Aparna Rajesh, 18 – FUNDED

Aparna Rajesh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in computer science with a concentration in artificial intelligence and machine learning at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Her goal? To become a software engineer for aerospace technologies! Specifically, this New Face of Tech winner wants to lead diverse teams of engineers in finding applications of machine learning for teleoperated rover navigation with haptic feedback or in autonomous spacecraft navigation.

What does being the New Face of Tech mean to you?

It is an honor to be among this group. The women in STEM movement is gaining traction —our work in defying stereotypes and leveling the playing field in STEM is working, and we’re just getting started!

Women are underrepresented in STEAM. How can we change this?

We must get more girls involved at a younger age. Showing girls that they, too, can lead careers in STEAM is an integral part of the systematic reworking of all STEAM fields for increased diversity and inclusion. Positive reinforcement among younger girls can only be encouraged if we are able to do away with the negative stereotypes that undermine women in STEM and if we help girls identify female role models instead.

What are some of the challenges you have faced along the way?

I have been dealing with imposter syndrome for as long as I’ve been involved in tech. Throughout high school, I participated in male-dominated robotics competitions where I was often told by my male counterparts that I, as the captain of an all-girls team, did not belong in STEM. The constant ungraciousness and questioning of my abilities were difficult to work through, and I often considered leaving the field altogether. However, I found strength in both my passion for tech and in the bond I had with my teammates, and I persevered.

Currently, I attend a tech-focused university, where men make up the two-thirds majority. The bro-culture is rampant, and my peers often underestimate my skills and then attempt to intimidate me online or during class. The dynamic makes the atmosphere here very unsettling at times. However, I am working with the Women in Computer Science Club at our school to create safe spaces for everyone in tech and help overcome imposter syndrome.

How do you stay motivated and focused on your goals?

I look up to my role models and mentors — I hope to achieve similar goals. Seeing my mother and grandmother thrive in aerospace and engineering while keeping close contact with women and other students who inspire me helps me stay focused on my career goals.

How will funding from the 1,000 Dreams Fund and HARMAN help you reach your goals?

I am currently pursuing my bachelor’s degree in computer science with a concentration in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Receiving the microgrant would help make the degree more affordable for my family.