Clockwise from the top left: Emma Starr ’12 presents, Jennifer Rojas ’16 addresses the crowd, students connect, and the GRiT club shares an introduction.

On April 22, Concord Academy hosted the annual GRiT (Gender Representation in Technology) Conference. The student-organized program empowered women and genderqueer individuals to engage in technology confidently. 

In-person workshops allowed local middle and high school students to foster their interests in science, technology, engineering, and math. Four of the five guest speakers were young CA alums, working in education and the education technology, insurance, and business software industries.

Data scientist Emma Starr ’12 opened the conference by hosting the panel Data for the Public Good. “I’m passionate about using data and statistics to empower people to better understand the world around them,” Starr shared.

While at Concord Academy, Starr thrived in theater and appeared on stage in multiple productions. Upon graduation, she attended Skidmore College and planned to become an actress. But after taking an introductory Psychology course, she found another outlet for her creativity through research. “Plays explore the question, what does it mean to be human?” says Starr. “Like theater, data tells a story and explores our collective experience.” 

Starr earned an undergraduate degree in psychology and attended Harvard to complete a master’s in Mind, Brain, and Education. Through her studies, Starr learned how data can be a tool for social justice.

She used the Flint, Mich., water crisis as an example where data led to government intervention and community health care compensation. Starr also cited data as critical for reform and policy change around inequitable New York City stop-and-frisk laws. 

In her work, Starr also uses data to make an impact. She is a quantitative data scientist at EveryDay Labs, an EdTech startup that delivers evidence-based interventions in school districts nationwide to reduce student absenteeism. Through awareness and education, the company has prevented over 1.2 million absences. She encouraged conference attendees to use their talents in technology to support causes they care about. 

Jennifer Rojas ’16 inspired students during her panel Navigating the Tech Industry as a Women of Color by sharing her path to success as a corporate software engineer. 

Rojas attended Connecticut College. When deciding upon her major, she remembered her favorite class at Concord Academy was Graphic Design with Computer Science Department Head Ben Stumpf ’88. Hoping to build on her experiences, she enrolled in Introduction to Computer Science. Rojas had never coded before and remembered feeling out of place.

Through hard work and determination, Rojas learned programming and data visualization. Rojas reflected, “I would tell my younger self, if there’s no seat for you at the table, make your own!” 

Rojas noted 26.7% of women work in tech, women of color make up 34% of the STEM workforce, and 20% of undergraduate computer science degrees go to women. She advises budding engineers to join programming clubs, connect through networking events, and seek peer support. By creating more welcoming and collaborative environments, Rojas feels confident in a more diverse future for the technology sector. 

Additional sessions included a workshop on making technology more accessible with science teacher Iris Oliver ’15, a presentation on finding your working style with user operations specialist Carolina Diez ’13, and a discussion on the applications of genetic engineering with neurobiology researcher Karenna Groff. The conference sparked meaningful dialogues and motivated students of all backgrounds to pursue their passions for technology.

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