Three Key Takeaways from CWRU WIT Professional Development Scholars Program Graduates


The CWRU Women in Tech Initiative sponsors the Professional Development Scholars Program, a career-building opportunity in association with the Weatherhead School of Management, for women in the technology field to meet their professional goals and further develop their leadership potential.

2020 program graduates reflected on their program experiences participating in a recent video discussion session.


2020 Graduates
Professional Development Scholars Program Grads


Program Facilitators:
  • Evren Gurkan-Cavusoglu, Ph.D., Faculty Director for Women in Tech Initiative
  • Pooja Khatija, Ph.D., Program Facilitator for Professional Development Scholars


The Program Provides a Valuable Support Network

The graduates shared their thoughts about the impact the program had on their personal and professional lives. One of the key takeaways that was repeatedly brought up during the discussion was that the initiative provided a great opportunity to make meaningful connections, engage in vital dialogues and gain new insights.

Sanhita Kumari shared that networking was one of the main reasons she enrolled in the session. It has been a valuable experience for her to network with other women in her field, talk about professional development and “give value to small topics, like networking or interviewing.” She further explained that gaining the advice of experienced peers was an important benefit of the program—the group members were able to discuss common challenges as well as receive valuable suggestions and guidance.

“I really value the bond that all of us made and getting to know each other’s experiences, and I realized this happened a lot in the last networking session—we were just closer and just more willing to share more information.” – Sanhita Kumari

Madison Hillyard expressed her appreciation for the fact that the program gave her the opportunity to get to know other women in her field, exchange information on challenges and experiences and “to actually commit time to that.”

“I have two and a half hours every other week to sit down and be like, “Oh, hey, how are you doing? Let’s check in, let’s talk about what’s been affecting us now, and how do we take skills from this and apply them to our work in the future?”” – Madison Hillyard

Anika Washburn also added that learning from the perspective of peers was an important part of the program. She explained she was able to learn about the struggles some of the more experienced students had to go through in their career journey and hear their stories about “how they got over and got through things.” As a result, she gained meaningful insight into how to prevent certain roadblocks for herself in the future.

“Meeting other people that are in the same boat as you and knowing that they’ve been through some experiences that you’ll probably end up going through and getting advice on that before you even hit that point [was really important to me].” – Anika Washburn

Shea Perla was appreciative of the chance to hear everyone’s stories and discuss some of the pressing issues that women in her field face. She went on to explain that it was important to her to network with her peers at CWRU and draw on their experiences.

“I’m really happy I got to meet more people and learn more about them, hear more about their stories, what they want in life, where they want to go, and what their dreams are. I really enjoyed that.” – Shea Perla

The Program Teaches Valuable Negotiation Skills

The graduates highlighted the fact that the program provided them with negotiation training necessary to make their job interviews more efficient. Sanhita Kumari noted she learned some important job interview lessons – “…the ways you have to answer or some points that you have to mention” – that will help her set clear outcome goals and increase her ability to get better results in the future.

Madison Hillyard noted that she found it valuable to learn about negotiation concepts and improve her own personal shortcomings in that area. She mentioned she was even able to put her newly acquired skills into practice while negotiating with her landlord about her lease, which “came in so handy,” she noted.

Noelle Nelson went on to point out that the session helped her realize that negotiation is the process of presenting ideas, understanding both points of view and reaching an agreement that creates a positive outcome for everyone.

“I think one big takeaway that I had was learning to think not just as a prospective employee but also think about what the employer is thinking about, because often, it’s almost like a setup – us against them – and it’s more like working together and really learning what their perspective might be.”  – Noelle Nelson

The Program Builds Self-Confidence

The graduates agreed that the program created a safe place for participants to build self-confidence; but more importantly, group members were able to provide value by inspiring and mentoring one another. Madison Hillyard highlighted the fact that the initiative was a great way to learn how to transition one’s self-doubt into confidence.

“I have almost reinforced knowledge of the fact that we all don’t feel very confident sometimes. It’s just nice to happen. So, thank you.” – Madison Hillyard

Shea Perla noted the program helped her explore the importance of personal branding—i.e., how to establish oneself as a name that someone associates with expertise in the field. She also found it valuable to learn how other people in the tech industry leveraged their personal brand to position themselves as the go-to experts.

“I liked hearing about…how to present yourself later in life, like your brand. I also appreciated how other people who I know are already in the industry have set up their brand and how maybe I want to set up my brand as I move into the future.” – Shea Perla

Sanhita Kumari pointed out the initiative was really helpful in overcoming self-doubt in order to grow and push boundaries as a woman in tech. She noted sometimes it is hard to feel confident as a female in the industry where women are hugely outnumbered by men and their skills and ambition can be underestimated.

“[The program] was a confidence boost for women in tech.” – Sanhita Kumari

Noelle Nelson noted the program helped her build relationships that will serve as a confidence boost, providing her with the opportunity to reach out for support when she needs it.

 “All the upperclassmen have great advice and great experiences and I know I can reach out to any of these women down the road if I need advice or I need help or if they’ve been someplace I might want to go.” – Noelle Nelson

Toward the end of the discussion, Pooja Khatija, Program Facilitator, thanked the program graduates for actively engaging in meaningful conversations, stretching out of their comfort zone and sharing their personal stories and experiences. She highlighted the fact that the session was often driven by student questions, which optimized the full group interaction and created a support system venue “…that was pretty diverse.”

 “Through your conversations, I ended up realizing that many of you have certain questions or have some experience and I kind of picked on that...But irrespective of that, I think this group of women shared uncensored, raw experiences, and I think that’s what we need to hear more often. So, I want to thank you all for being that vulnerable and open with each other, and I hope that continues.”  – Pooja Khatija

The professional Development Scholars Program will continue with a new class in the spring of 2021.

For more information on the program, please contact Evren Gurkan-Cavusoglu, Ph.D., at

This program is made possible by continuous support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies.