Daniela Markazi, 25 – FUNDED

“A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman.” ― Melinda Gates

That’s a quote that inspires New Face of Tech winner Daniela Markazi, an Informatics Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (where she also received dual Bachelor’s degrees in Agricultural and Biological Engineering and a minor in Natural Resource Conservation). “By receiving this award, I can share my voice and let others know that the typical face of technology is transforming,” she says.

Her dream is to be an informatics professor, focusing on technology design for social good, especially concerning underserved communities and the environment.

“Technology has changed my life, and I want to investigate how it can impact the well-being of others as well as enhance society,” she says. “I also love to teach, and I am passionate about helping youth, women, and underrepresented students pursue STEAM and academia. Moreover, I am dedicated to disaster relief and resilience causes in Puerto Rico.”

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

I am humbled and honored to be among a group of inspirational women. This award means that I can help redefine what people think of those who pursue careers in technology. Further, I can show girls that anyone can seek advanced degrees in engineering or informatics.

I want to empower women who may feel excluded from engaging in STEAM. Right now, we are on the cusp of even greater technological advancements with more and more women at the helm. Food, agriculture, medicine, business, fashion, security, banking, and just about everything we do relies on technology!

We can be inspired to improve living standards and life by improving technology. We can make the impossible possible just by inventing new or tweaking current technology. As future technology leaders, we will play a pivotal role in making this happen!

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

1,000 Dreams Fund and HARMAN are leading the way for other organizations to follow so that women can have a voice, realize that our voices are more powerful than we can even imagine, and break that proverbial ‘glass ceiling’!”

Women should be exposed to technology at a young age and realize that anyone can pursue STEAM and succeed. When I first became involved in STEAM, I co-founded a robotics club that ended up being the largest in the world. However, I was one of the only girls in a club of over 100 guys, and I often felt intimidated and thought I did not belong.

More opportunities should be created specifically for girls to become involved in STEAM. Further, there should be diversity in STEAM leaders, so young girls can learn that people who look like them can do well in the field. Representation truly matters.

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

I often face discrimination. I was bullied from elementary school until college due to prejudices against women of color. None of my STEAM teachers looked like me. I was often the only girl in my classes. I felt like an outsider and was discouraged from pursuing a STEAM career.

However, excelling in STEAM was the way I overcame these negative experiences. Now, I am committed to helping underrepresented students find their voices and become empowered via STEAM.

From creating an undergraduate computer science course specifically to increase inclusivity, to volunteering and mentoring for organizations that help fellow underrepresented students, my goal is to become a STEAM leader and professor to be the representation I lacked during my education and to help underrepresented students, like myself, succeed.

How do you stay motivated and focused on your goals?

As I aim to become a professor in the future, I am involved in a variety of activities outside of my studies that help me stay motivated and focused. I am an active leader, mentor, and volunteer of multiple STEAM organizations, such as the National Center for Women and Information Technology (I am the Chair of the Central Illinois Chapter), FIRST Robotics (I mentor multiple robotics teams), the Graduate Society of Women Engineers (I mentor female undergraduate computer science and engineering students), and the University of Illinois Puerto Rico Disaster Relief Program (I am one of the leaders for this organization).

For the past four years, I have been volunteering and conducting research in Puerto Rico for disaster relief and resilience engineering and computer science projects. I spend the majority of my free time mentoring undergraduate students on how to conduct research (here and in Puerto Rico). In addition, I currently teach two classes on how engineering and computer science can be applied to help the environment.

Also I love to plan. I create to-do lists every day, where I highlight small, achievable goals for the day. Aiming small at first allows me to finish tasks that eventually lead to much larger goals and accomplishments.

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

Receiving this scholarship will help me travel to multiple computer science conferences, helping me gain new research experiences and opportunities.