It isn't every day that you meet a woman in the community and within a matter of minutes are inspired by their determination and brilliance. However, this is exactly what happened when we met Danielle Olson, founder of Gique. After two months of hearing from our #RealGirlLeaders, we are excited to highlight women in our community who are making things happen, meeting their goals and empowering others along the way. Today we are thrilled to kick off our #OWSpotlight Series with Danielle Olson. You can learn more about Danielle at http://hellodanio.com and we're sure you'll want to after reading as she highlights her passion as a successful, intelligent woman of color providing innovating resources in the STEM field!
"When you’re completely focused on doing something you truly love, you lose your sense of ego & time."
We asked Danielle to tell us a little bit more about her goals, and here's what she had to say.
I suppose you could call me idealistic, but I truly believe that each of us has a unique perspective that can be used to better the world in some way. In middle school, what drew me to join my school’s newspaper club was the idea that writing could help me empower myself and empower others. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I was exposed to the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) after enrolling in a Girls Exploring Engineering (GE2) mentorship program. This program helped me discover my passion for engineering, which provided me a way to, quite literally, build a better world.
To expand my understanding and knowledge of engineering, I learned about a 6-week summer program at MIT called Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) while searching online, applied, and got accepted. Those 6 weeks at MITES with a class of 70 other students of color working together to learn and grow changed my life. It was the first time I’d been a part of a learning community that embraced the philosophy “it’s all about the delta,” which means that it’s not about
where you start, but where you go. That’s what’s referred to as a growth mindset, and in a society that fails to provide an equitable quality of education to all students, a growth mindset is vital.
Quite frankly, when you’re a young woman of color working in software engineering, it is rare to see many other people that look like you leading the companies you admire. Most of the time, you don’t see a lot of people who look like you while you’re at the meeting table, either. However, in this industry, diversity of thought is critical because it challenges teams to craft better solutions for as many people as possible. As someone who is underrepresented in this field, I feel compelled to use my unique voice to promote innovation. I also want to do what I can to help other young women and people of color to have their voices heard, as well.
Today, I work as a Program Manager at the Microsoft New England Research & Development (NERD) Center in Kendall Square. I work on a product that enables people to be productive on their PCs and mobile devices while keeping their company’s data secure. It’s been a great experience learning how to listen to customers and figure out how to build software that makes their job a little easier. At the root of it all, I am passionate about building software because it can help make people’s lives better.
While I’m not at Microsoft, I spend my time running Gique (“geek”), an educational non-profit I started in my Senior House dorm room during my senior year at MIT. A gique is someone who combines art, science, and technology to innovate and make the world a better place. My organization’s mission is to inspire Boston-area youth about how to use art, science, and technology to bring their ideas to life. Growing Gique has been an awesome learning experience that has helped me to grow as an individual and as a member of a team of amazing, inspiring people.
One of my favorite quotes is by Leonardo da Vinci; he says: “Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses- especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” Traditional K-12 educational programs expose students to humanities, social studies, science, and math in silos. However, we don’t experience the world in those same silos, which makes it hard to map what we learn in the classroom to what we experience in our daily lives.
My aspiration is to provide our young people with a way to map what they experience in their unique lives into new ideas and innovations that make their world a better place. I believe we can do this by integrating art + design thinking into science and technology curriculum. That’s what we are doing with Gique.
For the past year and a half, we have been providing standalone educational workshops to people of all ages in Boston and Cambridge through dance, coding, typography, and more. I am very excited that beginning in September 2015, we will be teaching weekly hands-on educational workshops to middle school students at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester. Additionally, this November we will be running our first educational workshop at the Bay Area Science Festival in California – our first west coast event! Our goal is to expand our curriculum into a yearlong out-of-school time educational program for students in the Greater Boston area.
It’s through Gique that I’ve rekindled my journalistic passion for sharing other people’s stories, with the goal of eliminating that single story of the engineer and the scientist who only uses their left-brain. Because, you see, the danger of the single story, as West African writer Chimamanda Adichie says, is that it leads to stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.
The one thing that I hope to challenge the students I work with through Gique to do is to recognize that there is nobody like them. I challenge them to forge their own paths, to find their own passions, even when it means shattering the single story in order to author their own. I challenge them to recognize the power that they possess in the rich, multidimensional stories that they bring to the table – stories that will inform and enrich the designs of the next greatest technologies, the cure for cancer,
and the engineering feats that will knock down boundaries our parents’ generation faced. I challenge them to start where they are, use what they have, and do what they can. And most importantly, I challenge them to embrace failure.
To not also share my stories of failure would be to flatten my own experience. In fact, were times during my 4 years at MIT when I wanted to quit, when I didn’t think I was going to pass the class, when it didn’t feel like it was going to eventually be “worth it.” However, with strong communities & mentorship, I persisted and I learned that the master has failed more times than the beginner has ever tried. So, I want to challenge our students to embrace failure and persevere.
I’d like to finally share a message from engineer & artist, Bran Ferren, who was inspired to pursue both his passions for art & science after seeing the Pantheon, a famous building in Rome, as a young child:
“I've come to believe that the ingredients for the next Pantheons are all around us, just waiting for visionary people with the broad knowledge, multidisciplinary skills, and intense passion to harness them to make their dreams a reality. But these people don't spontaneously pop into existence. They need to be nurtured and encouraged from when they're little kids. We need to love them and help them discover their passions. We need to encourage them to work hard and help them understand that failure is a necessary ingredient for success, as is perseverance. We need to help them to find their own role models, and give them the confidence to believe in themselves and to believe that anything is possible, and just as my grandpa did when he took me shopping for surplus, and just as my parents did when they took me to science museums, we need to encourage them to find their own path, even if it's very different from our own.
But a cautionary note: We also need to periodically pry them away from their modern miracles, the computers, phones, tablets, game machines and TVs, take them out into the sunlight so they can experience both the natural and design wonders of our world, our planet and our civilization. If we don't, they won't understand what these precious things are that someday they will be responsible for protecting and improving. We also need them to understand something that doesn't seem adequately appreciated in our increasingly tech-dependent world, that art and design are not luxuries, nor somehow incompatible with science and engineering. They are in fact essential to what makes us special.”