Scholars Program Panel Reflections: Moving Forward After Program

More and more women are choosing to pursue careers in what were once known as male-dominated fields. CWRU’s Women in Tech Initiative was created to support and educate females studying careers in technology and engineering by giving them access to a strong community of mentors and peers.

As part of that 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.

Current students and recent graduates of the Scholars program participated in an online discussion moderated by the program’s facilitator, Pooja Khatija. Participants were asked a series of questions about how they’ve benefited from the program, and we’re pleased to be sharing excerpts from that discussion here:

Question: Share your reflections with the fall class and comment on how the program has helped move you forward.

(Question was posed to the spring scholars­–those who graduated in 2020.)

Alessandra Sivilotti said, “It’s been incredible that the program hasn’t ended when the class ended, and now we have a network going forward -- a network beyond our classes. We have a group on LinkedIn, and we reach out to each other when things come up and we need to talk about it to get a different perspective. We can ask each other about all the lessons we learned, like negotiation and self-worth, or simply how to present ourselves in a new and different way. That’s been really nice.”

Shea Perla commented, “It was really nice that we got to meet new people and become good friends with them. In my job, I’ve been learning a lot about how you rise up and get promoted by creating networks, so you need to find those sponsorships. I would sponsor any of the people that took this program because I’m invested in everyone that I met.”

Emily Long graduated in May 2020 and even though she had a job lined up before graduation, her start date was pushed back from July to January of 2021 due to COVID. In contemplating her next steps, one of the first things she did was reach out to people who had gone through the Scholars program with her. She was extremely thankful for the support she received from her mentors and peers, commenting, “I got a lot of good suggestions on where to go from there. That’s one of the great things about the program — getting to see all the other women you know lifting each other up and making sure that you have a network of support, both personally and professionally.”

Additionally, when Emily landed another opportunity working in a lab at the NIH, she drew upon some of her experiences in the program right away. “I felt a lot more comfortable negotiating my salary, since we had practiced it a bit, so I was able to see the benefits of the program immediately.”

Andrea Tongasak shared, “This year has been really tough for me personally, as I’m sure it has been for other people adjusting to remote learning and other changes in their jobs and families. It helped to have come from the Scholars program, having learned that it’s okay to be vulnerable and that sharing what you’re going through with other people can give you strength.

“I’ve also noticed that I have more of the confidence I need to speak up when something doesn’t sit right with me, especially in a male-dominated place. Pointing out microaggressions has become easier, and standing up for myself and others has become more natural.”

There’s no doubt these women entered the workforce during an unprecedented time, in the midst of a global pandemic. But the Scholars program seems to have prepared them well for moving through it with confidence and a strong network of peer support.   

Professional Development Scholars Program Grads

This program would not be possible without the generous support of its sponsors, as well as supporters of the Women in Tech Initiative. Many thanks to:

  • Craig Newmark Philanthropies
  • Individual Donors: Ben Gomes (CWR ’90) and Deborah Weisser