The founder of a nonprofit organization before even entering her first year at Stanford University, Audrey Pe proves the incredible influence that females have in STEM. Ms. Pe started WiTech after her personal experiences with the STEM gender gap and now runs an influential nonprofit organization with over 70 youth from more than 3 distinct countries. Read on to learn more and see how you can become involved!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How you chose your major, why you felt inspired to create WiTech, etc.:
I’m the founder and executive director of WiTech (Women in Technology) and an incoming freshman at Stanford University. WiTech is a nonprofit organization based in the Philippines that aims to educate, inspire, and empower youth to break gender barriers and use tech to make a difference in society.
At Stanford, we aren’t asked to declare our major until the end of sophomore year. As of now, I’m considering interdisciplinary majors like Science, Technology, and Society because I want to study how we can create more accessible CS education in developing countries like the Philippines, where I was born and raised.
WiTech was born out of my personal experiences, mainly going through a lack of support in entering tech from my immediate community. A teacher even told me she didn’t think I was a good fit for tech while I was one of two girls in my 9th grade class that wanted to go into STEM. Eager to figure out why I couldn’t even name a single woman in tech at that time, I looked up ‘women in tech’ on Google and discovered the massive gender gap that exists locally and internationally. That led me, at 15, to ask myself what I could do to help solve a problem that closely impacts me and my community. I didn’t want to wait until I got older to help achieve gender equality in tech; I wanted to use the resources I had then to create change. Hence, I founded WiTech in 2016.
If you could change anything about what you’ve done during your process of creating WiTech, what would it be? What have you been most proud of during this process?
Personally, I would tell my 15-year-old self to stress less (which is easier said than done). Balancing school with WiTech was such a challenge that wasn’t made any easier with my anxieties about the college application process. I’d tell my younger self to not worry about everything all at once and that everything--college, WiTech, etc.--would work out in the end.
Throughout the process of creating WiTech, I’m most proud that I didn’t decide to give up on pursuing tech just because I saw a lack of role models and was told by those around me that I didn’t belong in the field. That persistence is something I carry with me on a day-to-day basis. It’s thickened my skin against criticisms that I’m too young to be doing the work I do and given me the courage to deliver talks to people twice or thrice my age.
Many organizations have a hierarchy of management, with higher roles involving older employees with the greatest amount of experience. How do you think having 70+ youth from all over the world help run WiTech advantageously sets you apart from these companies?
Organizationally, we really believe that age shouldn’t be a deciding factor in whether or not someone gets to lead. We have had 15-year-olds leading committees and growing in the process because we invested and believed in them early on. Besides the diversity of perspectives that comes from having a global team, a real asset in letting youth lead is that there’s this sense of urgency that permeates our work. We’re working towards building a more equal tech industry because we understand that if we don’t act now, things aren’t going to get better for our generation or the next.
Explain how you found a balance of running your own non-profit while still completing your education.
Balancing a nonprofit and my education was especially challenging in my junior and senior years of high school as I took the rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program. When I wasn’t in class, I would be spending break times replying to emails or catching up on team messages. After classes, I would usually head off to a conference or event to speak and return home at around 7 PM. I’d study until as late as 2 AM and wake up at 4-5 AM to study more or work on college applications.
Looking back, I was able to balance it all because of my organizational skills: to do lists, hour-by-hour Google Calendar, etc. Prioritisation was also key, as I had to learn to turn down social activities or gatherings to make time for meetings or other WiTech commitments during weekends as well. WiTech was almost my break from studying and vice versa.
What is your advice for students interested in pursuing a technology-related career, but don’t feel supported/feel like it’s too late in their education to change paths?
With any field, I think it’s very important to find your ‘why’. Ask yourself why you want to pursue this field and what kind of impact you want to make with it. As someone who didn’t grow up with knowledge on how to pursue tech, it’s also essential to maximise online resources for career planning. Look up career blogs, connect with people, etc. With the internet at your fingertips, you have an endless stream of resources and just need to be persistent in finding answers to your questions. For career-shifters, the internet is also a great place to access free introductory CS materials and connect with potential mentors.
With students looking for opportunities to further their education/experience right now, is WiTech offering any ways for students to become involved?
WiTech is currently open to global chapter applications! If you want to set up webinars, women in tech conferences, or CS literacy + programming workshops in your community, email me firstname.lastname@example.org or message me @audreyisabelpe on Instagram for more information on how to proceed.
Feel free to add any other advice for students:
Advice on building a project:
If you see something in your community that you know needs to be changed, don’t wait for someone else to address it. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t run for congress because she dreamed about it--she ran because she knew if she didn’t, no one was going to step up and advocate for the change she wanted to see within her community. I urge you to do the same. Have an idea that you think can better the people around you? Consult someone you trust and do research on it. Want to start an organization that addresses a problem in your school? Find a team and work on projects. Making a difference in the field of STEAM and using the field of STEAM all boils down to knowing what you want to do and why you are going to do it. Don’t do it for the college application or the CV; do it because you believe that ideas (when executed) can change the world.
Overall, WiTech works towards a future where all youth--regardless of gender or socioeconomic status--have access to tech and the potential to use it for social good.
Learn more about Audrey through her personal account @audreyisabelpe and WiTech’s account @witechorg.