Professional Development Scholars Program: Perspectives from Faculty Advisors

Pooja Katija and Diana Bilimoria, PH.D.

As part of the Women in Tech Initiative, the Professional Development Scholars program was launched in 2020 to create a shared learning opportunity for women to develop and achieve their professional goals while maximizing their leadership potential. Areas of focus include networking, negotiating and communications.

We turned our attention to the team responsible for facilitating  and advising this important program: Pooja Khatija, a doctoral student in the Department of Organizational Behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management, and Diana Bilimoria, Ph.D., KeyBank Professor and Professor and Chair of the Department of Organizational Behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management.

Here’s what they had to say about the evolution of this popular initiative, created to support and educate females studying careers in technology and engineering by giving them access to a strong community of mentors and peers.

What can you tell us about the overall mission of the Professional Development Scholars program?

Pooja Khatija: Our intent was to provide a platform for women working in technology, early on in their professional journeys, to help them develop certain skills and gain as much information and practice as possible to set them up for future success.

Diana Bilimoria: Our vision was to encourage the development of women working in the areas of STEM and engineering by populating a professional network of women who could share their talents, their backgrounds and their experiences with one another.

What is it about your background and areas of expertise that drew you to a program like this?

Pooja Khatija: My experience with professional development programs has involved looking at gender-based biases that arise in the selection and advancement of women working in various industries, and working with women in tech has always been close to my heart.

Diana Bilimoria: My expertise focuses largely on creating effective women leaders, and how they can become best equipped to advance within an organization and help transform that organization into an uplifting workplace for all its employees.


Are there any particular areas that you want to make sure women in tech are aware of in terms of their professional development?

Pooja Khatija: Demonstrating and continually updating their technical skills is important, but communicating those skills with confidence and developing strong managerial skills are also integral to showing their future potential.

Diana Bilimoria: Women working in technical fields are in the minority, so they have to be even more prepared to embrace their roles and to overcome any challenges they might face.

Where do you see the most growth in the Professional Development Scholars program?

Diana Bilimoria: There are three main areas where I have noticed the most change in our students. First, they grow in terms of self-awareness through participation in the program. The scholars gain a great deal of knowledge about their strengths and the gaps they need to fill. They gain confidence, and are able to see themselves as making a difference to the success of a project. They also grow by learning to work with other people, developing strong management skills centered around interpersonal relationships. Finally, they learn how to create impact by being a catalyst for change, how to be a team leader, and how to be a contributor to teams.


Who are the target students for the program?

Pooja Khatija: Any woman working in tech who is looking for professional development opportunities, whether it’s early on in their program or later. We like to see women who are intentional about their development—who have the questions and are actively seeking answers.

Diana Bilimoria: This program provides a cohort, a community, and an opportunity to engage with others with similarities and differences. Essentially, we target women looking for a great way to meet and learn from other people.


Since this program is a semester long and therefore limited in duration, what are some other areas for students to focus on that there may not be time to cover? 

Pooja Khatija: Building networks is important, and relationships take time to build and maintain. So, I would say to focus on practicing and developing the networking skills learned throughout the program.


What is the application process like to enter the program?

Pooja Khatija: It’s a fairly simple application that asks about a student’s background, their interest in the program, and if they have any specific expectations just to gauge intent. It’s free to apply as part of the Women in Tech Initiative.


In closing, is there anything you’d like to add about the opportunity to participate in the program?

Diana Bilimoria: The value added to a program like this is that students gain practical experience that can be applied to everyday workplaces issues that might arise. The hands-on activities they can participate in provide concrete and practical advice that will be beneficial throughout their education and careers.


To watch the video recap, click here.

The Professional Development Scholars program would not be possible without the generous support of its sponsors, as well as supporters of the Women in Tech Initiative. Much thanks to:

Craig Newmark Philanthropies

Individual Donors: Ben Gomes (CWR ‘90) and Deborah Weisser