Lily O., 20 – FUNDED

“I appreciate this funding so much — it’s allowing me to use my last semester of college as a chance to see firsthand the work that other countries are doing in regard to sustainable urbanization through a program abroad focused on metropolitan and urban studies,” says New Face of Tech winner Lily O., a Civil and Environmental Engineering senior at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “I want to take full advantage of this opportunity to see the wide range of opportunities for work within green building and green infrastructure, so that I can enter my career with a clearer image of how I can use my civil and environmental engineering knowledge to make cities more sustainable.”

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

I really love 1,000 Dreams Fund; it’s something I started following closely in high school when I still had so many doubts about whether I was “good enough” or “smart enough” to succeed in a STEAM field. Learning in a college environment the past few years the years has made it clear that these doubts were imposed on me by the world around me and that I am fully able to and will pursue a civil engineering career path. Being the New Face of Tech, I hope to have the same effect on younger people who are trying to figure out their options within STEAM and encourage them to challenge themselves and to not let doubts get in the way of the academic and career future they want!

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

I know that, for me, a lot of my doubts surrounding a STEAM path stemmed from also really enjoying humanities classes and feeling less comfortable messing up and asking for help in my math and science courses. What really helped were STEAM programs aimed at high schoolers, which brought together a bunch of people who were in similar situations and taught us all simple skills and gave us more information about the career paths we were claiming, as teenagers, to be interested in. Those programs helped me take baby steps toward feeling sure about my intended major going into college and set me up for small scholarship opportunities that had a strong impact on my motivation to pursue STEAM fields — even when the impact on an exorbitant tuition was not quite so large.

I think creating more programs and scholarship opportunities for interested high-schoolers would give young women more of a chance to get comfortable in STEAM fields, realize they are not nearly as difficult or scary as society makes them out to be, and eventually enter these academic and career paths.

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

In high school, it was hard for me to feel confident about wanting to pursue an engineering career path because my school was very humanities-focused and it felt like I had no reason to believe I could succeed in a different academic environment. I joined STEAM extracurricular programs, though, and had a supportive family so I was able to push through those doubts into college. My freshman year was tough and filled with imposter syndrome. Because I didn’t have the same academic background as many of my peers, it felt like I was working from scratch in physics-based classes.

Ultimately, all I had to do was go to office hours and put in the extra work to catch up and the fears about my intelligence that had initially felt overwhelming and horrible were revealed to just be, well… fears.

Beyond the normal academic and financial challenges, there aren’t any huge obstacles I’ve overcome thus far! The reason I am going into detail about these struggles is not because they are unique to me, but because looking back I think they are actually really common. And I know that they can feel crushing and isolating in the moment, and I would like other people who are going through the same academic journey and facing the same fears to know that they are not alone in doing so

How do you stay motivated and focused on your goals?

It sounds very cheesy and overdone, but I want to make a difference. I know that designing a few green buildings isn’t going to cause some huge reversal in the damage that we’ve done to the environment, and I know that the rich and powerful have an amount of influence when it comes to climate change that my engineering work will never be able to counteract. But it still means so much to get the opportunity to make small changes and make the world a more sustainable, environmentally conscious place. I know myself and I know that I would not be able to give my all to a career path that didn’t have that capacity to make a little bit of a difference in the world around me.

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

I am going to use it to study abroad in Berlin next semester, take urban sustainability courses there, and see firsthand the civil and environmental engineering work the city is doing to achieve its goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050. My semester will also involve a lot of visiting neighboring cities for the same reason, and I hope that this experience will shed new light on the ways in which I can work to make urbanization more sustainable in my own career path.