Ambassadorship is a passion, not a duty
Women in Engineering and IT (WiEIT) Ambassadors discuss what being an ambassador means to them
Before hearing the stories of our ambassadors, we talked to Hasti Hayati, the first ambassador and postgraduate engagement officer at WiEIT, the woman who recognised the need for having official representatives of WiEIT among Higher Degree by Research (HDR) & Postgraduate students and believed in the power of human interaction.
Hasti said, ‘My journey with UTS started almost 5 years ago. As a student I was participating in many events organised by WiEIT, that is where I got to know the people I would be working with in the future. During one of our talks with Dr Arti Agrawal, I mentioned my ideas on having a dedicated program for HDR students. This was the beginning of WiEIT ambassadorship’.
Now there are 11 women who take pride in calling themselves WiEIT Ambassadors and are eager to grow the community of women in Engineering and IT.
This is Kavindie Hansika Katuwandeniya, who is doing a PhD in Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering. She only started her journey with UTS this year but was keen to get on board with WiEIT once she heard we were looking for ambassadors. For Kavindie, being an ambassador means being a role model, something that is much of a need for girls in her home country too. She sees her new role as a bridge between HDR students and WiEIT that allows her to bring knowledge and technological advances to the community. When asked about the biggest challenge she faces since joining WiEIT, she admitted that taking up responsibilities of an ambassador while having a big study load was a hard decision. But it is the brightest moment of her student life as well.
Vijina Abhijith has a strong understanding of the role as she has been an ambassador in India for 5 years before coming to study at UTS. She sees ambassadorship as inspiration, not only to herself but her social circle and society in general. She said: ‘For me being an ambassador is first of all to be a volunteer, a mentor, and a leader. All our work is done with no compensation in mind. We are the example we want others to follow and this is why we need to be leaders in the first place!’
She says the biggest challenge she encountered while being an ambassador here and in India is gender stereotypes and the way to get around them is to speak up.
Jasjit Deol, studying Master of Information Technology (Cyber Security), wanted to be an ambassador to give women students a voice after seeing a small number of women in IT. For her being an ambassador is to represent the organisation she stands by in a positive light. She said: ‘The message me WiEIT are trying to get across is the same, career and life goals are not limited by gender!’. The best moment after joining the team for Jasjit was the connections and friends she made. ‘It is fantastic to meet more women like me, who work and study in similar circles. Working together with them towards the same goals is very motivating’.
Sahar Soleimanimatin experienced ‘being the only girl in the office’ once she started her degree (PhD) in Geospatial Information System. Her desire of becoming an ambassador comes from the urge to connect with other women in Engineering and IT. She says: ‘The way I approach problems and studying process differs from my male colleagues. We, women, have our own style, sometimes a little slower, sometimes more protectionists. I felt like I needed a place for myself, where I can study and learn, and share with other female peers who would understand me’. Reflecting on what being an ambassador means for her, Sahar said: ‘It means that I have full support of WiEIT, that I have a professional circle I can share my ideas in and get help if needed. It gives me confidence that I can respond to challenges that my fellow women have and that every problem has a solution’. One of the biggest moments was the realization of WiEIT community potential but it was a challenge too. ‘I knew about WiEIT even before becoming an ambassador but I didn’t have a full understanding of what this community is doing. Now that I have it, the challenge is to introduce our goals and purposes to other men and women who aren’t familiar with us.’
For Akina Shrestha, who is doing a Master of Information Technology at UTS, being an ambassador is a totally new experience. Before coming to Australia from Nepal, she had worked on a few independent projects the aim of which was to encourage women to study IT. She really enjoyed the process and was looking for something similar at UTS. So she was very happy to hear that WiEIT was recruiting ambassadors. ‘For me being an ambassador is all about empowering, myself and other women. See, I am a bit of an introvert, opening up to people is a challenge for me. But look at me now, proudly delivering WiEIT ideas and experiences with other women’, shared Akina. Talking about achievements so far, Akina says: ‘Being an ambassador is the biggest achievement for me. I am so much more confident now and continuously pushing my self-esteem.’
Sanaz Mahdavi, who is doing a PhD of Analytics by Research, was looking at ambassadorship as her personal responsibility to contribute to the community of Women in Engineering and IT. ‘I’ve heard and seen a lot of events organised by WiEIT, however, I often found myself thinking that our community is not as big and known among students as I would like it to be’, shared Sanaz. She didn’t think twice to join. For her, the ambassador’s mission is to expand the scale of conversation, to make it more inclusive and gender-neutral. Linking it to the challenges faced by community, Sanaz said ‘Labelling, that is the biggest challenge. It divides us. What I really want to see is not women or men, but people in engineering’.
Dorsa Morshedi Rad, a PHD in Biomedical Engineering, started the conversation by sharing her concerns about male domination in the engineering field. ‘When I’ve heard about the opportunity to become an ambassador, I felt like this is my chance to enhance women’s representation. I really wanted to encourage the interest of girls in the industry and think that my new role will give me an opportunity to do it’. For Dorsa, being an ambassador is first of all being committed disregarding of obstacles that arise. ‘Becoming an inspiring role model is the biggest challenge’, admitted Dorsa. ‘There are quite a few high-level female researches around me and I need to make sure I am not falling short’.
Layla Boroon, has been one of UTS’s advocates for a long time now. She started her journey 6 years ago and now she feels like university became an inseparable part of her life, that is why contributing to a good cause was never a question. When she saw an email from WiEIT, she knew straight away that she’d try herself, after all being an ambassador is a good way to boost social and professional life for any student. Layla is a big believer in the power of voice and joint efforts. ‘It is difficult for official organisations to transfer their thoughts to communities but we as ambassadors have a way to do it. As women we can empower one another and encourage ourselves to do something we didn’t even know we could do!’ shared Layla. She thinks after becoming an official representative of WiEIT she gained more expressional power as women in her circle find it easier to believe her now. For Layla, the role of an ambassador is a starting point of a long process, a process of elevating all women at the university and their confidence. One of the trickiest moments that she associates with her new role is related to compensation-free engagement. ‘It is people’s nature to look for quick tangible benefits. However, it is not exactly what we are offering. Our task is to get people interested and involved without luring them in through material rewards. This has been one of the main problems so far’, was Layla’s conclusion.
Romina Ghobadi, PHD Researcher at the School of Civil & Environmental Engineering. When we asked her why did she decide to become an ambassador for WiEIT, she answered with no hesitation, ‘First of all, I am a woman so I can understand what women in my field are going through. Being an ambassador is a great opportunity to listen, help them and myself’. Her vision of ambassadors’ mission resonates with the rest as she focuses on the ‘links and connections’ that ambassadors provide between the university, industry, and students. Romina believes that students’ way of thinking and prioritizing of studies over everything else is the main obstacle for greater involvement. ‘It is very hard to bring them to the events as they think of it as a distraction and not a valuable addition to their education’, said Romina.
Sara Farahmandian is fully emerged into uni life doing her PhD in Cybersecurity and her interest in becoming an ambassador has developed from it. After starting her course she noticed a surprisingly low number of women and often found herself thinking she has no female colleagues to share her interests and passion with. ‘I thought it would be great if I can tell women: ‘Hey, you can do the same thing’’, were Sara’s words. She believes that if a person has something to share they should do it. That’s how she became one of WiEIT ambassadors. Sara firmly believes that ambassadorship is all about encouragement, she finds that her role puts her in the position where she feels comfortable introducing the community to other women and showing them all the resources and assistance WiEIT can provide them with. ‘I think the challenge that every woman involved in engineering and IT faces is number, the small number of women in the field. They feel the need to talk to someone but don’t know who to and that is where we come in’, shared Sara.
Jasmeet Bedi, Master of Interaction Design, said she has always had an interest in supporting women. When she was still in India, Jasmeet often wanted to do something to encourage local girls to pursue higher education in technical studies, which is very uncommon for the population of the small village where Jasmeet was growing up. Back then she understood that sparking interest and assuring the girls about their knowledge and skills had significant impact on their attitudes toward engineering. Having such a background she was motivated to share it with students at UTS. ‘I am very proud of myself for becoming an ambassador because now I am one of those great women that are out there making real impact’, was Jasmeet’s conclusion.
Sancheeta Pugalia, PhD in Entrepreneurship, has been involved in research on women entrepreneurs prior to joining WiEIT. Being exposed to the issues of females in male dominated industries, she felt a need to be a part of the community that puts so much effort into elevating the status of women. ‘Being an ambassador, helps us, the women as a community, to develop ourselves and aid in finding ways to reach the epitome of our careers. This community helps each other in bringing out our best as well as focuses on the development in the areas which requires attention. Therefore, I felt it was such a great opportunity to meet other women and develop myself’, said Sancheeta. Despite ambassadorship is a new experience for Sancheeta, she is very confident in her role and already can recognise the potential of this position to broaden her horizons and expanding the professional network.
Despite all of the ambassadors having their unique stories and experiences, they all have something that unites them - the passion for what they do. We asked them to share some advice for those who are interested in contributing to the community but are hesitant if ambassadorship is the right choice for them. If you recognise yourself, then remember:
- Being an ambassador is as much giving is receiving. You learn, you make new friends and build relationships that would be a guarantor of your future success.
- University life goes far beyond studying. To fully experience it you need to engage in outside activities that are designed with a purpose to benefit you.
- Never underestimate your skills and abilities. Everything can be learnt if you show interest and input some effort.
As we expect our community of bright and confident women to grow, there will be many ways how students can engage with WiEIT and make their university life more vibrant. Start with chatting to one of our ambassadors when you see them on campus!