By Lauren Hernandez, ’15 Journalism
When Hanni Ali, ’17 Chemical Engineering, took the Student Union Ballroom stage, she prepared to share an all-too familiar experience with more than 300 female engineering students and professionals as part of the second annual Silicon Valley Women in Engineering (WiE) Conference on March 12.
“Usually, when people ask me what I’m majoring in, I reply with ‘engineering,’ and they give me a confused look and ask me ‘Why?’” Ali said. “And I reply, ‘Why not?’”
Ali attended the conference last year as a prospective transfer. This year, she was selected to speak at a gala dinner. The event offers the opportunity for professional women engineers to share their perspectives with students on entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership in the male-dominated industry.
“It is crucial to continue to hold events to encourage and empower future generations of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) women,” Ali said. “This year’s conference is bigger than last year’s, with a lot more professionals donating their time to inspire the next generation of women innovators.”
Guests attended some of the 25 workshops offered throughout the day on topics ranging from mentorship strategies, women leadership in STEM, buildings, infrastructure and the environment. Speakers included Oracle CEO Safra Catz, Apple Vice President of Wireless Technologies Isabel Mahe, and Facebook Vice President of Product Management for Social Good Naomi Gleit.
Apple’s Mahe alleviated the common concern that women can’t be successful engineers and also be strong mothers when she shared her experience of getting invited to dinner by Steve Jobs while she was still on maternity leave. After two hours of conversation with Jobs, Mahe accepted the position that she has held for eight years. She is now a mother of four.
IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs Manager Kristina Vasquez, ’02 Computer Engineering, hosted an interactive mentorship workshop with nine engineering students to discuss the importance of mentors and how to find them.
“I remember being in their shoes and I remember the people who helped me, and I don’t think I would be here today if it weren’t for them,” Vasquez said. “I have a daughter and these girls are like my daughters. I want the best for them.”
Vasquez, who graduated from San Jose State in 2002, said she saw the conference as an opportunity to maintain a sense of community among women engineers at the university, but also teach women that anyone can fill the role of being a mentor.