GHC19- A trip of firsts

“That will be me one day”

-Vanessa

Passport ✓ Comically large suitcase given the length of the trip ✓ Business attire ✓ Travel sized items ✓ Open mind ✓ Good to go!

The question that most of you probably now have is where did I go that required a 21kg suitcase for 5 days? Well, I had what can only be described as the privilege to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing held in Orlando, Florida! I spent some time thinking about how best to tell you about this trip since it was one of those truly incredible experiences that is difficult to actually explain using words . Then I remembered that I had a staggering number of ‘firsts’ happen very consistently over the course of the trip, so perhaps I’ll tell you that way.

First time to America

This seems a good place to start. As someone who has not done very much travelling, this was an overwhelmingly exciting moment, this combined with my first long haul flight made for a very interesting experience. I will admit to, however, spending a rather embarrassing amount of time getting excited in my head at the feat of engineering that I was sitting inside of… Planes are cool!

First time going to NASA

I mean what more needs to be said?! We went to NASA!! It was definitely one of the most inspiring and quietening moments I had been in in a while. Just to give you an idea as to the size of some of these rockets, here’s me standing underneath one

The Saturn V rocket

The size, complexity and incredible engineering, technology and mathematics that went behind this rocket had me speechless (and that is quite hard to do!) It was one of those times that all I could do was smile, I was so excited at this culmination of STEM that allowed people to go to space and couldn’t help but wonder what the future might hold and what I could do to contribute, invent or create. Maybe one day I might use the mathematics I learn to help build or create things even greater than this.

And can we please have a conversation about how cool these socks are!

First time attending the Grace Hopper Celebration

I had heard, year after year of people I knew from school or other STEMettes attending GHC and had heard them say how amazing of an experience it was but I didn’t expect it to be quite as amazing as it was. First of all, being in a room with more that 25,000 other women who love technology… how often does that happen?! We heard stories of amazing women who had beat the odds, who had innovated and women who had changed the world and with every passing second, every thought that said I couldn’t be influential in technology was dispelled. I met women who came from the most diverse of backgrounds and suddenly it didn’t feel as impossible to get into tech with my mathematics degree(in progress) as I first thought.

One of the most inspiring people that we heard speak was Abie Student of Vision Award Winner, Jhillika Kumar. She is the founder of Mentra, a platform aiming to create a neurodiverse workforce and the thing that struck me most about her was the fact that she was the same age as me. Which by extension made me realise that I’m not too young to make a difference or have a voice that is heard which inspired me to further pursue public speaking and work on my projects to make an impact. When she started speaking, totally involuntarily, I said, that’ll be me one day. This was the first time I felt like I could really have some kind of an influence.

As a part of the conference, we also attended sessions and my two favourite were both related to public speaking. The first was about finding your inner tech talk and gave us practical steps to finding your technical topic and how to put together a talk. As a result of this session, I did my first ever solo talk at the Imperial College London Mathematics Undergraduate Colloquium to around 40 people about the how Group Theory and the Hydrogen atom are related and despite it being difficult, it was such a valuable experience that I received very positive feedback on and I probably wouldn’t have even attempted should I have not attended that session.

The second session was about why students should do public speaking and more practical tips. This time the talk was more about general talks and the ideas that I learned, I then used on the evening of the day I did my first ever solo talk, doing my second, at the Women of the Future Reception at the Guildhall in front of around 200 people. And I had never received such positive feedback on any talk or panel I had ever done. My confidence shot through the roof.

So very soon after returning to the UK after the conference ended, it became very clear just how much I had learned at the conference and how much confidence I had gained.

First time picking up around 5kg of swag in 3 days

Yeah… That would be why I had such a large suitcase for such a short trip… I was told to anticipate a lot of swag but I did not expect nearly as much as there was. But if you think I picked up a lot, go ask Hadiyah how much she got! (Hint: It was a lot!)

First time being in a room with people who ‘look like me’

One thing about being a woman studying a STEM subject is there aren’t very many of us and there are significantly fewer black women. I am the only black woman in second year maths at Imperial and that gets very lonely. It also isn’t helped by the fact that there are very very few black women in senior roles in the department so I don’t have many people who ‘look like me’ to look up to. I mean you can’t be what you can’t see right? Well I attended the reception for black women in technical roles and it was so amazing and inspiring to be part of a community of so many awesome women who ‘looked like me’. I saw black women who had done amazing things in technology and it inspired me to think ‘maybe I can do that to’.

So what did I learn?

This trip was a truly life changing and I learned so much. I learned small things like how much I like beef jerky, how to use chopsticks (courtesy of Charlotte) and I learned that American portions is significantly larger than the British version of the same dish. But I learned some really big things too, I found out that I have been one of my biggest obstacles, I learned how to handle impostor syndrome as a friend and not a foe, I learned that ‘your network is your networth’ and that ‘opportunities compound’ and I learned how valuable having a community of women to support me is. And that is exactly what the STEMettes is to me, a network of amazing people who all love STEM and who inspire me everyday. Since getting back to the UK, I have been so much more confident, I have been able to ask questions in lectures and to speak up about what I believe, I’ve been able to call out sexism and geek out openly about things I find cool. I’ve been held accountable by the 5 amazing friends I went to GHC with and I’m so excited to see what comes next for me.

I wanted to thank Deustche Bank for sponsoring this trip and STEMettes for choosing me to come along to such an amazing opportunity. This conference changed me so much as a person and I would love to see more young women going next year.

-Vanessa

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