#WĀHINEWEDNESDAY: Aleisha Amohia
Breaking barriers in STEM
Aleisha Amohia is a passionate STEM advocate and Victoria University graduate - with a conjoint degree in Commerce and Computer Science. She is a dog lover, especially of her family dog, Cassie. Aleisha is the eldest of four siblings, enjoys sushi and yum cha - but probably not at the same time! She strongly believes that young women need to explore all career possibilities, activities and industries - especially those that are currently male-dominated. Aleisha is living this belief, working in the world of coding, an arena in which she excels and thrives in!
Below are some quick-fire questions, to get to know a little more about Aleisha:
1. Most played song, or artist, on your Spotify playlist?
I could listen to Ariana Grande, Rihanna, and Beyoncé on repeat all day.
2. Three books, or movies, you’re lining up to read or watch are…
Movies that I’ll watch again and again are Hidden Figures and Burlesque (I love all types of strong women!). In terms of books, ‘Shouting Zeros and Ones’ is about digital technology, ethics and policy in New Zealand and was written by an amazing selection of people, and every person should read it.
3. Childhood celebrity crush?
Probably Zac Efron, when he was Troy Bolton… let’s go Wildcats!
4. The family member you talk to when you need advice?
You’re passionate about coding. Could you describe what coding is in layman terms?
Coding is writing a set of instructions in a language that a computer can understand. Sometimes the instructions aren’t right, or they don’t tell the computer enough about what it needs to do, so my job is often to write new or better instructions.
You saw a need in your area of passion; coding whilst completing your studies at university. This was the need for a group for students, with similar passions and interests, to meet and mingle with each other and tackle diversity and inclusion together. This led to you establishing the Victoria University of Wellington Women in Tech group.
What was your vision for the formation of this group? How do you believe it created positive change for those involved in it?
I wanted Victoria University of Wellington Women in Tech (VUWWIT) to become a community or a network, rather than just a university club. I wanted to cover every tech student’s needs and interests – gaining new skills, networking with potential future employers, and meeting and mentoring other young women interested in tech.
I believe VUWWIT created positive change because we started changing the culture within the university. Our events were always open to all genders, but they prioritised safety and inclusion. People came to our events expecting to see and communicate with women, which already sets an entirely different environment and energy, because in the past you could often get away with having absolutely no women at a tech event or meet-up. We started providing feedback and working alongside the university, so that they could gain insight on the systemic changes they needed to make. Our group’s existence and presence in the university also meant that, even though we were a minority, no woman in tech felt like she was alone anymore.
The push for and promotion of STEM education, as a focus for young women in particular, is gaining momentum.
Why do you believe this is important?
Promoting STEM education for young women is important because STEM is integrated into everything we do – whether that’s learning at school, or working in a café, or running one’s own business, or buying groceries. All of our everyday activities and the things around us have been affected, created by, or are feeding into STEM systems. If the people designing and developing these systems and tools are all the same type of person – often white, often men – then that’s the type of person the systems or tools will serve or benefit first. These tools are developed with flaws because they haven’t been created for the vast range of people who will be using them or are affected by them. Sometimes we come across a tool that maybe shouldn’t have been developed at all because the people behind it didn’t consider ethics, purpose, or how it would be used.
We need diversity in the teams developing the systems that affect us each day – diverse thoughts, diverse needs, diverse experiences, even diverse physical attributes.
That means pushing adequate STEM education for young women, so that they have the skills, tools, and confidence to make change and create incredible things.
What is something that you are most proud of to date, in terms of achievement, be it something you’ve achieved for yourself or for others?
An achievement I’m really proud of is WITcon, a one-day single-track conference and VUWWIT’s largest event of the year. WITcon has taken place twice so far, in 2018 and 2019, and I was the lead organiser both years. I’m proud of WITcon for so many reasons, but the main reasons are:
- Having keynote speakers that were students and women of colour in 2018 and 2019
- Giving a spotlight to the voices, mahi, and research of young people, women, students, Māori and people of colour, first-time speakers, and speakers who wouldn’t normally feel comfortable putting forward a talk for a conference
- Connecting students to employers in a networking environment that is familiar for students (the university)
- Being the event where some students have met employers which led to gaining actual jobs
- Providing an opportunity for VUWWIT’s executive committee members to gain organisational experience
- Gaining thousands of dollars in sponsorship from local science and technology companies that care about diversity and inclusion in STEM, and
- Being the number one trending hashtag on New Zealand Twitter!
If you could change one thing (with no limitations on timing or budget) in your lifetime what would it be?
Decolonise everything and everyone.
Has anyone guided or supported you so far? Can you share who and how they helped you?
Oh my gosh, so many people. I would not have had the experiences I’ve had without the incredible people who have supported me. My family, especially my parents and my partner, my friends, and my Koha team at Catalyst where I work, all deserve shout-outs. These people all inspire the heck out of me for different reasons, and I think it’s so key to surround yourself with people who make you want to be better and who lift you up. They encourage me to try anything and show up for me when I need them, but also always remind me to take time out and look after myself, which is just as important.