Young Women Empowered (Y-WE) empowers young women from diverse backgrounds to step up as leaders in their schools, communities and the world. Y-WE does this through intergenerational mentorship, intercultural collaboration, and creative programs that equip participants with the confidence, resilience, and leadership skills needed to achieve their goals.
While Y-WE delivers diverse activities and programs throughout the school year and summer, in March 2018, Y-WE’s Exploration Day focused on STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Learning about STEM with Y-WE gives young women exposure to cutting-edge, and even mind-bending, innovations in STEM fields. It also gives young women the invaluable opportunity to meet and learn from female role models who are leading the technological industry and other STEM fields.
Workshop session included featured guests from:
- Team Xbox Robotics
- Electrical & Mechanical Engineering w/ Little Bits
- Natural Sciences with The Nature Conservancy
- Math & Music
- Social VR w/ AltspaceVR
Field trip into AltspaceVR
Y-WE set out to bring its community-building practices and ideas into virtual reality. With the help of AltspaceVR, Y-WE hosted a Social VR workshop grounded in a discussion of the current state of women in STEM. Together, participants tackled topics such as the barriers and social pressures of entering the medium, why there aren’t equal numbers of men and women, how to address these issues, but most importantly, why it’s crucial that we create change.
However, before jumping into those important discussions, there was plenty of time for experimentation. In the midst of avatars whizzing around the space and emojis flying in the air, young women delighted in exploring controls such as teleporting, customizing their avatars and interacting with others. Initial reactions from most people went something like… “Ohmygosh. This is so cool. HELLO. Can I move… YES I CAN MOVE. GUYS LOOK. Oh my god… am I waving? WHAT! Hello, who are you? Gasps. Wow. So weird.”
#GetSocial with Victoria Santos
Q1: When did you get involved with Y-WE?
Victoria Santos: I joined the organization 8 years ago. Since then, we’ve been growing and transforming it into the amazing organization that it is today. We are supporting the leadership and holistic development of young women between the ages of thirteen and nineteen. Right now, we are piloting different ways of bringing Y-WE alumni together. Not only when they graduate from our program, but also when they graduate from high school and are in a transitional life stage where they need additional support and guidance.
Q2. What are your hopes for this growing community?
Victoria Santos: When we empower women, we actually empower the entire community. Women have been marginalized in a lot of different ways. We have been stigmatized and oppressed, and Y-WE is part of a societal movement taking bold, committed action so that girls and women will have the equal rights, opportunities and access that we deserve. When you take a young woman who is African-American, Latina or Asian, they actually have intersectional oppression. They are not only discriminated against in various arenas because of their gender, but they’re also discounted because of their race. In the same light, a poor woman is not only discounted because of her gender, but also because of her class status. If you add race to that, it’s a triple oppression.
We work with young women in determining with them what their true worth is, look at their values, and how they want to empower themselves. Our approach is to create the space and provide the tools, resources and community that young women need to find their own empowerment. We help them find their voice and find their passion. Y-WE young women know they have a community of people behind them to support them as they choose to achieve their goals.
Q2. Y-WE STEM is just one section of Young Women Empowered, what other subject matters do you engage in?
Victoria Santos: Creative expression with our Y-WE Write camps. The Creative Community Model where we bring everyone together and everyone participates alongside each other. We try to break through hierarchy. We all have something of value that we can offer other. We also have a strong mentoring component to Y-WE. Mentoring for us doesn’t just go top down. It’s about sharing and relationship-building. We help and mentor each other.
Q3. What do you hope participants will take away from this event?
Victoria Santos: Many youth don’t have this amazing opportunity to encounter and learn from quality mentors and this latest technology. To see them move beyond simply consuming, but to see themselves as also creators of the technology, is so empowering.
Q4. How important is mentorship?
Victoria Santos: Mentorship is critical. It will determine the direction of a person’s life. We need each other as human beings. We need to be seen. We need to be heard. We need to be felt. And a really good mentor can do all of that. I see it happens at Y-WE all the time. That is what we do here— we try to bring people together, see them, hear them and let them feel they belong.
#GetSocial with Nahil Sharkasi
Q1: Why did you get involved with Y-WE?
Nahil Sharkasi: Mentorship has always been really important to me. In hindsight, I know that I owe my success to all the mentors I’ve had in my life. And so, when I first encountered Y-WE about four years ago at an open house, the thing that struck me the most is how inclusive the organization is, specifically to the young muslim women that they serve. As a Muslim American myself, it just felt like such a nurturing community for these young women to explore their dreams, careers and skills.
In my mind, the organization is a safe haven with the sole purpose of encouraging women to try different things, take risks and organically discover their unique voices. We are there to support their passions and hopefully connect the dots to create a path towards success, whatever that may be for them. It’s all about constructing tangible plans and exposing them to potentially life-altering experiences.
It is the kind of community I always wished I that had growing up as a Muslim-American in the United States. I was like, sign me up. It immediately became my family and I have not been able to stay away since.
Q2. What do you hope for the future of the organization?
I am really passionate about the organization and want to support them in every way. On top of growing the STEM curriculum, I want to continue integrating innovative techniques and technological advancements while expanding the professional network young people can be exposed to. It’s something that the young people are asking for that they are really engaged in.
There is just so much opportunity. We need to connect. I feel such a responsibility to connect new communities into the industry and to give these young people a path and exposure to all the possibilities we have here that they may not be exposed to their in everyday lives.
Y-WE STEM Exploration Day
At the end of the day, the YWE STEM event is about exposing young women to creative and intellectual experiences. In this particular program, environments are created for them to realize that technology and STEM fields are not just about sitting in a closet to cod by yourself. The possibilities are endless. It is a day to empower young women and materializing ways in which they can manifest their own empowerment.
The Young Women Empowered STEM Exploration Day took place at Microsoft, Redmond Campus for women, girls and female-identified youth ages 13-18 and female mentors, ages 19-70+. For more information, visit: www.youngwomenempowered.org