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Grace Series Continues to Empower and Inspire Virtually – Part 2

The spring 2021 Grace Series, held virtually, began with Juliet G. Odima, CSM, CSPO, Executive Director, STEAM Achievers Associate Vice President, and Director, School of Data Science and Analytics, Colaberry Inc. In her talk titled “Auditing your Next Career Move: Getting that Job, Career Advancement, Advocacy and Giving Back,” Ms. Odima spoke about how we as people can transition from fear into an actionable audit to uncover our preparedness. She reviewed some actionable steps we can take to get a competitive advantage over our peers or prepare for career advancement and discover the hope and bright spots within the pandemic for rising engineers, data scientists, and analysts. During her talk, she also shared the lessons she has learned throughout her journey transitioning into technology, fighting to fight past the fear of the unknown, bias, and more.

Ms. Odima began her talk by discussing how the global pandemic has touched each of us in ways we will likely never forget, and has taught young and old, rich and poor, educated and not, more than a few tough lessons in agility. “Otherwise normal fears over our general preparedness have been amplified for many and can be paralyzing, given the interruptions in learning, rapidly changing news headlines, company closures, job security, ongoing concerns over justice and equality, the elections only weeks away, and of course, real fear for our own health and wellbeing, and that of our families. This environment has the potential to get us wound up in anxiety, wondering if we are “good enough” for the competitive labor market, for a transition into a new career, for our next career move, and more,” noted Ms. Odima.

As a professional who transitioned into technology later in her career, Ms. Odima spent more than ten years in operations and accounting leadership and has since exercised her passionate belief that given the opportunity and resources to discover and gain experiences in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics careers at an early age, minorities and women are just as capable of pursuing and thriving in lucrative STEAM careers as their male counterparts. Driven by that notion, she has served as Executive Director of STEAM Achievers, an organization focused on bridging the STEAM, education, and achievement gap among children, youth, and adults from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds. She leads the organization in the design of media-acclaimed Hackathons, corporate partnerships, and strategic programs in which scholars learn how computer science concepts such as coding, AI, AR, and VR are used to design video games, develop apps, interactive graphics, animation, social media, and other digital solutions. With direct mentorship and direction from leaders in this field, scholars and adults combine those acquired skills with science, engineering, art, and math concepts and apply project management methodologies to design impactful and deployable digital solutions to real-life problems in their community.

STEAM Achievers, with the support of a large team of mentors and executives from organizations in STEAM fields, including medicine, engineering, and technology, successfully host HackAutism and Purpose Hackathons (pH) and events at the University of Texas at Dallas, Microsoft, among other partner locations. Executives and professionals in science, technology, and engineering from all over DFW team up with scholars to give back their skills, talent, and time to Designing Video Games for Children with Autism, benefiting the UNT Kristin Farmer Autism Center. Participants and partners from public and private organizations ranging from Microsoft, AT&T, UTSW, UTD, to UNT Texas Kristin Farmer Autism Center, to name a few.

In 2017, STEAM Achievers was named a Technology Focus Partner in a City of Dallas Government Report along with Microsoft and only five other companies. Over 250 STEAM Achievers, scholars from 6 locations were featured by the City of Dallas Mayor’s Youth Initiative, where they presented video games they had designed for children with autism before 3,000+ attendees. Ms. Odima speaks proudly of these scholars, a large percentage of whom were from low-income single mother head-of-household families, up to 95% of whom had little to no experience in computer science and 71% with reading levels far below grade level. Under her direction, STEAM Achievers Purpose Hackathons, after school, summer programs, workshops, and corporate collaborations served up to 3,100 scholars in 2018-2019 alone.

Ms. Odima also serves as Associate Vice President at Colaberry Inc., a social enterprise providing top-tier consulting services and delivering empowering business intelligence solutions in the Data Science and Data Analytics space. As an avid supporter of Diversity and Inclusion, she has been instrumental in helping maintain the organization’s focus on training minorities, women, veterans, and individuals from over 48 countries and from various economic backgrounds.

The second talk of the Spring 2021 Virtual Grace Series featured Ms. Seda Maurer, Digital Accessibility Consultant at Seda Maurer Consulting. During her presentation titled “What’s your Game Plan,” Ms. Maurer took the audience through two aspects of her journey as a professional woman and as a woman who overcame significant challenges in her life. She presented an overview of her long and impressive career from the early days of designing with computerized phototypesetting equipment to the current days of conducting her own business. Ms. Maurer shared the different stages of her career and the challenges that helped her learn more and focus harder on her own goals and all that she accomplished during this journey. But, more importantly, during this talk, the audience was able to hear firsthand about a woman’s struggles, challenges, and victories! Students were able to learn how Seda faced her challenges and overcome the multitude of hurdles that she had to cross over in her lifetime. She advised students who are going through tough times to appreciate that everything is temporary, to stay grounded, to experience the silence within, and lastly, to be honest with yourself without judgment. She stressed the importance of taking responsibility for your own actions and grow from what you learn. In the course of her career, she learned that knowledge is power and that it is crucial to keep learning! She advised students to stay curious, create a game plan, and always pay attention to your emotions and fears.

Ms. Maurer is a strategist and veteran User Experience (UX) Designer with a strong background in Digital Accessibility. In 2020, she established the Seda Maurer Consulting LLC, which allows her to follow her passion of helping organizations meet their accessibility compliance goals. She has been a visual designer, business owner, visual 3D Animator and designer, interaction designer, UX designer, and a digital accessibility specialist during her career. Ms. Maurer is a recognized leader in user experience and an advocate of digital accessibility as an essential element of good UX. She was instrumental in strategizing, leading, and establishing the Digital Accessibility Program at Sabre. She also believes that having empathy is critical in designing an inclusive and effective project.

Ms. Maurer enjoys mentoring and giving talks on empathy and accessibility at local conferences and organizations. She finds joy in mentoring women and helping ensure that they are always aware of their own value and worth! “I truly love being a mentor. It means so much to me to have a mentor because I did not have a mentor when I needed one when I was young. I truly value the importance of mentoring, and I learned so much from the mentors I have had throughout my career. I take being a mentor very seriously and do my best to be helpful when I am asked for assistance.”

The Spring 2021 Virtual Grace Series ended with Shobana Radhakrishnan, the Director of Engineering for Android TV at Google. In her talk titled “Finding Your Voice and Carving Your Path,” Ms. Radhakrishnan shared some exciting stories from her journey in tech and the corporate world, as well as growing up in a conservative South Indian household to making a huge journey to the US to pursue advanced education, and then making the foray into a high-tech career. Ms. Radhakrishnan touched upon both conscious and accidental decisions along the way and how they have shaped her career and her professional profile over time.

Ms. Radhakrishnan also touched upon some practical tips and tricks on how someone can develop stellar real-world architectural and technical chops, build their own strong profile and credibility as professionals over time, find mentors, role models, and sponsors that can help them along the way. These included examples based on her experiences and interactions with students and professional women in the decades that she has volunteered in and launched programs on diversity in STEM. She advised students saying, “one of the most important things to remember is when you are working to carve your path find and finding your voice is to know yourself! Just remember that whatever makes you tick is what will keep you going and scaling heights! This means understanding yourself and what really motivates you from the inside. It is important to develop a vision.” She asked students to really think about their vision, what do you want to become, or how you want to change the world. Whether that be a personal or social impact, choose something you are passionate about. “When you love something, then your work won’t seem like work. You must be excited about your work!” She went on to advise students to go beyond and work to influence change and persuade others on your vision. She encouraged students to “stay curious and hungry! Always be curious and ask questions! I advise you to constantly try to find ways to learn new things, review the old lessons! The most important factor to remember throughout your journey is to enjoy the ride. Life is like a marathon, not a sprint; try to find ways to enjoy all the stops on the way.”

She shared her thoughts on how students who are at the threshold of great careers can get inspired to reach lofty dreams, and keep in mind the saying from Mahatma Gandhi on “Be the change you want to see” influencing the environment for themselves as well as people around them that they can lift up as they progress to leadership careers over time. She ended her talk by asking students to remember “that behind every successful woman, there is a tribe of other successful women that have her back. Find ways to uplift others around you!”

The Grace Series will continue next fall with more featured guests from both academia and industry.

Since the inception of the UT Dallas Grace Series in the spring of 2015, a total of Thirty inspiring women and men have spoken, including:

  1. Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, Louis A. Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Professor, UT Dallas CS Professor, and Executive Director of the UT Dallas Cyber Security Research and Education Institute (CSI) (click here for her story)
  2. Dr. Lily Wu, UT Dallas CS Professor and Director of the Data Communication and Data Management (DCDM) Laboratory  (click here for her story)
  3. Dr. I-Ling Yen, UT Dallas CS Professor (click here for her story)
  4. Dr. Ranran Feng, UT Dallas CS Professor (click here for her story)
  5. Dr. Sanda Harabagiu, UT Dallas CS Professor, Erik Jonsson School Research Initiation Chair, and Director of the UT Dallas Human Language Technology Research Institute (HLTRI) (click here for her story)
  6. Dr. Rym Zalila-Wenkstern, UT Dallas CS Professor and Director of the Multi-Agent and Visualization Systems lab (click here for her story)
  7. Dr. Inga H. Musselman, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost for The University of Texas at Dallas (click here for her story)
  8. Dr. Jo Zhang of Fujitsu Laboratories of America (click here to read her story),
  9. Dr. Farokh Bastani, UT Dallas CS Professor, Excellence in Education Chair, and Director of the UT Dallas site of the NSF Net-centric and Cloud Software and Systems Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (NSF NCSS I/UCRC) (click here to read his story)
  10. Dr. Peggy Shadduck, Director of both the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) STEM Institute and of the Dallas/North Texas STEM Degree Accelerator Program (click here to read her story)
  11. Lymari Ames of Cisco Systems (click here to read her story)
  12. Romelia Flores an IBM Distinguished Engineer and Master Inventor (click here to read her story)
  13. Jill Blanchar, a Bank of America Information Security Executive (click here to read her story)
  14. Lisa Frey, State Farm Scrum Master (click here to read her story)
  15. Kimberly Snipes, USAA, VP, Chief Information Officer (click here to read her story)
  16. Catherine Walsh, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Loss Prevention for Johnson Controls’ Tyco Retail Solutions
  17. Dr. Nimmi Kannankutty, Deputy Division Director in the Division of Graduate Education (DGE) at the National Science Foundation (NSF).
  18. Dr. Karen Mazidi, UT Dallas CS Professor (click here to view her slides from her Grace Series Talk titled “Discovering Your Strengths”)
  19. Grace Kaldawi, Senior Software Engineer for Capital One Auto Finance, Amazon Web Services Certified Solutions Architect, and UT Dallas CS Alumnus (click here to read more)
  20. Dr. Sydeaka Watson, Senior Data Scientist at Korelasi Data Insights, LLC, an independent analytics consulting company (click here to read more)
  21. Dr. Ewa Musial, Senior Software Engineer at Blackhawk Network (click here to read more or click here to view slides from her presentation)
  22. Dr. Janell Straach, Rice University CS Professor, former UT Dallas CS professor, and one the Grace Series founders (click here to read more or click here to view slides from her presentation)
  23. Uni Yost, CEO/Founder of GoAskJay Inc. (click here to read more or click here to view slides from her presentation)
  24. Dr. Smita Bakshi, President, and Co-Founder of zyBooks (click here to read more or click here to view slides from her presentation)
  25. Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, Louis A. Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Professor, UT Dallas CS Professor, and Executive Director of the UT Dallas Cyber Security Research and Education Institute (CSI) (click here to watch her talk)
  26. Dr. Betty Stewart, Provost, Executive Vice-President for Academic Affairs and tenured Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Texas at Dallas (click here to watch her talk)
  27. Neeti Khaitan Gupta, President and CEO of Accelerate Consulting Inc. (click here to watch her talk)
  28. Juliet G. Odima, CSM, CSPO, Executive Director, STEAM Achievers Associate Vice President, and Director, School of Data Science and Analytics, Colaberry Inc. (click here to watch her talk)
  29. Seda Mauer, Digital Accessibility Consultant at Seda Maurer Consulting (click here to watch her talk)
  30. Shobana Radhakrishnan, Director of Engineering for Android TV at Google (click here to watch her talk)

ABOUT THE UT DALLAS COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPARTMENT

The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 3,315 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,110 master’s students, 165 Ph.D. students,  52 tenure-track faculty members, and 44 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2019. With the University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.