(Wo)men in technology and design: a day out at SUTD

Students listening to Gemma Roig, Assistant Professor at SUTD, share about why STEM needs women

Fancy a cone?

Being a country located close to the equator, Singapore is hot all day, every day. Honestly, the only good thing about this is an excuse to buy a cold drink or even better, a tub of homemade ice-cream from your favourite café ever. As you dig into the sweet treat, can you imagine a world without ice-cream?

Once upon a time, ice cream was only available to the rich because of how labour-intensive it was to make: freezers had yet to come into existence! The inventing of the first hand cranked ice-cream maker in 1843 changed this, paving the way for what was to be the start of a thriving billion-dollar industry.

Well, then, who was the revolutionary that helped bring ice cream to the masses?

Who run the world? (Girls)

Nancy Johnson, a woman!

This was one memorable fact I took away from SUTD’s Women in Technology and Design event earlier this month (August 2018, held bi-annually). Held to encourage young women to join STEM, it’s an event very much needed:  despite improvements, women are still under-represented in STEM, accounting for only 20-25% of the global workforce. And as Nancy Johnson and countless other women inventors (life rafts, Kevlar vests, syringes) show, women have much to offer!

The event was a cozy affair split into three segments, attended mostly by girls (and a few guys) from secondary schools, junior colleges and polytechnics. Here’s what it had to offer.

Demystifying code

As an appetizer, the event opened with informal ‘booths’ and campus tours for eventgoers to have a taste of what SUTD has to offer. This included the likes of a stamping design booth and a live DJ booth, both of which happen to be fifth row activities (aka CCAs) in SUTD!

Students also got to play with nanoblocks, and take them home!

The highlight? Getting to play around with spherical wireless robots, showing how anyone can pick up basic coding.


Known as Sphero, event goers fit blocks of code together to create a program controlling where and how the balls roll. Triangles? Circles? Whatever shape you want is your game!

The app interface. More adventurous folks could attempt coding with Javascript!

Those that pave the way  

The second part of the women in tech event saw four women in tech (see what we did there) come together to share about their experiences in STEM!

Apart from answering students queries (“Why do you need to know math for coding?”), the four also shared what they do and what got them into STEM! Guest speakers included Ayca Ozcanlar, a senior façade consultant with multinational engineering consultancy firm Arup, who has worked on high-profile projects like Marina Bay Sands and Singapore Sports Hub.

One speaker, SUTD undergrad Monica Nathalia, shared how she encountered difficulties with programming—something many others face and are intimidated by—and how she eventually overcame them. The Information Systems Technology and Design (ISTD) major talked about how she tackled her fears with motivation and enthusiasm, going on to achieve personal milestones like winning hackathons and interning in her dream companies. (hint: one of them is a prominent payment tech company!)

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Nathalia to the audience, posing to them Sheryl Sandberg’s, COO of Facebook, question during the BlogHer conference (2013)

What stood out to us was Asst. Prof Roig’s humorous and truthful quip that more women should do engineering because they know what they want better, and can thus build what they really need. We’ve no arguments there!

Beyond the classroom

To broaden event goers’ understanding of how STEM applies in the real world and solves real life problems, SUTD took everyone out of the campus and into the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). There,  they had a tour at the Singapore City Gallery to understand what goes into Singapore’s urban planning, and took part in a sharing session with URA women leaders after!

Tour guides (staff at URA) took the participants to view architectural exhibitions of Singapore, explaining to them about Singapore’s changes over the years and the tremendous amount of thought that goes into urban planning

Think about the Smart Nation initiative and the first thing that comes into most people’s minds is going digital.  What often goes forgotten, however, is that a Smart Nation requires infrastructure as well! This is where a huge team at URA comes in.

From civil engineers that help construct, maintain and adapt infrastructure such as roads and tunnels, and system analysts who develop digital tools that help planners visualize and analyze data better, to the architects designing the buildings that grace our skyline, STEM is very much necessary (and active) here.

Just hear it from a women leader that spoke to event goers’ on the impact of STEM!

For Shantal, (an Economics graduate with a minor in Math and Sociology, who holds a Masters in Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences), her STEM background in Math and Stats has been directly applied to her work with geospatial analytics as a planner in URA’s Strategic Planning Department.

Work she has done includes, for example, matching demographics such as jobs data to transport data (travel time, etc) to find out how accessible places in Singapore are. This, Shantal explains, helps URA decide things like where to locate a new job centre or residential town.

The work and contributions of STEM professionals cannot be any less important, here!

As to the perks of being a female in STEM?

“You never have to queue for the toilet!” one speaker jokes.


If you’re interested in attending a similar event like this one to find out more about being a women in the STEM fields, do keep a lookout for SUTD’s next Women in Tech edition which will take place around January 2019!

Curious about STEM? Check out our articles here and here!



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