5 min. read

How To Set Up Your Own STEM Initiative

Spoiler alert – all you really need is time. 

We all know that while some girls show an interest in STEM subjects at around 10 or 11 years of age, this tends to drop by the time they turn 12. Not great, huh? We also know that, in order for girls to engage in STEM subjects, they need to see the significance of STEM in their daily lives, and believe in their own ability to succeed.

We’re starting to see more women in tech take a stand to present STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) in a way that will appeal to girls. Ever thought about how you can use your skills to break down stereotypes that dampens girls interest in STEM? Well, we asked Ursula Ceventes, Co Founder of WarmiLab how you can set up your own STEM initiative to support girls to see the endless doors of possibilities in tech. 

Caoimhe Sweeney

Content and Community Manager at Xena

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Let’s start at the beginning, tell me where you come from and how you got here? 

I’m originally from Cusco, Peru, and I moved to Berlin last year. I fell in love with the city and that’s why I decided to apply for a job here. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. It was a long process and in the middle of the pandemic. But I think overall it was a great experience.

Why did you decide on a career in technology? 

I think when I was a kid I was always fascinated with science fiction movies where robots were powered by artificial intelligence. When I was 16 my father taught me how to code. I was amazed by the fact that you could tell a computer what to do for a change because normally, I use a computer to play games or to write documents. I never imagined that I was able to actually tell a computer what to do, or create something out of nothing but my imagination. Then I had to decide what career to choose and I was doing some research. I found out that you could create artificial intelligence coding. That’s when I realised that I wanted to become a software engineer.

What motivated you to start WarmiLab? 

Since I was in college, I was the only girl in a class of 20 people. The same pattern was repeated at work. At that time I didn’t know that it was a global problem that was affecting everyone. So I started to read a lot of articles about this topic. It turns out that girls are starting to lose interest in STEM when they are around 12 years old. Even though they’re really good at this topic in school, they leave it behind because of stereotypes, or the lack of role models. That’s why I decided to focus on them.

“At WarmiLab we work with girls between the ages of 12 and 17. We want to make sure that they keep an interest in STEM and hopefully consider engineering as a career. So our mission is to encourage young women to become engineers. This way we can increase gender diversity in technology.”

What advice would you offer to anyone who is interested in setting up their own STEM initiative?

Spread the word

You need to spread the word and share your initiative. Share whatever it is that you want to do with more people and eventually you will get more and more volunteers. It’s important to talk out loud and share with as many people as you can. 

Focus on a specific group of people

I would definitely recommend focusing on a specific group of people. It could be kids, or teenagers or adults. Based on that you can prepare specific material that you need so you make sure you keep them engaged.

What steps do you need to take to set up a STEM initiative? 

1. Spread out your volunteers so they only join once a week

Depending on how many people join, you don’t need them to join for the entire week. Just once a week as long as you have enough volunteers for the session. For us, the volunteers were working after office hours. Maybe one hour, two hours a week, and then on Saturdays as well.

2. Prepare the right learning material 

Based on the group of people you focus on you’ll need to prepare the specific materials,  slide exercises and props such as a blackboard. 

3. Identify if need to provide laptops and an internet connection

You need to decide if you’re going to provide laptops and an internet connection. Or if it’s going to be an online session. Based on that you’ll know all of the requirements you need. 

4. Seek funding from corporate partners

If you need financial support for your activities, look for companies that are interested in supporting diversity initiatives that are aligned with your goals. Or maybe you don’t need anything, you just need volunteers. It’s important to define this before starting any kind of activity.

5. Define the number of students

Define how many students are going to participate in the activity you’re preparing. Based on that you can define how many volunteers you need, and how many teachers you need.

6. Make sure all participants have equal opportunities 

If you’re going to work with a mixed group of students. Say girls and boys, make sure that they all have the same opportunities. 

What has been your biggest achievement?

I think one of the biggest achievements was to take our workshops to different cities in Peru. Not only in the capital, we were able to go to rural schools to run these IoT workshops with them. We were also able to give them all the equipment they need so they could continue playing with this. We also teach teachers how they can create more projects so they will guide their students as well. It was only possible thanks to our volunteers and of course Telefonica who is the company that invested in this initiative.

Why do you believe it’s important to educate more girls about technology?

I believe it’s very important to invest in digital skills because that is what is transforming the world. There’s something related to technology in every field. For example, medicine, health, climate change and banks. Not only technology of course, science, engineering and maths. We need more women in this field because we need their talent. Society needs their talents and their ideas. It’s already proven that in a gender diversity workplace, we can generate different ideas because of our different ways of thinking, and this translates directly into greater innovation. Women play a central role in this because they make up half of the workforce. So it is important to encourage them to join these fields.

From your own experience of being a woman in tech, do you believe gender diversity is an issue? 

Since college pretty much I was the only girl in the room, Either at a class or at college or in a meeting room at work, I was most of the time the only girl. It feels weird, sometimes maybe uncomfortable but eventually you get used to it. But I believe it is an issue if women do not have the same power as men in terms of salary, opportunities or fair treatment. I think it is an issue if women tend to face more difficulties to progress in their career or they are paid less. Or maybe they are concentrated in fewer jobs than men. I think we really need to focus on gender diversity because it can be beneficial both for women and organisations. Diverse talent, as I mentioned before, enriches the problem solving ability of the organisation and this translates into better performance and of course better revenue for the company. But it also promotes a healthy work culture. Because you get to listen to a different point of view and understand a different point of view and respect a different point of view. 

What can anyone who would like to get involved with WarmiLab do straight away?

“We’re always looking for more volunteers who can run more workshops or give talks to the young girls. So if you want to join us, you can send a message at info@warmilab.com or through our social media. We’re always open to collaborate with other organisations as well.”