On Saturday, April 22, Concord Academy’s Gender Representation in Tech organization, more commonly known as GRiT, hosted their annual conference on the CA campus. While any students in middle or high school from the Boston area were encouraged to attend, the coheads of GRiT and creators of this event, Maureen Coffey, Z Schwab, and Irene Zheng, wanted to focus on providing a comfortable space for female and genderqueer individuals to explore technology, develop interests, and further passions in the STEM field.
The conference aimed to provide attendees with a chance to participate in workshops run by successful women and genderqueer people currently working in the tech world, many of whom are CA graduates. The workshops ranged from Navigating the Tech Industry as a Woman of Color with Jennifer Rojas ‘16, Principles and Applications of Genetic Engineering with MIT graduate Karenna Groff, and Creating Inclusive Technology with Iris Oliver ‘15 among others. Furthermore, attendees were able to meet these inspiring women and learn about their experiences pursuing careers in fields that have never been the most equitable and respectful toward non-male people.
Prior to the conference, Maureen noted “I know I speak for all the coheads when I say that we cannot wait to hear about the experiences that our workshop hosts have persevered through and the technology they have helped to develop.” As a social and collaborative event in addition to an educational one, Maureen also expressed her excitement for getting to talk to and learn from both the presenters and the students in attendance at the conference. Maureen additionally mentioned how her interest in STEM was sparked at a young age through her middle school Tech Education class and continued into graphic design courses at CA. However, she described feeling out of place in those environments and intimidated by the lack of women and genderqueer people in these spaces.
When asked what the goal of this conference was, Irene talked about how she grew up learning to pursue her passions while acknowledging her privilege in the form of resources to do so, her access to a CA education being one. Through GRiT, she wanted the opportunity to give back to the community that helped her discover her passions. The conference is volunteer based and admission is free for attendees, helping to break down barriers so that everyone can have a chance to explore their interests. Irene added “[the coheads] are doing this because we hope to act as role models and inspire more individuals to pursue their passions, particularly in fields where they are in the minority and might not always feel welcome.” Most vitally, Maureen, Irene, and Z want GRiT to be a place for people who do not often see themselves represented in the tech world to feel welcomed into a community of supportive, intelligent, and diverse individuals.