By Manisha Yadav
Inside a conference room at the NetApp Bangalore Campus, a group of young girls gathered recently to experiment with hands-on science and engineering projects. With a newfound confidence about doing well in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines despite their underprivileged backgrounds, their upbringing and gender no longer seemed like a hurdle to them.
The Young Women in Technology (YWIT) workshop, the first of its kind at NetApp Bangalore, aims to encourage students from underprivileged families to pursue a career in the STEM disciplines. In January, the WIT-NB and University Relations teams hosted 21 young girls from underprivileged families and their science teachers during a workshop held at the Bangalore Campus. Dream a Dream, one of the charities NetApp works with in Bangalore, was a part of this initiative.
If you’d visited this program in action, you’d be happy to see these 9-to-11-year-olds tinkering with their robotics kits or learning the mechanics of a solar model. Amidst the banter and playfulness, these girls from a local school in Bangalore learned the significant role women have played in science. Whether it was Marie Curie’s discoveries centuries ago or the scientists behind the Mangalyaan (Mars Orbit) mission two years ago, the students found female role models in the field of science.
The girls were up earlier than their usual school hours for the program, but their curiosity and excitement could not be contained. After registrations and a quick breakfast, they were ready for their first session.
In the first session,– “Build Your Own Solar Model,” Balaji Ramani, technical director, familiarized the students with the concept of solar energy and taught them the mechanics of a fully-functional solar robot/helicopter/windmill/car. Seated at five round tables with one volunteer at each table to guide them, the girls began assembling their solar projects—waiting for them to materialize into something magical!
“Wow,” exclaimed the kids with joy, on watching their hand-made robots take their first steps in the sun.
The second session, “How to Build a Crazy Magnet,” led by Sushma Manjanna and Chandana MN, taught the children the workings of magnetic poles, engaging them as they worked on a replica of a model shown to them from an animated movie. Placing four magnets on an iron board, a pen with attached magnet was hung above so that it danced as the like poles repelled and the unlike poles attracted each other.
“It was a great sense of accomplishment for me, to be able to bring a smile to not one but twenty-one innocent faces,” says Priya Sehgal, MTS, Advanced Technology Group.
At the end of the facility tour that followed the first two sessions, the girls expressed their wish to come back to NetApp as engineers in the future.
“It was a pleasure to see the joy in these children’s eyes during the facility tour. These are some of the things that we take for granted at work,” concluded Protima Achaya, staffing head, India & APAC.
After an interactive lunch, it was time for the third session, “Learning through Storytelling.” Hanu Ramasanjeeva and Shashank KS had prepared a motivational video presentation on female scientists and their contributions. The girls were inspired to learn about Marie Curie, Mary Anderson and other female scientists in the video. Harshitha, one of the students, wasn’t afraid to let us know her unbridled ambition to be an artist, doctor and a scientist—yes , all three!
“While interacting with the students, we realized that if girls can solve real-world problems that they face at home or in their community, they could also do this for their country or the world by developing valuable technology, and this ought to empower them in many ways,” says Shashank, software engineer, Systems Architechture & Auto NB.
The session illustrated to the girls that not everything is “man” made. As opined by Bindu, another student, had Mary Anderson not invented windshield wipers, men would also not be able to drive a car during rainfall.
“I am sure the students have taken a lot of memories and lessons back with them and soon they will begin contributing to the world of science and technology,” says Ankita Ganguly, University Relation Specialist.
And that is precisely the objective of this workshop. The WIT team at NetApp plans to conduct another such session later this year. The overwhelming response from this session has convinced the organizing team that another progressive learning workshop should be organized for the same group of young women next year.
It was a humbling experience with the kids, one that not only took us down memory lane, but also left indelible marks on our hearts and minds. As William Wordsworth realized centuries ago, “child is the father of the man.” It is only apt that in our endeavor to encourage young women to step into technical fields, we also remind ourselves that adapting to change while remaining true to our innate curiosity is the way to a bright future for the next generation.