Tulsa event teaches STEM careers to teenage females

Se yeon kim, a software engineer at mozilla, agrees "ask me anything" friday at the oklahoma women in tech spring retreat for girls ages 13-18 at the bok financial technology center in tulsa. (courtesy photo)
Se yeon kim, a software engineer at mozilla, holds an “ask me anything” session friday at oklahoma women in tech’s spring retreat for girls ages 13-18 at the bok financial technology center in tulsa. (courtesy photo)

Graphic design, project management, software sales—the career opportunities in technology are obvious and sometimes obscure. Oklahoma Women in Tech hosted a free retreat Friday in Tulsa to help female students explore a diverse career.

The annual spring retreat was organized at the BOK Financial Technology Center and was attended by about 75 teenage girls. OKWIT offers an annual fall retreat in Oklahoma City.

“This is an opportunity for students to meet a variety of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) women in their community and see firsthand how many opportunities there are in Oklahoma to pursue a technical career or STEM degree,” said OKWIT President Cindy Silva.

Silva is an IT analyst at Diamondback Energy in Oklahoma City and remembers being interested in computers from an early age. As a business major in college, he chose management information systems as his focus.

While his business school membership was evenly split between men and women, joining the workforce was a big change. Silva said that she was often the only woman in the group and could not find women in leadership positions.

OKWIT works to change that scenario by providing professional development for women in STEM fields and annual spring and fall retreats for students.

Friday’s half-day event provided a behind-the-scenes look at career opportunities in Oklahoma’s growing technology industry through sessions, panel discussions and hands-on activities.

“STEM careers are not for everyone, but we are opening minds,” Silva said. “All of our volunteers and speakers come from different backgrounds. Some did not start in technology.’

Libby Ediger, CEO of the Holberton Tulsa School of Software Engineering, gave a keynote address discussing the history of the gender divide in STEM fields and how young women can pursue careers in STEM.

“We know that part of the reason there’s a gap in the number of women pursuing tech careers is a lack of mentors and advisors telling young women there’s a path,” Ediger said. “I love partnering with OK Women in Tech for spring retreats because it gives dozens of young high school women the opportunity to meet and learn from women in the industry, women who look like them and who are from Tulsa. Tech jobs are rare in Tulsa.”

Students also heard from women working in technology careers at BOK Financial: Viviana Abrego, network engineer; Grace Havrilka, cyber threat analyst; Lizzy Bales, senior director of enterprise architecture; and Sarah Stephenson, project manager.

“Because it’s such a male-dominated industry, sometimes, as a girl or a woman, you can feel like you don’t belong,” Abrego said. “But that’s where you belong, and as a girl, you’re much more valuable because of the different way you experience the world than a boy. Your thoughts, ideas and views are much needed for this reason.’

Havrilka said events like this help participants find a community of other girls interested in STEM careers and create mentoring opportunities with women who have built successful careers in STEM, careers that otherwise would have gone undiscovered.

Silva said that some industries are gradually changing the requirements for a college degree if the applicant has acquired the necessary technology skills through another educational path, especially at startups and smaller companies. “I hope this opens up more opportunities for people.”

It is often achieved by doing technological know-how. “I learned a lot on the job,” Silva said.

“The best part of my job is that every day is different,” she said. “I’m building new skills and working with a lot of different people. I solve fun and complex problems that help others.’


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