Event Brings Together Alumnae in Tech Work

Friday, May 2, 2014 - 4:30pm
Panelists at the Changemakers: Innovative Women in Tech event

As a manager within NASA’s Human Research Program, Jennifer Rochlis Zumbado '94 relies upon lessons learned at Mount Holyoke. Understanding the importance of teamwork. Taking responsibility for your work. Meeting high expectations. Holding your own as the only woman at the table.

Zumbado was the co-keynote speaker at Changemakers: Innovative Women in Tech, an April 23 event in Silicon Valley hosted by the Office of Advancement. The event brought together 80 alumnae who have distinguished themselves as innovators in tech and as leaders in traditionally male fields. Like Zumbado, they credit Mount Holyoke with preparing them on both fronts.

In 2000, Zumbado—who majored in physics—became the 18th woman in 51 years to earn a Ph.D. in astronautics and aeronautics from MIT. Her current work for NASA is in the area of space human factors and habitability; this includes habitat design, microbiology, and human robot interaction to minimize the risks to humans on long spaceflight missions.

Lydia Young '75, a named inventor on 13 U.S. patents and a program manager at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was one of the panelists at the event. She remains grateful for having had physics and chemistry professors at Mount Holyoke who encouraged exploration. “They’d present us with problems that weren’t traditionally part of an undergraduate curriculum. As a result, I learned that often there is no one right approach or answer.”  

Another panelist, Jennifer T. Miller '93, is vice president and associate general counsel for network data traffic technologist Gigamon. Miller, who majored in politics, also is director of Leading Women in Technology, a nonprofit that connects professionals who advise technology businesses and executives.

Mitali Pattnaik ’99, an entrepreneur in residence at top Silicon Valley venture capital firm Foundation Capital, also spoke. She majored in computer science and has worked at Microsoft, Yahoo, Electronic Arts, Google, and Twitter. While at Twitter, she was one of the first corporate mentors of Girls Who Code, which teaches coding to high school girls.

Panelist Ruimin Cai '14—a computer science, mathematics, and physics major—soon will be a software developer at Microsoft. “It was great meeting alums contributing to the tech community,” says Cai. “They shared insights about career development and being in male-dominated fields.”

In addition to offering a networking opportunity, the event also updated alumnae about how Mount Holyoke is leading the charge to attract more women to tech careers. Audrey St. John, MHC’s Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Computer Science, described her department’s successful efforts to “inspire and empower” a new generation through mentoring, innovative and active classrooms, independent research projects, and highlighting role models.

“One alumna came up to me with tears in her eyes. She was so grateful that the College has built such a strong computer science program,” St. John says. “Along with showcasing how Mount Holyoke alumnae are changing the face of tech, the event also affirmed that the liberal arts and tech are a powerful match.”

• See a photo gallery from the event.

—By Michelle Ducharme