Alumni Spotlight is where you get to meet our wonderful Astra S.T.E.A.M. Alumni. In the past three years, we were lucky to have influenced over 60 young girls who are aspired to become young entrepreneurs in the STEAM fields. Each year, these young girls would work in teams to come up with New Venture App ideas during a two-day Astra S.T.E.A.M. Summit. At the end of the Summit, they would present their ideas in front of a panel of judges.
Through this experience, we want to encourage young girls to develop their interests in STEAM subjects as well as entrepreneurship, and to empower them to become the next generation of female scientists and women entrepreneurs.
In today’s Alumni Spotlight, we’d like to introduce you to our 2014 STEAMer, 2015 and 2016 STEAM Mentor – Shreya Parjan.
Tell us a little more about yourself!
I moved to the Silicon Valley from Portland, Oregon in 2014, and will be a senior at Monta Vista High School. In my free time, I have a myriad of interests, ranging from biology to business to public policy.
When did you attend the Astra STEAM Summit?
In November of 2014 I was honored to attend the summit as a STEAMer, returned to Microsoft’s campus in 2015 as a mentor, and mentored again in 2016 while assisting with some logistics to help make it the best summit to date!
What was your team’s App idea in 2014?
We pitched an alternative to traditional networking and job-search resources that used a more visual portfolio interface to connect students with opportunities related to their interests, while promoting collaboration and start-up culture. My friend and 2016 STEAMer, Claire Wang, and I developed and marketed the app, Cliqd. You can find it on the Google Play Store!
What was your best memory from the Astra S.T.E.A.M. Summits?
I’m all about what goes on behind the scenes of the show. Presenting with my group was great, but my best memory was from the night before our presentation, when all 5 of us were working until dawn, debating which of our ideas should make it into our final product. I loved our chaotic teamwork, where we’d all have a lot to contribute but be grounded by the constraints of time and feasibility, because the summit really wouldn’t have been as rewarding without it.
What was your biggest take away?
Well, when I applied for the summit, I was fresh from my hometown of Portland and in awe of the vast amount of opportunities available here in the Silicon Valley. I really never saw myself at such an event or meeting such outstanding peers and mentors, at Microsoft, no less. I think in answering this question, I can’t limit myself to my interactions with my teammates or our final pitch. So my biggest take away must be that when you have the network to support your own efforts, like the one the Astra has provided for me, you have a whole community waiting for you to pass on that same message of empowerment.
What did you learn from the Astra S.T.E.A.M. Summits that later affected or changed you?
I used to think that I’d get over my initial shock towards the resources offered in the Silicon Valley, but rather, I’ve realized that in doing so I would have taken those same opportunities for granted. In my work to make STEAM education accessible to all students, the one thing I’ve heard the most from the teachers, city council members, and parents is “I wish I had something like this when I was growing up.” So I guess if the summit taught me to inspire and empower others, it was ultimately up to me to put those teachings into practice.
What is your dream career ? And how are you achieving it?
My dream career is one that allows me to solve big problems with big ideas. It’s important for me to recognize that I am still just one person, but I think starting somewhere, anywhere, is the biggest step. I do this for the thinkers of tomorrow through my work with Astra and my organization, Branch Out, dedicated to making opportunities in STEAM accessible to all students via programs in collaboration with schools and local companies. I do this for myself and my fellow constituents of our democracy as a volunteer organizer for the state of California with Wolf PAC, a national organization dedicated to the bipartisan issue of campaign finance reform. Most importantly, I do this as a student with an excessive, seemingly over-idealistic curiosity to understand as much about this world as I can.
Have you been criticized or stereotyped for choosing STEAM as fields of interest as a girl?
I’m privileged to say no, being a girl has never been cause for criticism when it came to choosing STEAM. What I cannot say is that the same is true for students of other racial or socioeconomic backgrounds.
What’s your aspiration?
To not be bogged down by minor details that I forget the large scale impact of what I hope to do and the people at the center of it.
What’s your biggest obstacle?
Recognizing that it’s worth aiming for things that may seem a bit out of reach has been something I struggled with, but I really admire the mentality of being able to admit that the worst that could happen is they say no or the idea doesn’t work out at first. After all, no good solution stems from the first attempt.
Who’s your role model? And why?
Definitely my mom. She speaks English, Russian, Hindi, and Punjabi fluently, has lived on four continents, and is an excellent and adventurous chef. But most importantly, as a physician by training who has spent years working with nonprofits and as the oldest of four siblings, she’s great with connecting with anyone she meets. Granted, it’s not something you can learn, like a language or a bold new recipe, but it’s something she employs every day both in her workplace and in making sure that with all my big ideas, I never forget the individuals that comprise their core.
If you have one advice for the new STEAMers, what would it be?
Don’t end the momentum with what you accomplish at the summit or in an isolated event; instead, facilitate the spread of ideas and aspirations.