By Shelley Xu
Ellora Israni ’14 and Ayna Agarwal ’14 are co-founders of she++, a Stanford-based community for women in technology that has been featured on TechCrunch, Forbes and the Huffington Post. The pair has worked for the past year to bring more women into the fields of technology and engineering.
While their greatest achievement to date has been their inaugural conference, which drew 250 participants to discuss the difficulties and possibilities of being women in computer science, they are ramping up efforts to add a documentary and mentorship program.
The documentary will feature a number of women in technology, and Israni and Agarwal hope to screen it across the nation. The idea for the documentary came from the founders’ experience at she++’s first conference.
“A lot of the stories that were told at she++ at the conference were<\p>…<\p> stories that would have compelled you to do something, to take action,” Israni said.
The mentorship program will pair high school students with women in computer science professions.
“This is something really unique and something that doesn’t really exist today in our nation,” Agarwal said.
Some of the mentors will be composed of a team she++ calls “The League of Extraordinary Young Women,” and the program will be launched with the release of the documentary, which is planned for national screenings in the summer or the beginning of the 2013-14 academic year.
They also hope to build on the success of their first conference. Last year, the conference hosted eleven speakers. This year, the conference will add workshops for its participants.
“We’re collaborating with the d.school and a lot of our sponsors<\p>…<\p>to have smaller breakdown workshops, so people actually are… engaging themselves, asking their questions, coming out of the conference having made something or achieved something,” said Saguna Goel <\#213>15, conference co-chair.
The audience will be wider as well.
“We’re trying to bring in more high school students, and even junior high students,” said Raiyan Khan, ’15, another conference co-chair.
“she++ serves… [as] a vehicle to see successful women and get inspired,” said Jennifer Widom, chair of the Department of Computer Science.
“I think she++ really brings women who are in the tech field who a lot of female CS majors at Stanford can really look up to into the forefront,” Khan said.
Creating positive role models for women in technology played an important role in she++’s conception.
Stanford’s computer science program is one of the strongest in the nation, and yet female enrollment, despite showing strong increases, still lags far behind the parity seen in most other disciplines.
“Why isn’t there more of a concrete way to present these role models to Stanford students, a forum through which students can brainstorm ways to defy those stereotypes, negate the barriers?” Agarwal said, describing the question she asked herself before founding the group.
“We both came in with an idea of what it would be to be an engineer,” Israni said. “The stereotype… was disproven by role models that we saw on Stanford’s campus, and we wanted to make those role models more accessible.”