2020 Women in STEM Summit

Attendees engage with the past to glean lessons for the future

women students in the audience of the women's summit

The theme of this year’s Women in STEM Summit was “Reflecting on Our Past, and Transforming Our Future.” The powerful theme encouraged an atmosphere that was equal parts contemplative and tenacious – traits emblematic of the spirit of NYU Tandon itself. Attendees celebrated the Tandon community’s dedicated, and effective, efforts towards inclusion and equity; while emphasizing the importance of engaging in critical conversations about how to further that progress.

Tandon has a history of pushing the boundaries of what is possible and, as evidenced by the empowered community that gathered at the Summit, it shows no sign of letting up the pressure. It was thrilling to kick off March with an array of events geared to getting Tandon’s women-identified students (and their allies) out and engaging with one another.

Key notes from the key speakersDean of Student Affairs, Anita Farrington, poses for photo with keynote speakers Yasmine Ndassa and Pat Sapinsley

The Summit’s kickoff luncheon featured a cadre of impressive trailblazers – women from varied backgrounds who shared an interest in STEM and a desire to change the world for the better.

Associate Dean of Student Affairs Anita Farrington opened the luncheon by relating the story of Gertrude Elion, who attended the School of Engineering during an era in which women were a rarity. Despite numerous challenges, she doggedly pursued a career in biochemistry and pharmacology, which culminated in winning a 1988 Nobel Prize in Medicine. She was awarded a long-awaited honorary doctoral degree the following year, and her legacy, as Dean Farrington pointed out, serves as inspiration never to yield to the pressures of society and to forge our own paths through adversity.

The afternoon’s Keynote Speaker was Yasmine Ndassa, the Senior Director for National Strategy & Insights at Comcast and a master of data-driven storytelling that allows her to communicate large amounts of information in a clear, compelling, and actionable way. Her message to those just beginning their careers in STEM was clear: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” She believes that students and leaders have a responsibility to use their skills to empower their community and to celebrate their success by helping others. That philosophy led Ndassa to establish a leave of absence policy and a division devoted to workforce diversity reporting and analytics at Comcast – systems that create a more inclusive and equitable work environment for women, people of color, and individuals of varied abilities.

Following Ndassa’s moving call for community action was Pat Sapinsley, the Managing Director of Cleantech Initiatives at the Urban Future Lab. Sapinsley was a veritable fount of practical advice and stressed the importance of taking naysayers with a grain of salt: “Other people will tell you that you can’t do something, but don’t tell yourself that,” she asserted. Sapinsley also encouraged students to embrace change. “Life is episodic,” she said, “and you don’t ever have to choose only one thing. You just have to stop doubting yourself and find others who support you in your journey.”

A Special Evening

Dean Jelena Kovacevic addresses crowd
The Summit culminated with a networking dinner, an address by NYU Tandon Dean Jelena Kovačević, and recognition of the student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). A trio of accomplished women from academia and industry were honored as Women in STEM Champions at the event, and whether it was the formal presentations or the enthusiastic chats around the dinner tables, the inspiration and encouragement flowed freely.


Dean Jelena Kovačević (Dean of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering):

I’ll always be happy to celebrate the achievements of women scientists and engineers, but I’m looking forward to the day when gender equality is simply a given, and we don’t wait for a special summit to do so."

Tina Louise Brower-Thomas (Co-PI for the NSF Science and Technology Center for Integrated QuantumMaterials and Women in STEM Champion):

When I first started out, I was a unicorn; people didn’t know what to make of me as a black woman in STEM, because I didn’t look the part. What I learned is that you have to invest in yourself, demonstrate commitment, take the initiative rather than asking for permission, and build your own community. You can start right now, because I’m here tonight, and I’ll be your community."

Anna Powers (Founder of Powers Education and Women in STEM Champion):

I’d like to inspire you to see science the way I do and hope you fall in love with the beauty of it. A poet uses words to describe an emotion or event, and we get to use science to describe the dynamic underpinnings and workings of the universe."

Natalia Trayanova (Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and Women in STEM Champion):

You will undoubtedly face rejection in your careers. Sometimes your grant proposals will be rejected, or a journal will not publish your paper, or a job you are perfect for is given to someone else. Let those rejections fuel you. Let them fill you with determination to persevere and keep working towards your goals."

Randi Amalfitano (Executive Assistant and Special Projects Coordinator in the Office of Student Affairs):

As always, it was a privilege to help Associate Dean for Student Affairs Anita Farrington to help plan the Summit. The whole student affairs team looks forward to this as one of the most meaningful events we plan all year, and this year’s theme, “Reflecting on Our Past and Transforming Our Future,” made it a special pleasure since we got to research so many of the noteworthy women affiliated with Tandon in past decades."

Pooja Swamy (Student):

I came to NYU Tandon to earn my master’s degree in computer engineering not just because of its reputation for academic excellence but because I had heard of all the efforts being made here towards equal opportunity and gender equity. It was wonderful to attend the Summit and be presented with so much evidence that I made a great choice."

Zhou Siyu (Student):

I consider myself an ally, and I think most of the male students here at Tandon would say the same. Our professors are good role models, but I don’t think it’s something that even has to be taught. In this generation, you can take it as a given that there will be female students in engineering classes and that they’ll be every bit as good as the male students."

Students watch keynote speaker with riveted expressions

Extra Events:

It was a busy start to Women’s HERstory Month. As part of the Summit, a Male Allies panel discussion was held, featuring faculty, industry professionals, and current students discussing what male-identified members of the Tandon community could do to be better advocates within the school and the entire STEM field.

Later in the week, NYU held its Female Founders Forum, bringing together a large group of female founders, investors, and members of the New York University Community for conversation, networking, and pitching.

Featured were two startups born right here at Tandon: Sunthetics, founded by Myriam Sbeiti (’18) and  Ph.D. candidate Daniela Blanco and dedicated to making the chemical manufacturing process greener; and RISE Products, founded by Bertha Jimenez (’16), a food tech enterprise creating an ultra-nutritious and tasty flour from brewery by-products that might otherwise be sent to landfills.

Badge of honor:

In 2019 the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) instituted its Diversity Recognition Program, aimed at honoring a school’s commitment to increasing diversity in enrollments, retention and graduation rates among students; increasing faculty diversity; and widening the talent pipeline to the engineering workforce.

Among the program’s current cohort is NYU Tandon, whose efforts included attracting and retaining a diverse faculty and Ph.D. student body of exceptional quality, creating an admissions strategy that emphasizes diversity, and establishing a Tandon Culture marked by inclusion and respect.

Leigh Green
BA, Sociology 
Class of 2021