Jeeva Senthilnathan, 19 – FUNDED

Colorado School of Mines student Jeeva Senthilnathan’s professional dream is to be a Congresswoman in the House of Representatives while also running her side business, Privando. “Growing up, I’ve had many math and science teachers who would tell me that I was just never good enough to do engineering because I was seen as a low-income or a middle-class Asian who simply wouldn’t be given space at the top,” says the New Face of Tech winner. “Knowing that 1,000 Dreams Fund sees my value by choosing me, provides me the confidence I need to become powerful and prove everyone who doubted me wrong.”

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

It means I have become worthy in the STEM arena. I have always been told that I was “just another Asian girl in STEM,” and my work didn’t really matter because there were already a fair number of people from my race in STEM. It feels good to have validation from 1,000 Dreams Fund that I matter and my work in helping women matters.

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

We can change this in two ways.

(1) I believe that the biggest hindrance behind why women are underrepresented is because of income inequality that has also been directed at gender. One example is the pink tax that women face in society, where we pay more on the products associated with women’s health as well as the same types of products that men use. Because we are often paid less and taxed unfairly by society, our contributions toward our passion projects in STEAM are limited. Without the support of our parents or our closest friends, it’s difficult to receive access to good STEAM materials or buy them ourselves. 1,000 Dreams Fund is already making an impact and changing this by filling every woman’s cup to help pursue their passion projects and dreams.

(2) Women are also often underrepresented in STEAM because of male privilege and race. While many companies set out their “nondiscrimination policies,” we can clearly see their bias through statistics. The problem is that men have been taking up much space in STEAM fields, leaving women behind to pursue other fields. Alongside the issue of income inequality, there has always been a fine line between women, men, women of color, and men of color and how their privilege is categorized in society. As a woman of color, I’m even able to recognize how the privilege of men of color affects us in society. Because I was often never given a space in STEAM, I started pursuing politics, so that I could fix the system. Besides my political initiatives in gun safety, climate change, and teacher pay, I saw that a women’s perspective and leadership was very much needed. It’s no longer “for the people, by the people,” because “the people” had always been the men making the rules that have suppressed women. I believe that it is now time “for the people, by the women” because it is women who truly create and set the equal rules in society.

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

I have worked hard coming up as a first-generation Indian student, born in the U.S., and I still have not been able to obtain my first STEM internship — even though I have worked heavily as a community organizer and have also run for office at age 18. Because of this, I have definitely felt frustrated. I want to have some experience working in my field to earn some money to fuel my dreams. After trying repeatedly, attending thousands of resume sessions and review workshops, and applying to almost 300 internships with not one response back, I’ve nearly felt that I was just not fit for the STEM world and that everything my teachers had said about me pursing STEM was true. But I picked myself back up and told myself that I was going to be my own boss in the STEM world. AND that I ABSOLUTELY will make space for myself in this arena no matter how difficult or how much I would have to squeeze myself through.

I still really would like that first STEM internship, and I haven’t given up. The journey has been hard because I often compare myself to all the other high-school juniors and seniors and college freshmen and sophomores who can easily get a STEM internship. I wish that companies truly saw my past work experiences and my work ethic and had an appreciation for women taking time to learn. I wish that tech companies would see the kinds of courses I have taken thus far, provide me some support through training, and allow me to apply that knowledge to the responsibilities and duties necessary in their own companies.

I wish that companies would see me for who I am — that woman who is not extra-hype; that woman who is willing to go to the ends of the Earth to actually improve another company; that woman who is genuine and sincere.

How do you stay motivated and focused on your goals?

I always circle back to my purpose in this world. I understand that, if I was born into this world, then there are means and reasons for me to contribute in any way possible to society. When I feel down or burned out, I also review my past work and accomplishments to see how much I have grown. This helps to lift me to continue moving forward in the work I do.

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

It will help my tech startup — to build, prototype, and test out the products I create. Also, I think this recognition and funding inches me closer to possibly receiving my first tech internship as I work alongside growing my startup.