November 8 is National STEM Day and we’re excited to celebrate.
The day is an opportunity to focus on helping kids advance in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.
Statistics show few students pursue expertise in STEM fields—and we have an inadequate pipeline of teachers skilled in those subjects. On the flipside of that the need for STEM oriented job skills are skyrocketing.
Tech Talent Canada sat down with Knajwa Cameron, a Software Engineer at Kitchener-Waterloo’s ApplyBoard, to learn about her experience as a new graduate and her perspective on being a woman working within the tech industry.
1. Tell us about your experience in STEM so far. What is it like being a woman in STEM?
I was an Electrical Engineering student at the University of Waterloo and recently graduated last year. I joined ApplyBoard as a Full-Stack Developer in May 2020. ApplyBoard is my first full-time position since I finished my degree and after five years of hard work at the University of Waterloo, I couldn’t be happier with where I ended up. My team members and managers provide great mentorship and a support system where I can learn and ask questions. There are also groups in place where individuals and specifically women across the company can connect – such as ApplyBoard’s women’s network
I noticed early on in my days at school that I would always be surrounded by a lot of men in STEM. For any women who are new to the STEM industry, I would give them two pieces of advice: to not be afraid to speak up in order to be heard and to be confident. I faced a lot of internal doubts in school, especially because I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me in class. But I had to push those doubts aside and talk myself up. Shake that mentality off immediately. You have to advocate for yourself a lot and be sure to remind yourself that you belong in the room.
2. What drew you to the field?
I am a Canadian immigrant and moved to Canada from Jamaica in 2004. Ever since I moved to Canada, even at a young age I felt a culture shock and became hyper aware of the fact that I was a minority. As a young student, I always gravitated towards math and science, this along with encouragement from my parents (who are from a culture where STEM is a commonly pursued path for both men and women) reinforced that STEM was a natural fit for my future.
At a young age, I knew that whatever I pursued, I wanted to make a positive difference in the world and work on something that I believed in that would align with my interests in math and science. I was also inspired by my Dad’s engineering career and followed in his footsteps. In my current job, I’m constantly learning, innovating, evolving my experience and of course, solving problems – I never have the same day twice.
3. What advice do you have for future students considering a career in STEM? What is a common misconception?
Building a community is something that I would recommend to any student or new worker starting a career in STEM. During school, it’s important to seek out friendships and connections through clubs and events. Those friendships I made in my early years really helped me build my confidence, provided me with the encouragement I needed and a strong sense of community that lasted even after graduation.
Advice for current students: I would advise current STEM students to be determined and resilient when the program gets hard, and to have an open mind in exploring the different avenues that your field of study has and can lead to – so when you enter the working world, you’ll be flexible enough to seize any opportunity that comes. I’m also grateful for the support system, connections and friendships I made throughout school as well as the experiences I had from joining Women in Engineering and Engineers Without Borders at the University of Waterloo. I continue to build a network here at ApplyBoard too as I navigate my career.
Advice for job seekers: Don’t psych yourself out when you’re applying for jobs. A lot of women don’t apply for jobs because they are concerned they might not be qualified enough. My dad was a great supporter and encouraged me to give myself a chance. It’s crucial to your career growth to test out what works and what doesn’t work. You have nothing to lose.
4. Why is it important to empower all types of students to learn more about STEM?
Representation matters in all facets of life, especially in the workforce, we need a diversification of views and opinions when we innovate. People from any background, no matter the colour of their skin, the country they were born or their gender, should feel they have the opportunity to go into STEM. They shouldn’t feel intimidated or like they don’t belong. More promotion of STEM to young women as a viable option is needed to break down barriers to education.
That is why ApplyBoard’s mission to educate the world is so important. Our team is a big supporter of improving access to education and has helped international students receive access to C$50M in scholarships since it was founded in 2015.
I was very proud of the latest initiative we rolled out called STEM For Change which was designed to empower women worldwide by supporting international women students interested in STEM programs. I was part of the judging panel and it was very special to be a part of this program. ApplyBoard awarded up to C$100,000 in merit-based STEM For Change scholarships to seven deserving women from Nigeria, Pakistan, India and Barbados.
5. Describe an inspiring woman that you look up to in the field?
Pearl Sullivan, the late Dean of Engineering at Waterloo, was a great inspiration to me and ultimately one of the reasons I made the decision to pursue engineering. She emphasized the versatility of a degree in engineering and how it would be a stepping stone to many career paths.
I’ve also met some amazing female co-workers in my life so far that are confident, assertive and don’t back down when challenged or questioned. It was very exciting to learn from those women.
6. What drew you to ApplyBoard? What is your favourite part about working at ApplyBoard?
I’ve always been passionate about education, and I love that I can impact a student’s life through my work at ApplyBoard. It’s motivating to know that you’re helping students improve the trajectory of their life. It is especially important to me as an immigrant with parents who are huge advocates for how education can lead to amazing new opportunities and improve lives.
I’m also very proud to work at a diverse company that treats everyone with respect.
ApplyBoard is currently hiring – check out their open roles here.