Monthly Archives

August 2012

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Amanda Stent, Principal Member of Technical Staff, AT&T Labs – Research

Amanda Stent - AT&T Labs

Amanda Stent

Principal Member of Technical Staff

AT&T Labs – Research



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I am inspired by the idea that we can understand human intelligence, and particularly that we can build models of human intelligence that we can operationalize (cause to work) in computers. There are several STEM-related fields that allow one to study human intelligence (neuroscience and cognitive science) but in computer science I can encode models of intelligence and make them do things to see how they work.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Although I work on many cool projects, the ones that most excite me are related to making computer programs that can have conversations with humans using ‘natural languages’ like English and Spanish, and in particular that can adapt to the humans with whom they are talking. It is in these projects that I am able most directly to look at how thoughts turn into sentences, which is a core intelligence of human beings and central to our everyday lives.

Role models/heroes:
One of my role models is Susan Brennan, who is a cognitive psychologist. So she looks at human language from a slightly different perspective than I do. Like me, Susan is fascinated by how humans communicate. She is an incredibly productive person who has made fundamental contributions to science, and also someone who is genuinely interested in mentoring and helping others.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love knowing that I can do something new, create something no one has done before. This is both exciting and scary! As Jules Verne said, “Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.” I also love working on things that may make a real difference in people’s lives – for example, make it easier for people with disabilities to access and use technology.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Sometimes you have to be ruthless. The world is full of people who will tell you what you can and should do (and what you cannot and should not do!). But you are the one who has to live with your decisions. So, don’t follow the herd unthinkingly. You have probably read “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost; I have made many life choices that were “the one less traveled by,” and it is true that “that has made all the difference.”

Favorite website/app:
I got into computer science in high school, and you can too! There are typically very few computer science projects in high school science fairs – so the odds of winning an award are good. If you need ideas, try Science Buddies. I also always recommend MentorNet; MentorNet pairs up young people interested in science and engineering with mentors.

Website: www.amandastent.com

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Mary Fernández, Information & Software Systems Research, AT&T Labs

Mary Fernandez - ATT Labs

Mary Fernández

Assistant Vice President, Information and Software Systems Research

AT&T Labs



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was a very good student in math and science and I knew that entering an engineering field would provide me with a stable, good income, and an intellectually challenging career. When I arrived at Brown University, as a freshman, I enrolled in engineering, but I wasn’t happy. Computer science was a very new field—I had never seen a computer in my life, so I signed up for the Introduction to Computer Science course.

My first professor was Andres van Dam, who is a luminary of computer science in the US. He was an astonishing, fantastic teacher, who said all sorts of crazy things, like everyone will have a computer in their home someday and computers will be so small we will carry them around in our pockets. At that time, computers were still the size of trucks, so these ideas seemed ludicrous, but also incredibly exciting. So I was hooked and changed my major to computer science.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest technology that I have ever been associated with is Geocast, a networking protocol for sending messages to geographic locations in space. It has lots of cool applications, like GeoGames, which are healthy, video games that are played outdoors on smartphones and that encourage vigorous exercise.

Although games are fun and engaging, Geocast has a more serious application, which is helping military personnel and first responders keep track of each other when they are performing their important jobs in the field—this is known as “situational awareness.” Someday, we hope that Geocast for Situational Awareness will help keep people who have dangerous jobs safer. It is a huge privilege and honor to contribute to technology of this kind.

Role models/heroes:
Yikes, that is hard. Benjamin Franklin is a role model and hero, because he was a great inventor, diplomat, and student of human nature—all key characteristics to being successful in high tech!

Why do you love working in STEM?
Many reasons! First, I am never, ever bored. Computing, which is part of the ‘T’ in STEM, is a dynamic, fast-paced field. To keep up, I constantly have to learn about new problems and new technologies. I cannot stand being bored, so computing is great for me. Although the computing field can be demanding, it is also very flexible—you can do your work anywhere at any time.

That flexibility has been enormously valuable to my husband and me when we were raising our children (who are now 18 and 15). We did (and still do) work long hours, but we were able to be home in the late afternoon with our girls from the time they were babies, and this has been great for our family life.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Get a mentor! Be a mentor! I have had a mentor since I went to grad school in 1989, when I received a Graduate Research Program for Women grant from AT&T Bell Labs. The grant provided me with a mentor, Brian Kernighan, who supported me throughout graduate school. That experience was so influential that I have been a mentor myself to students—tudying computing and other STEM fields—since 1998. Today, I am chair of the board of MentorNet, and I have been a MentorNet mentor since 1998.

MentorNet is a fantastic program whose goal is to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields by pairing students with professionals working in STEM fields. More than 31,000 students have been matched with mentors since we began in 1998. Our on-line, e-mentoring program lasts for 9 months and students in our program have a much higher retention rate (>90% are still in their STEM field 2 years after having a mentor) and a much higher sense of satisfaction than other students. We believe this is because mentors help students see the future and their potential, while they are still getting their education. You can sign-up to be a mentor or a student protégé for free, so check it out!

Favorite website/app:
The Zappos iPhone app. I love being able to look at shoes (and buy them) wherever and whenever I feel like it! Plus it’s a beautifully designed app.

Website: AT&T Labs Profile

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Alicia Liu, Co-founder, CelebJuicer

Alicia Liu

Co-founder

CelebJuicer



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I had an early inclination towards technology, since my dad is a software engineer. I knew it was a viable and rewarding career path. I started building websites and designing interfaces in Photoshop in high school. When I was applying for university in 2001, it was shortly after the dot-com bust. At that time, a lot of people were turned off by careers in high tech. I figured that even if I decided to pursue a career in something else, having a background in computer technology would always come in handy, because everyone uses computers to do their jobs. So I got a degree in computer engineering, which turned out to be a good decision.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I’m working on a project CelebJuicer.com right now, which provides bite-sized entertainment in the form of celebrity Twitter conversations. Even for people who don’t follow celebrities, the site has some very funny content that’s easy to miss otherwise. After focusing mainly on enterprise software for many years, this site has been a lot of fun for me to
design and build.

Role models/heroes:
Someone I discovered recently is Sandy Lerner, cofounder of Cisco. She was profiled in the 2011 documentary Something Ventured. She is the only woman to appear in the film, which chronicles the history of the beginnings of venture capitalism in Silicon Valley from the 60’s through the 80’s. She relays the difficulties of being a technical woman in a leadership position in a tech company at the time, how she didn’t neatly fit into a box (prescribed female roles), and was ousted in a similar manner to Steve Jobs, and was fired by the same VC that fired Jobs. She went on to found and sell a cosmetics company, and is now an advocate for organic farming and other philanthropic efforts.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Being able to have an idea and then making it happen is very rewarding and empowering. There are so many opportunities for all kinds of learning. Often the impression is that software developers are holed up coding in a cubicle all day, but in reality there is a lot of collaboration and creativity involved in the process. I’d like to see women not just as consumers of technology but as creators. We need more of those.

Advice for future STEMinists?
I hear from women who started learning programming, but give up because they think it was too hard. I think anything worth doing is hard. You have to be persistent if you think it’s a worthwhile endeavor. It took me many years to think I was good at programming. Women tend to give themselves less credit than they deserve.

Favorite website/app:
Amazon.com – it’s so convenient, especially since I don’t have a car anymore. I also interned there as a software development engineer, and had the opportunity to learn a lot about the disparate parts that combine to make the largest e-commerce company.

Twitter: @aliciatweet
Website: alicialiu.net

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Luz Rivas, Engineering Educator, Iridescent

Luz Rivas

Luz Rivas

Engineering Educator

Iridescent



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was in Kindergarten during the 1980 Presidential Election and hearing about it on TV made me decide that I wanted to be President of the United States. After President Reagan was shot and I found out you had to be at least 35 to qualify, I decided this career wasn’t for me. A few years later when I was in fifth grade, my classroom got an Apple IIe computer and a few of us (all girls) were taught to program it.

I really liked the challenge and at the time it was something not many kids were doing. Compared to President of the United States, no career choice seemed impossible to me so I decided I wanted to pursue a computer-related career. I also didn’t know that computer and engineering fields were male-dominated and were considered hard. In high school I participated in the MESA program and learned what engineering was. I then decided to study Electrical Engineering.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
After college, I was an electrical hardware engineer for Motorola. I worked on an automotive telematics product that integrated GPS with other technologies. It was fun because at the time not much of this type of work was being done so I felt like I was in on something.

Right now, I’m working on a great project for Iridescent. We are producing videos of science researchers explaining their work to kids along with activities that kids can try at home. It’s important for kids to know about cutting-edge science research. I think kids should be aware that science is not a set of facts and that people are working on answering scientific questions and developing new technologies, sometimes in their own neighborhoods.

Role models/heroes:
Dr. Ellen Ochoa, she’s Latina and a EE so of course she was a role model for me

Why do you love working in STEM?
I now work in STEM education and I love it because I have the opportunity to share with kids, youth and adults how cool it is to work in these fields. I’m involved in different maker groups in LA where I have the opportunity to continue developing STEM skills and finding ways to inform my work. I also run a Meetup group for women (@DIYgirls) that are interested in learning new skills.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to have had lots of people offer help and mentoring. While it’s been helpful, I haven’t always taken it or followed up with offers of help. Looking back, I wish I would have been more proactive in reaching out to mentors.

Favorite website/app:
I recently downloaded the Atari app. I love the old Centipede game.

Twitter: @luzrivas

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Amy Del Medico, Assistant Professor Mathematics

Amy Del Medico

Amy Del Medico

Assistant Professor Mathematics

Waubonsee Community College

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Math skills came easily, so I accumulated many math credits as an undergrad and ended up with a BS in Math. Eventually decided I wanted to teach college level students, so went to grad school to continue studying math to earn a Master’s degree. I love teaching and STEM, so this was the quickest way to get into a college classroom.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Currently a Co-PI on a NSF S-STEM grant that provides scholarships to needy students who are pursuing STEM degrees. Very rewarding to help these students.

Role models/heroes:
This is probably going to sound bad…but here it goes. As an undergrad at Benedictine University (Illinois Benedictine College at the time), my first math course was with Dr. Townsley. She is a tall, attractive, intelligent woman and often wears a flower in her hair (I came to find out later this was from her Hawaiian heritage). Dr. Townsley was the first female STEM educator who was not the stereotypical “earthy, birkenstock wearing, dowdy” professor. She had high expectations, was friendly and fair. I try to emulate those qualities in my teaching.

Why do you love working in STEM?
The discovery aspect – the “ah-ha” moments, both for myself and when my students have them.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Be yourself and be proud of your accomplishments.

Favorite website/app:
Used to be Threadsy, now it’s iAnnotate.

Twitter: @amymathprof

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Katie Miller, Software Engineer, Red Hat

Katie Miller

Katie Miller

Software Engineer

Red Hat



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My oldest brother, 12 years my senior, introduced me to programming in QBasic when I was a kid and sparked an interest in computers and coding that continued throughout my school years. Although I went on to do a journalism degree and spend seven years working in the news media, I never lost that passion for technology. Eventually my job at the local newspaper morphed into a website editing role and I went back to university to study for a Master of IT degree specialising in software engineering. I love the challenges that come with being a software developer and now I couldn’t imagine doing anyt‌hing else.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
At work, I think every project I have the chance to work on is pretty cool in that being an open source company, the code is shared with the whole world and anyone can use or improve it. Outside work, there was a memorable project I was part of at my local hackerspace where we wired up an Arduino to control the property’s roller door and created an Android app that members could use to gain entry. When a member entered the correct code into the mobile app, it would automatically open the door and send a tweet and push notifications to other members so they would know someone was at the space. It was cool because it gave us the chance to play with both hardware and software while building something really practical.

Role models/heroes:
All the pioneering, high-flying female computer scientists of the past and present, such as Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper and Marissa Mayer.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working in STEM because technology is constantly changing and that means there are always new challenges, new things to learn and new inventions to play with.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Be tenacious. Sometimes it might be difficult being in the minority but don’t let anything shake your confidence. Make the most of the opportunities available; be sure to check if you’re eligible for any relevant women’s programs or scholarships. Take inspiration and encouragement from the technical women that have gone before you and remember you are paving the way for the women to follow, so do them proud. Dream big.

Favorite website/app:
There are too many amazing apps and websites for me to declare a favourite but I do love Stack Overflow; it’s a brilliant resource for developers and a great example of online collaboration.

Twitter: @codemiller

Web: www.codemiller.com

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics

Athene Donald

Athene Donald

Professor of Experimental Physics and the University’s Gender Equality Champion

University of Cambridge



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I just always knew, from the time that I had my first physics lesson at around 13, that this was what I wanted to do. I don’t think I thought in terms of a career when I went to university, and I’m sure I didn’t really know what careers were open to physicists. I didn’t think about pursuing an academic career until encouraged to do so by my supervisor during my second postdoc. At each stage I simply knew that I was enjoying what I was doing and feeling challenged. I have never regretted my decision.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Whatever I am working on now is always the coolest project. Working in a university, I have a lot of freedom in what projects I pursue, and I wouldn’t choose a project unless it excited or intrigued me. But the field of work I work in has changed constantly throughout my career. I started off working on the failure properties of synthetic polymers – ‘plastics’ – and now work on cellular biophysics and protein aggregation. Each transition from one topic to another has seemed logical at the time, and the tools I use tend to be similar. My current project on protein aggregation tries to use principles from physics to look at generic factors that determine the types of aggregates that form, but which may apply to very different proteins,including those implicated in diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease.

Role models/heroes:
My physics teacher at (high) school who was always willing to give me her time to stretch me.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Because it’s a constant challenge, with so many things to be curious about and to follow up. There’s always more to discover and be intrigued by.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t believe so many of the myths that float around about why women ‘can’t’ succeed in STEM, and don’t give up at the first setback.

Twitter: @athenedonald

Web: http://occamstypewriter.org/athenedonald/