“Majoring in computer science — a space usually reserved for white and Asian males — as a black woman gave me insight to the problems that minority students face,” wrote Chinasa Okolo PO ’18, a first-generation college student and computer science major.
Okolo explained that women are underrepresented in STEM fields.
However, this obstacle has not stopped Okolo from chasing after her dreams, such as getting into top Ph.D. programs, including Princeton University and Cornell University, to conduct algorithm research in biology, medicine, and computer science.
“My plan is to do research in ‘computer vision,’” Okolo said. “Computer vision is this new way of teaching a computer or machine to analyze images.”
Okolo is particularly interested in discovering how computer vision might aid doctors to better process and understand digital images, such as MRIs, X-rays, and other scans, to improve their accuracy in diagnosis.
Last year, Okolo was able to secure a scholarship through 1,000 Dreams Fund — a national organization dedicated to supporting high-potential young women.
As one of two winners for the organization’s 2017 New Face of Tech Challenge, Okolo received a $3,000 grant last year.
Okolo has since taken advantage of her funding to visit graduate schools, learn more about degree programs, and pay for application and exam fees.
The scholarship has also allowed Okolo to travel around the United States, England, and Canada to attend field-related workshops and conferences, and further dive into her desired topics of artificial intelligence, programming languages, and computing machineries.
The founder of 1,000 Dreams Fund, Christie Garton, praised Okolo for being “well on her way in this arena” as well as for striving toward her academic and career dreams.
“The way [Okolo’s] been able to use the funding from us is really inspiring to me,” Garton said. “[The scholarship’s] pushed her to pursue her Ph.D. … She’s helping [to] move the ball forward for these young women, like [herself], that have a clear vision of where they want to go but just need these extra perks to make some important things happen along the way.”
Garton said starting 1,000 Dreams Fund “really grew out of her own experiences” as a college student back in the early 2000s.
Growing up in Kansas, Garton dreamed of becoming a public service lawyer, but there was no one in her family whom she said could “guide” her on that path.
“A lot of students I know don’t necessarily have the funds to fund a full study abroad experience,” Garton said. “… I had to go out there and secure scholarships, and in some cases, I wasn’t successful, and in other cases, I was.”
It was only from her own study abroad and internship experiences that Garton was able to gain more opportunities and eventually graduate with a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
“It’s really my own experiences that has made me realize how important this is,” Garton said.
Garton added that students most in need, those from low- to middle-income families, are “already circling so many challenges,” so her organization focuses on telling the stories of these young women.
Okolo has been glad to share her own experiences with others, especially speaking at a 1,000 Dreams Fund panel in New York on International Women’s Day, March 8.
“I would say speaking on the panel was the highlight for me,” Okolo said. “… Improving my public speaking skills and getting to share with other women in tech was very helpful.”
The organization announced they will be partnering with Samsung-owned HARMAN, a leading technology company, for their second-annual 2018 New Face of Tech Challenge.
This year, 1,000 Dreams Fund will be welcoming young women in S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) to enter for the chance to win one of five $2,000 grants, which will include an additional executive coaching session with a HARMAN executive. Their application deadline is April 5.
According to Garton, HARMAN is one of those organizations that have “a commitment to supporting the advancement of women within their own workplace” and “having a diverse workforce.”
Okolo said she would “definitely” recommend 1,000 Dreams Fund’s scholarship program to other people.
When asked if she had any advice for this year’s applicants, Okolo encouraged students to effectively convey why they hope to become a #NewFaceofTech recipient, including future plans they might have “to help [themselves] and help others” to achieve their career goals.
“Make sure you’re passionate for S.T.E.A.M. and [that] your specific skills show in your application,” Okolo said. “Being able to demonstrate my passion, I felt, was one of the main things that helped me.”