Systers Anita Borg Spring 2015 Pass-It-On Award Winners

@systers_awards @systers_org @anitaborg_org

Spring 2015 PIO winners hail from Germany, India, Nigeria, Uganda and the United States. They are all passionate about technology and that passion includes helping others and breaking the stereotypes about women and diversity in tech. Read their stories about how they are using technology to fight sexual assaults, help empower women with disabilities, and storytelling through podcasts.


To read each winner’s bio, click on the name on the left margin.

Aditi M. (India)

Project Title: The Computer Literacy Project- Gifting the wings of STEM!

Project Description: This project aims at empowering girls and women with disabilities, by imparting them the knowledge of STEM fields in general and computer literacy, in particular. The goal of the project is to improve the living conditions of girls and women with disabilities, especially in the slum areas, in Delhi (India). This can be achieved to a large extent by making them computer literate. Computer literacy can go miles in promoting their economic and social independence, hence empowering them and making them self-reliant.

#STEM is one of the reasons for the development of so many countries in the world. Many of the things that benefit not only the mainstream community but also people with disabilities are direct results of advancements in STEM. Through the years, engineering talent has helped the rehabilitative field in innumerable ways. Thanks to technology, people with disabilities are now able to function in ways that we could not even imagine until a few years back. Tele-work can be done from one’s home, providing an access to employment. Computers, tablets and smartphones can be used to improve communication options for people with autism and/or intellectual disabilities. We have the video relay service, enabling people with hearing disabilities to communicate directly with other hearing people through the phone.

“Importance of Computer Literacy for Females with Disabilities-
Computers have become a basic need and are a part and parcel of our lives. Computer literacy plays an increasingly important role in people’s lives and socio-economic development. Thus, Aditi wants to motivate and teach females who have acquired disabilities at birth or at a young age and motivate them to learn computers and also pursue science & engineering studies and who have acquired disabilities at a later age and motivate them to continue to work or to seek employment.”

Christine W. (USA)

Project Title: Connecting and Engaging Women in Computing

Project Description: The College at Brockport, State University of New York (SUNY) is a nationally recognized, four-year comprehensive public college, located approximately 15 miles west of Rochester, the third largest city in the State of New York. The Department of Computer Science offers two high-quality ABET-accredited undergraduate programs in computer science and computer information systems.

The Connecting and Engaging Women in Computing project is designed to be a semiannual workshop series benefiting approximately 40 young women in grades 6–12 from the greater Rochester area. The young women will come together for a one day workshop where they will network with women in computing and complete small computing projects. The broad goals of the workshops are to provide access to a network of women in computing, provide role models, provide support and encouragement, inspire students to become interested in computing, and keep students interested in computing. In support of these goals the workshops will include opportunities to interact with young women pursuing computing degrees, women working in industry, and women in academia. The workshops will include a mix of small hands-on projects, presentations, and informal discussions.

In rural high schools of Western New York in the vicinity of Brockport, computer science courses are rarely offered. In high schools in the greater Rochester area, computer science courses are sometimes offered, but tend to be offered in schools with more resources. Most middle schools and high schools in the greater Rochester area offer courses on keyboarding and using specific application programs, however students are not exposed to computer science concepts in these courses.

The primary goal of this project, as the program indicates, is to pass it on. To pass on the encouragement I received as a student and continue to receive as a professional. To pass on networking and mentoring opportunities. To pass on the support and courage that young women need to participate in computing courses and degree programs.

In rural high schools of Western New York in the vicinity of Brockport, computer science courses are rarely offered. In high schools in the greater Rochester area, computer science courses are sometimes offered, but tend to be offered in schools with more resources. Most middle schools and high schools in the greater Rochester area offer courses on keyboarding and using specific application programs, however students are not exposed to computer science concepts in these courses.


Deepika A. (India)

Project Title: CodeShiksha- Stop Cramming start Programming

Project Description: Deepika completed her engineering from a premium engineering college of India but it did not mask from facing issues like gender disparity and total confusion when it came to make a career choice like whether should she continue being a software developer or should she chose the more traveled by road and apply for MBA degree.

“ I used to find myself totally lonely and sometimes even the only female in hackathons. All these incidents encouraged me to help other budding technologists. My aim is to break the stereotypes associated with being a computer engineer and encourage the fem-engineers to at least explore the technology field before they make a career choice and chose more feminine role(I can definitely say that this is what happens in India). So I decided to start a project CodeShiksha. CodeShiksha is my Youtube channel which aims to target the budding technologists in their high school to senior year students pursuing computer engineering.
My aim is to help students explore the technical field before making a career choice. Also I aim to bring industry level exposure to students so that they can learn those technologies at their own pace apart from the theoretical bookish knowledge. Target audience of CodeShiksha are women technologists but the platform is open to anyone who wants to learn. To do this I plan to launch a series of hands-on tutorials on various computer languages. I aim to encourage them by listening to what they feel is a problem for them by organizing webinars. Next I want to break the preconceived notions about hackathons by organizing and mentoring hackathons (online as well as offline), for which I have already received a very positive response. Since a lot of population in India doesn’t even have the access to internet for that section I want to launch CDs pack including hands-on tutorials as well as webinars.”

Emily R. (USA)

Project Title: Project Callisto

Project Description: Callisto is a third-party reporting software developed by Sexual Health Innovations for survivors of sexual assault on college campuses that is specifically designed to make the reporting process more empowering for survivors and to help identify repeat offenders. Survivors can fill out a time-stamped report of their assault online and then are given their reporting options. Users may choose to send their report and any electronic evidence to their chosen authority at any time and also have the option of automatically submitting if another user names the same assailant. The PIO program could help enable me to work in San Francisco with the Technical Project Manager doing usability testing, focus groups, and other research, and developing roll out plans for pilot institutions.

How is Emily’s project passing it on?

“I see this opportunity as a chance to explore sexual assault prevention and response from a new angle, especially looking at how my particular set of skills can be used to make a meaningful and measurable difference. Although Callisto is designed for users with all gender identities, sexual assault affects women and female-bodied people disproportionately, so I see this project as especially beneficial to women on college campuses. I think Callisto provides a unique platform for me to do this because of its survivor-driven design. Unlike many sexual assault resources, Callisto is meticulously trauma informed and inclusive of LGBTQ survivors in content. This means that the project can reach groups of people that are disproportionately affected by sexual violence but are all too often systematically excluded from resources and disempowered by the reporting process. Callisto offers transparency for its users on the school’s reporting process and minimizes traumatic re-telling of sexual violence experiences.
Part of Callisto’s pilot evaluation, the software will collect anonymous aggregate data mapping trends in assaults and reporting over time. This data could inform prevention and response policies at colleges and could provide data in under-researched fields such as assaults against LGBTQ and male-identified people over their time at college. This experience will allow me to make a difference in a unique way using tools that are not available to me through other avenues. It will also give me the experience of working both in the tech industry and in sexual violence non-profit work that will benefit women and men who feel silenced by the sexual assault reporting process.”

Foghor T. (Nigeria)

Project Title: Foghor: The Career Researcher

Project Description: Developing a career in Artificial Intelligence Research has been Foghor’s long term dream since senior secondary school. Specifically, her career development goals are to cultivate and realize her capacity to apply Artificial intelligence (AI) techniques such as Machine Learning and Pattern Recognition to Natural Language Processing, Computer Graphics and Computer Vision so as to bring the benefits of these important technologies to bear on the lives of millions of ordinary Nigerians, who may forever remain at the fringes of the information society without the necessary interventions. In order to achieve these goals as a woman in technology, Foghor has to continue to seek and exploit unique opportunities to enhance her skills and advance professionally.

Her most recent achievement was the development of a novel technique for spellchecking in Nigerian Pidgin which is spoken by more than half the country’s population thereby making it the most used language in Nigeria. Foghor has been selected as one of 200 participants from a competitive applicant pool from around the world to attend the prestigious 3rd Heidelberg Laureate forum in Heidelberg, Germany this year. In order to attend the forum which will provide an opportunity for young researchers like Foghor to network together and also interact with present and past Laureates of the Abel, Fields and Turing prizes, the PIO funding will cover travel plans and expenses.

My MSc research titled Naijaspell: A Novel Unsupervised spellchecker for Nigerian Pidgin, involved applying heuristics humans use in identifying misspellings in words not previously encountered to teach a machine to perform spellchecking for Nigerian Pidgin without an available standard spelling list. I am also a graduate assistant (equivalent to an assistant lecturer) in the department of Electrical/Electronic Engineering at the Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE), Nigeria where I teach second year students from the five departments of the college of technology how to program using C and Matlab. I have also founded a Leanin circle for female students in my department and thereby enabling these young ladies participate in coding workshops and conversations addressing women, technology and leadership. Other volunteer technical activities I participate in include: serving as the current secretary of the Warri Chapter of the Nigerian Institution of Electrical/Electronic Engineers (NIEEE), advising the NIEEE student chapter of my department and publishing articles addressing issues affecting innovation and technology in Nigeria on FUPRE notice boards.

Foghor is passing it on by making sure she is an example to women not just in the Computing and Technology community, but in her own country.


Kathryn R. (USA)

Project Title: Motherboard Podcast

Project Description: Motherboard is a collection of conversations with mothers working in technology — sharing their stories, challenges, triumphs, and ideas for change.

The Motherboard Podcast addresses the need for better role modeling around the transition to parenthood for women. Already isolated as a minority in tech, women can feel even more like outsiders when becoming the first parent on their team, or needing to pioneer parental leave benefits at their companies.

Through interviews, the show records and disseminates the stories of mothers from Google, Github, Microsoft, and other companies, as well as solopreneurs and women in states of transition, as they navigate pregnancy, maternity leave, and the return to work. Guests with a variety of parenting situations talk about their company benefits and other support systems, successes and challenges, and their most valuable lessons learned.

Previous interviews have included Camille Fournier’s promotion to CTO of Rent the Runway while pregnant, Jean Hsu’s mission to parent equally with her husband while a developer at Medium, international speaker Jen Myers’ strategies for single parenting, Rebecca Murphey’s adoption story while working at Bazaarvoice, and Jenni Snyder’s improvements to re-boarding mothers post-parental-leave at Yelp, among others.

Motherboard archives the concrete stories and experiences of mothers in tech, with new episodes released every couple of weeks. By gathering knowledge from mothers at disparate companies and sharing it among the tech community, we can avoid wasting energy on problems that have already been solved, and help women get back to work as seamlessly and comfortably as possible after the upheaval of childbirth.

Each recorded conversation becomes a published episode that can be listened to on demand. Listeners can subscribe through podcasting feed readers (such as iTunes on iOS, or PocketCasts on Android), or access episodes online through the project website at http://motherboardpodcast.com.
Because audio files can be downloaded to devices, women can listen while commuting, nursing, exercising, or otherwise multitasking… allowing busy mothers to be inspired by role-models while on-the-go.

Grace N. (Uganda)

Project Title: Basic Computer Skills Training for Female Primary Teachers’ Initiative

Project Description: Basic Computer Skills Training for Female Primary Teachers’ Initiative is a pioneering project aiming to provide basic computer skills and emphasize technology as a requirement to female teachers within Bulenga-Biira community so as to phase away the method of preparing lesson plans and notes by reading text books and making notes in a book rather than typing and saving them on computer to ease their work.
All arrangements and training will be conducted at Wilden Nursery and Primary School in Bulenga-Biira, Wakiso District. With the help of the ICT Trainer, teachers will attend IT lessons in groups or shifts as scheduled on the time table on Saturdays and Sundays for a period of three (3) months. Female Teachers will be trained how to use a mouse, keyboard and typing skills, opening and closing software files, accessing a CD-ROM or flash disk, locating a saved file, how to copy and paste files or text, word processing, power point, spread sheets, saving and printing finished documents, search engines and browser basics which will also involve creating and using an email account and presentation of their work by use of a projector. From the training they will be able to know the importance of using computers, be able to apply information technology in their day to day teaching services and also enjoy the rewards of using computers and information technology as a whole.

Grace says she will pass it on “ training with fellow female teachers as a team and actively supporting each other in information technology so as to capture every step needed to attain basic computer skills, providing training manuals, review questions and answers for each topic trained for, so as to enable women remember what they have practiced and save them on a CD-ROM or email account for reference so that they can also support other fellow female teachers in the same way in the field of information technology whenever they are approached.”

Santhana L. (India)

Project Title: Women’s Empowerment through Technology Education and Computation (WeTEC)

Project Description: The project is to bring basic computing and Internet skills to the women of the Paneer HIV Positive Women’s Network Trust (locally known as Paneer poo). Paneer poo is a small, independent community based organization (CBO) run by HIV+ women, for HIV+ women. Our goals are to provide a space for HIV+ women to collectively determine ways in which to improve our social, economic, and environmental situations, support ourselves in living well with HIV, and provide general community support and advocacy for the prevention and treatment of this disease. The organization currently raises awareness about HIV/AIDS and takes direct action in the community through the following programs: health camps, provision of nutrition for women undergoing treatment, sensitization and advocacy programs, condom promotion, computer training, and a drop in center.

As AIDS widows, these women are left to care for their young family’s by themselves and are relatively unsupported by other members of their family. For the most part, we rely on government hospitals for information and treatment, and on ourselves for a very small income through our small Self Help Group (SHG). In many cases, because of our status as HIV+ women, we face a great stigma in government hospitals, and have no economic recourse to seek treatment from private hospitals. The information provided to us there is often brief and limited.

A computer with Internet access and know how would allow these women to avail a treasure-trove of medical information that has not been available to them in the past. They would be able to arm themselves with knowledge about their condition, and lead healthier lives. They would also be able gain access to information about their children’s health. with a computer and With the experience of training the women of Paneer, Santhana would be able to parlay such experience into building a small business of her own: offering one-on-one training / tutoring to other women in her community. Through this business, she would be able to recover the monthly cost of Internet access from the PIO fund at least in the beginning.

Not only would we be able to use the Internet as a resource for health information and enhance the capability of Paneer as a self-reliant organization, the synergy of these two events would allow Paneer to reach a far wider audience in Tamil Nadu and India as a whole. By establishing a strong social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), we would be able disseminate valuable health information to a much larger network and bring our advocacy to many different users.
I hope to pass it on by sharing the computer, wireless router and printer with members of Paneer and other women members of the community. I would work to educate them on how to use the computer, the Internet and how to utilize the power of social media, which I believe will lead to empowerment. By teaching these skills to the underprivileged women in the community, I would be passing on a chance to reach higher by equipping them with a marketable skill.

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