STEM Slam to motivate next generation of female developers/engineers

Erica Orthmann of STEM Slam
Erica Orthmann of STEM Slam

On October 27, a stellar ensemble of local STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math) stars will take the stage at Microsoft NERD to tell stories about their journey from girl geek to successful members of Boston’s tech and innovation ecosystem. Basically, getting the word out about how women in tech rock this town.

After dropping in on a rehearsal for the event, I was amazed by the tales of these women in tech. They were, at times, gut-wrenching, a few brought me to tears, but all were inspirational.

If you’re a CEO looking for some of Boston’s hidden tech talent, if you’re a student ready to start a career in a STEM related industry, a parent of gifted girls, or a fellow girl geek of any age, don’t miss this event, which was brainstormed by Erica Orthmann, vice president at LaunchSquad.

Orthmann has dubbed the event, Women in Tech: A Story Slam.

During the rehearsals at LaunchSquad’s office in Kendall Square’s Twine Building, some of the area’s successful women engineers and developers told their stories and got helpful critiques and guidance from Erica as well as Ari Daniel, the Boston producer for Story Collider, the podcast and live event program on WGBH.

“It was a treat to hear these women share their stories during rehearsal,” Daniel said. “They spoke openly and personally about experiences that have shaped who they are today as leading scientists and engineers.”

Orthmann has her own STEM story. She too was a girl geek. She had parents who told her she could do anything. However, in high school she ended up with a math teacher who shut her down, telling her she was no good at math. That experience made her only more determined to succeed, as she recounted here on WBUR’s Cognoscenti website.

“I was lucky to have parents who told me to go for it,” she explained. “If you don’t have that parent encouraging you, the story slam can be another way for you to hear someone giving you encouragement and permission to pursue your dreams, telling you that of course you can do it. “

Orthmann explained how she discovered the work that the Science Club for Girls was doing, bringing together K-12 girls with professional women in science to coach young girls interested in STEM careers.

Orthmann also met Laura Major, one of the speakers at the Science Club for Girls. As a SCFG mentor, Major, the analytics and human systems lead at Draper Labs, explained why she’s speaking at the Story Slam, “I want to convey to other women that a career in technology is not only within their reach, but it leads to a great, fulfilling adventure that is worth pursuing. Like many women, I’ve faced hurdles and insecurities and I want to encourage women that they are not alone in these experiences and they can prevail!”

Among the stories told at the rehearsal were tales of women in tech who had often gone to hell and back during their careers. Laura told her story about having to prove herself to a military client early in her career. As part of a process to learn how to design systems for soldiers, she participated in simulated combat with Special Ops training teams, outfitted in a heavy flack jacket, to experience the field conditions to help her best understand and develop the product’s UI.

I also listened to Donna Tremonte, of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, who recounted her unusual path from a high school girl who wanted to study art and paint sunflower murals on her parents’ house, into a career in Botany at UMass Amherst, and later Harvard, where she’s currently a developer/applications programmer and the co-chair of Harvard’s “Women In Tech” group.

Jillian Kando, chief technology officer at TechStars Boston startup EdTrips, revealed what it was like as a first-year computer science major, overwhelmed by the course work and intimidated in a room of mostly males who seemed to know it all. That is until a male friend explained how all of them were struggling, but the guys didn’t dare show it.

The line-up for the event is stellar including:

• Mary Finlay, former CIO of Partners Healthcare and Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Board Member of Mass TLC, and professor at Simmons School of Management
• Jessica Iandiorio, VP of product marketing at Acquia, one of the fastest-growing software companies in the U.S.
• Rudina Seseri, Partner at Fairhaven Capital
• Laura Major, Analytics and Human Systems business area lead at Draper Laboratories
• Jillian Kando, CTO of educational field trip company EdTrips and member of the 2014 TechStars Boston class
• Donna Tremonte, co-chair of Harvard’s Women in Tech Group and developer at Harvard University (Arnold Arboretum)

Erica Orthmann said that she has a way to measure the success as the STEM Slam unfolds on October 27, “Lots of students are signing up. But this will be a success for me, even if only one person leaves the event inspired to do something in science, tech, engineering or math,” she said, “Mainly thanks to the stories our mentors tell.”

Halley Suitt Tucker is an author, entrepreneur, TechStars alum, and two-time successful Kickstarter campaigner. She lives in Arlington.
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