This blog is part of our #PeopleOfRobogals series. This series highlights our volunteers from across the organisation, from our chapters to our leadership team and board members.
Robogals is made possible by our amazing volunteers from across the globe, ranging from students to professionals of all genders, ages and backgrounds. We come from a wide range expertise from engineering to law to commerce and are all united under the cause of gender equity in engineering and technology.
We sat down with a past president of the Robogals Wellesley chapter, Isabelle Li, to learn about her time at Robogals as well as her experiences working, studying and volunteering in the STEM fields.
How did you become an undergraduate researcher at Wellesley?
I wasn’t aware of how widely applicable scientific research could be until I took my first computer science class at Wellesley and had the opportunity to participate in a hackathon.
Luckily, Wellesley has an amazing summer research program and wide range of research projects that students are encouraged to apply for. Last summer I had the chance to work with Professor Lyn Turbak, a computer science professor at Wellesley, and did some data analysis work on users of a blocks programming language called App Inventor. It was an amazing experience and I got to present my work at a blocks language conference in October which was a nerve-wracking experience. The research process wasn’t what I expected at all, we were always discovering new questions to explore and pivoting the research so there was never really an end-point for our work.
Interning as a software engineer at Facebook must be fun! What was your experience like?
I’ve had a really great time interning at Facebook this summer! I actually have two more weeks left so I’m still trying to finish up and ship the projects I worked on. I’ve been working as a client-side engineer on the Instagram Business Engagement team. Since I’ve never worked at a large company or done software engineering, it’s been an enlightening and learning experience. The best part about being a software engineer at Facebook is the impact I’ve had. You always hear about Facebook’s motto – “move fast” but I never expected that it would be so fast-paced. I’ve also met many amazing interns and have a great team, so I’m very happy with my time at Facebook.
Where do you see your career taking you after college?
I am honestly not quite sure what I want to do after college yet. After my internship experience this summer, I realized that I enjoy coding but would like to work more with different partners within the company and clients. I am thinking about working as a Software Engineer for a couple of years before switching to a management role like Engineering Manager or Product Manager. I am also really interested in exploring careers that are an intersection of another field and tech. For example, I am taking an information policy class next year – the intersection of law and tech – so if I end up enjoying that class, I might consider law school or tech policy. There’s definitely a lot of possible careers that I can pursue, but I’m excited to develop my career into something that will be high-impact.
How does volunteering at Robogals help you explore technology’s role in education?
I think volunteering at Robogals really introduced me to the idea of combining tech and education. If you asked me in my first year of college what software engineering or tech looks like, I would think of companies like Google or just people sitting at a table coding all day. My volunteer work as well as my exploration of this field have taught me that there is so much impactful work that can be done. Tech plays a huge role in education by making the knowledge accessible to people. I think our Robogals workshops really help with that because it’s hard to get interested in tech and engineering if you don’t even know much about it or that you could be good at it. We’re exposing these concepts and technology to girls at an early age so that they can get a headstart in exploring these fields.
What makes the Wellesley Robogals Chapter different from other, similar University initiatives on campus?
I think Wellesley Robogals is special and different from the other chapters on campus because we develop our own specialized curriculum. A lot of the other groups, they either follow a pre-set curriculum that was developed by their leadership team or they create a quite general curriculum, just introducing basic science concepts. Our workshops are more personalised to the students that we work with around Wellesley, and cover lots of topics such as coding or circuits, that aren’t usually introduced until high school. We also focus on specific tools that help us demonstrate these concepts, such as Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/) , a website that teaches kids to program their own interactive stories, games, and animation, or technology toy companies such as littleBits (https://www.littlebits.com/) , who produce kits for kids with colour-coded, electronic building blocks. Our workshops are also girls-only, meaning that we create a special space for young students to explore tech and engineering.