Annual SJSU Conference to Encourage Women to ‘Reimagine the Future’ of Engineering

Silicon Valley Women in Engineering Conference 2021

Diana Knobler, ‘22 Biomedical Engineering, grew up in a predominantly Hispanic Los Angeles neighborhood, where it was rare for high school students to attend four-year universities. After arriving at San José State, Knobler was surprised to discover she was even more of an exception to the rule than she thought.

“My introductory engineering course had three times as many male students as it did female students, and even fewer Latinx students,” Knobler explained.

That’s a big reason why she decided to attend this year’s Silicon Valley Women in Engineering Conference, which will be held virtually on Saturday, March 20, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The conference, in its seventh year, is hosted by the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering at San José State.

The conference’s theme is “Reimagine the Future,” and the event is open to students at SJSU and other higher ed institutions who want to learn about current trends and innovations in the field.

Keynote speakers include Renée DiResta, technical research manager for Stanford Internet Observatory; Ann Lee-Karlon, senior vice president of Genentech; and Jessica J. Marquez, human-systems engineer for NASA Ames Research Center. They will speak on how to detect misinformation on social media, new advances in biotechnology and future trends in space technology.

Attendees can choose from 12 technical talks about emerging technologies and six professional development sessions. They can also mingle with representatives from more than 50 Silicon Valley companies—including sponsors Google, IBM, Netgear, Lam Research and several others—during the conference’s Innovation Showcase.

The overall mission is to educate students, provide them with potential mentors and role models, and to create a community for women engineers in the Silicon Valley, according to Belle Wei, the Carolyn Guidry Chair of Engineering Education and Innovative Learning.

“Women are a minority in engineering classrooms—less than 20 percent of students in an engineering classroom are women,” said Wei, who serves on the conference committee.

“All of these speakers are highly accomplished women professionals,” she continued. “We want them to see that these women have worked hard, had a strategy, persevered and have been successful.”

Many of the students who attend the conference are in a position similar to Knobler’s. Jinny Rhee, conference chair and associate dean of undergraduate programs and student success for the College of Engineering, said attendees often come from underrepresented groups or are first-generation college students.

“So they might not have some of the support structures and infrastructure that other engineering students may take for granted,” Rhee added. “We want to allow them to reimagine the role engineering can take in a developed society. Engineering is there to make the world a better place, and we don’t want anyone to lose sight of that.”

Knobler does want to make the world a better place: She plans to one day introduce life-changing medical devices into the health-care field. After her first semester at SJSU, Knobler joined an engineering and technical sciences sorority, The Beta Upsilon Chapter of Alpha Omega Epsilon, and she said having a female support system has made all the difference.

“Being connected to so many amazing women through this conference feels like the first step to building an industry-level support system,” Knobler explained. “I hope to use the knowledge I gain from these women to become successful in the industry myself and one day return to do the same for [the next generation of] young female engineers.”

Laura Guio, ‘86 Marketing, is doing just that. When she entered the engineering industry more than 30 years ago, there were not many women to whom she could look for inspiration and guidance.

“Fast forward to today, and there are more women tech leaders, but not as many as I would have expected by this point in time,” said Guio, who now serves as general manager and executive for IBM. “As a woman technology leader and an SJSU graduate, I feel it is my responsibility and privilege to talk about my experience and encourage others while sharing my journey.”

Guio will talk about her experiences during a panel discussion on developing career strategies. Rhee and Wei want to see female students persist in their engineering careers long after graduation, but that doesn’t always happen.

“We know a lot of women leave technology fields soon after they graduate for various reasons, and that’s a shame,” Rhee noted. “The research says that the stronger your engineering identity, the more likely you are to get your degree and persist in the field after you graduate.”

They will ask attendees to complete pre- and post-event surveys to better understand how the conference can play a role in fostering that strong identity.

Guio said she wants attendees of the conference to know there are plenty of opportunities for success and many ways to pursue them.

“Everyone’s journey is their own, and you have to know yourself, your skills and what drives and motivates you to begin to understand the path you want to take,” Guio said.

“Technology needs diversity in representation, which brings diversity in thought. Studies show if you have a diverse mix of talent, this will improve performance and success. Most of all, I want to encourage these students to push forward, dream big, but take it one step at a time.”

To learn more about the conference, visit 2021.siliconvalleywie.org.

2020 Silicon Valley Women in Engineering (WiE) Conference Will Convene Entirely Online On March 14

Graphic of 2020 Silicon Valley WiE Conference announcing a switch to a virtual conference.
The Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering has moved its annual Silicon Valley Women in Engineering (WiE) conference scheduled on March 14, 2020 entirely to an online format as a precautionary measure against COVID-19 as the virus continues to pose a risk to the well-being of the community. WiE 2020 is still happening with all the amazing programming that was promised as the Women in Engineering Conference team has succeeded in creating a virtual conference.

Live streaming of the event, which is now free and open to all, will start at 8:30 a.m. with welcome and keynote addresses that will be delivered by Kate Gordon, director and senior adviser to the California governor on climate, and Meagan Pi, vice president of Google. While Gordon will shed light on the cutting edge of sustainable Smart City innovations, Pi will share her journey from China to Silicon Valley. Isaura S. Gaeta, vice president of security research and general manager of Intel Product Assurance and Security, will deliver the lunch keynote.

Every year the event draws the best of tech industry experts, aspiring engineers and a large section of the student community from the engineering department, local community colleges and high schools. This year, the virtual conference is centered on the theme of “vision for a better future.” Engineers and scientists will gather to discuss a range of issues from the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI) to the current global health crisis to impacts of climate change.

WiE 2020 is an avenue for aspiring engineers to network with trailblazing scientists who are breaking gender stereotypes and designing creative solutions to counter the world’s pressing problems. It will also help students visualize a career arc, learn about emerging technologies as well as understand the extent of impact engineers have on shaping the world.

Registered students will receive an email by Friday, March 13 with instructions as to how to participate online for the entire conference, including keynotes, technical and professional development sessions, career panels, and even the innovation showcase. More information will soon be available on 2020.siliconvalleywie.org.

In her message to the community on the conference website, Stacy Gleixner, SJSU professor and conference chair, said that industry leaders at this year’s conference are creating a better future by designing greener construction and energy solutions, developing life-saving diagnostics and medicine, and inventing tools that promote inclusion and security while revolutionizing the way we interact and work.

Industry leaders from some of the top Silicon Valley companies such as Netflix, Facebook, Accenture, IBM, NASA, LinkedIn, Amazon Labs, Marvel Semiconductor, Shockwave Medical, Xilinx and others will be speaking throughout the day on topics that include sustainable development and construction, medicine and diagnostics, space travel, virtual reality, the future of blockchain, AI, machine learning and wearable devices.

Sheryl Ehrman, SJSU

Sheryl Ehrman, dean of SJSU’s Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering, speaking at the 2018 Women in Engineering Conference at SJSU. Photo: David Schmitz.

One of the technical tracks will focus on the ethical aspects of AI, starting with those related to models and algorithms such as bias, fairness and explainability to examine how they influence the end outcomes concerning privacy and safety. The panel will also discuss the impacts AI has on humans. For example, it will explore how automation will change the nature of some jobs, what effect it would have on democracy, human-to-human, and human-to-AI interaction, etc.

Computer Engineering Professor Magdalini Eirinaki said AI users should be conscious of its implications, especially in terms of sharing their personal data. With less information, manipulation chances for targeted advertising or propaganda purposes reduce. “I’m now more mindful about doing online quizzes, for instance,” she said.

She added that deep learning has allowed many interesting applications. “AI has allowed us to visualize how we will look when we get old and add funny headpieces to our selfies, but also fight cyberbullying and diagnose cancer in the early stages,” said Eirinaki. “However, it can also discriminate against underrepresented groups, or become a tool of propaganda and warfare.”

Several of these ethical questions that go beyond the design of the underlying algorithms and technologies will feature in the discussion as AI continues to impact our everyday lives.

Interested candidates can still join the virtual conference by entering their names in a signup sheet on the main page of http://2020.siliconvalleywie.org/ Once they sign up, they will receive the instructions and the pdf schedule with log-in links in their email.

The committee has refunded all fees and setting up pick up hours/locations for the swag (bags, t-shirts) at SJSU and also sending them to all schools that pre-registered as a group.

Visit Silicon Valley Women in Engineering to participate in the 2020 conference.