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Saanika Kulkarni, 19 – FUNDED

Saanika Kulkarni aspires to specialize in machine learning and apply it to the financial sector to streamline and democratize investment practices for everyday investors. In the long run, her dream is to be a financial technology (fintech) entrepreneur and join that growing field — one that is incredibly exciting to her. In the meantime, the New Face of Tech winner is an engineering student at the University of Michigan, studying computer science. “Through guidance from industry leaders, I aspire to share my projects and early-stage high potential ventures to take them to the next level,” she says.

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

It carries a certain level of responsibility. This honor is a recognition of my accomplishments in the field of computing thus far and a source of encouragement to keep being an innovative thinker, a dynamic engineer, and a committed leader.

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

We must provide young women with exposure to mentorship, opportunities, and meaningful projects. This way, they see all the possibilities available to them as they start making decisions about academic and professional careers. Instilling confidence in them through representation is key to dismantling the implicit biases women in technology face and ultimately prepares them for the new digital economy.

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

Like many women in STEAM roles, I have felt that I need to prove myself again and again to earn the credibility and respect of my peers. As one of the few girls in male-dominated computer science classes or design project teams over the years, I’ve still raised my hand at every opportunity presented to answer challenging questions or make insightful comments —which has earned some eye rolls from my fellow team members. In part, this has pushed me to reach higher, but at the same time, it has prompted me to think about the double standards women face.

How do you stay motivated and focused on your goals?

In an age of distractions, being productive seems daunting, but it can be achieved. Lately, I have been bullet journaling to collect my thoughts, organize my day, and plan the week ahead. This helps me stay focused and track my goals; the sheer satisfaction and sense of accomplishment after checking things off cannot be put into words. Taking occasional brain breaks or long walks in nature, sneaking in a Pilates workout or two, or simply listening to music are great ways of recharging and replenishing your energy as you go about seizing your day!

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

I am an out-of-state student at the University of Michigan, which means that tuition is very expensive. In addition, the cost of textbooks and study materials, especially as an engineering student is high. The funding will help offset some of the costs associated with these things.