Every year, we recognize the month of March as a moment to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions women have made throughout U.S. history. In addition to being Women’s History Month here in the U.S., March is also a time for the voices and experiences of women around the world to be heard with collective resonance.
We wanted to spotlight some of the amazing women who inspired us during a recent event held for young women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
In late February, Audi of America and Forbes came together to host the fourth Forbes Idea Incubator, a one-day event that challenges female students from NYU Tandon School of Engineering to address critical issues facing the world today. This year’s challenge asked students to develop creative solutions that could help narrow the gender gap for women and young girls about the benefits of electric vehicles.
Here are their thoughts:
Audi Soul: What was your biggest takeaway from the Forbes Idea Incubator?
Sonja Koch, Senior EV Portfolio Strategy Specialist, Audi of America: Having been a mentor numerous times for various organizations, I love seeing the motivation that students have to better themselves and their ideas. Seeing students from NYU take advantage of the Forbes Idea Incubator event and utilizing it to its full potential was so wonderful to see. The genuine appreciation and thanks the students gave the mentors was very heart-warming.
Ziyi Huang, Forbes Idea Incubator 2021 first place winner: I think the most important takeaway is collaboration. We started to brainstorm about the idea before the competition and also spent time together on developing the ideas. It is so interesting and meaningful to hear everyone talking about their ideas and that also inspired me a lot. Since this is a team competition, communication is really important. We wouldn’t have such a huge accomplishment without anyone on our team.
Krishitha Raghuraman, Forbes Idea Incubator 2021 first place winner: The importance of guidance, mentorship and listening. Having the chance to interact with such inspiring women from Audi, Forbes and NYU is an amazing experience in itself, but taking their advice and listening to their improvements helped us refine our idea even further.
Audi Soul: Recently we recognized International Women’s Day, which celebrates achievements of women across the globe. What accomplishment/or who has inspired you?
Amanda Skura, Head of Digital Experience Technologies, U.S. & Canada, Audi of America: When I was little, my mom saw my love of all things tech and told me the story of Ada Lovelace. In the 1800s, she wrote the first computer program. She wasn’t just the first woman, she was the first overall. What an accomplishment for anyone in the technology field, let alone a woman. For other girls in the space to know that the field was based on the work of a smart, strong, independent woman should motivate them to keep going. Her work led a movement and she even had a programming language named after her. In a time when women weren’t expected to work, let alone work in this space, she did it anyway. She’s become such an inspiration to me because of her accomplishments but I can also imagine how hard it was for her to get her start and have to share her work. It resonates to modern day and the struggles we as women sometimes feel starting out and being comfortable to share our ideas in a typically male-dominated industry. I keep pushing myself to be better so women like Ada, who fought to pave the way, would be proud of our fight and our drive to keep going.
Kyra-Lee Harry, Forbes Idea Incubator 2021 Trailblazer winner: Being able to witness women, especially black women, break barriers and revolutionize many spaces has taught me to remain persistent, passionate, and patient. I am grateful to have the women in my support system who are always reminding me that as long as I stay focused, I can accomplish anything. I am proud to be working on my own business that I hope will inspire and remind other young people that they are never too young to have a voice.
Audi Soul: What is most inspirational to you about the future of transportation?
Sara Whiffen, VP of Strategy and New Business, Audi of America: The auto industry touches every person in the world in some way. Even if you don’t drive or own a car, you’re impacted by their presence and their impact on the environment. What’s most inspiring today is that technology and transportation design is converging with the possibility of greater social and environmental benefits. And since business model transformation is required, there are opportunities for engineers, scientists, creatives, strategists, businesspeople – problem solvers of all kinds.
Ziyi: Through the Forbes Idea Incubator, I learned much more about electric vehicles. I believe that the electric vehicle will be mainstream in the future since it is a completely new style of power system, which could later impact other transportations as well. I never thought about the possibilities of improving transportations before I knew about electric vehicles, since I had believed that current transportations were already advanced. After knowing the future of transportation could change, I realized the potentials and possibilities for us to apply our ideas into real lives.
Sonja: Transportation is something that will never go away, only evolve. It is also something that touches every single person on Earth - and even different planets. From discovering new powertrain technology for passenger vehicles, to enabling further discoveries across our universe, is something that keeps me motivated and excited about the transportation conversation.
Audi Soul: Do you have a mentor? If so, how do they encourage you to be your best self?
Sara: I have been very fortunate over my career to have met many wonderful people who I can call on for personal and professional advice. One of my mentors introduced me to the habit of setting 1-, 3-, and 5-year goals in “buckets”. These buckets for me include personal, professional, service, athletic, and financial goals. Getting into a practice of regularly setting, measuring, and refining those goals has helped me make purposeful choices. This mentor has helped me steer my life in the direction I wanted it to go.
Sonja: I think I have many mentors who have helped me become who I am today, professionally, personally and in my hobbies. The mentor that has pushed me to my furthest limits and taught me life lessons through unique ways was my first horse trainer when I was a child. Not only did she teach me how to ride horses, but she also showed me that hard, honest, daily work gets you farther than anything else. Do the best you can even when no one else is looking. Take pride in what you’ve accomplished, yet be humble and kind. It works no matter what life scenario you happen to be in!
Audi Soul: Why is STEM education for girls and young women so important to you?
Nishma Shakya, Forbes Idea Incubator 2021 first place winner: I feel that providing girls and young women STEM education plays a significant role in breaking the gender-based stereotypes that have surrounded us from a young age. There are so many doors that will open up for us through STEM, and it all starts with learning and immersing ourselves in it. As young a woman myself, I only hope for other young women and girls to feel empowered and to change the future with STEM.
Amanda: It is amazing to see STEM education in schools today. While it wasn’t that long ago when I was in school, we didn’t have the same opportunities in the space that girls do today. I think it starts to foster an environment when women can feel more comfortable and wanted in fields that haven't always been so welcoming. STEM programs have become safe spaces for these girls to be themselves and excel at what they love. These programs also help support soft skill growth as well like collaboration, presentation skills, and time management. For me, as a leader within my industry, I value these programs for giving girls the skill sets they need to hit the ground running in the workforce as well as a fun place they can be themselves while growing up.
Kyra-Lee: STEM education for girls and young women is so important to me because role models, representation, resources, access and exposure to these fields are needed in order to showcase the possibilities that the world has to offer, especially to underserved groups.