and affordable robotic systems for therapeutic rehabilitation. It was important and impressive work but she got perhaps the warmest applause of the evening when she displayed two childhood drawings: one that used conventional colors, as dictated on the “color-by-the-numbers” chart, and another depicting the same scene but completed in a wild assortment of purples and greens. “My advice,” she quipped, “is that you shouldn’t always follow the directions.”

Her words — and those of all the other Summit speakers — were much appreciated by the attendees. “I want to use the education and experience I receive now to help create a future that uses technology as a means of meeting people's needs,” Alabi said, “and I am lucky to have such incredible role-models as the women who spoke at the Summit.”

And the award goes to . . .

On International Women’s Day, awards were given to those deemed MVPs by the members of the Women at Tandon Committee, who’ve made it their mission to increase the school’s recruitment and retention of female students and faculty members and to ensure the success of those women through a wide range of initiatives.

At the awards ceremony — which featured special guest Lisa Coleman, NYU’s Senior Vice President for Global Inclusion, Diversity, and Strategic Innovation and the university’s inaugural Chief Diversity Officer — Dean Kovačević offered her congratulations to the honorees but cautioned: “Please keep in mind that they are just the tip of a very large and powerful iceberg. If you are a woman working, studying, researching, designing, building, or innovating at Tandon, we applaud you as well. If you are a male ally, we are grateful to you — and we want to see many more of you.”

She concluded, “After our well-deserved celebrations are over, let’s keep working tirelessly towards our goals; I have no doubt that on International Women’s Day next year, we’ll have even more progress to report.”