Cal Poly WISH (Women Involved in Software & Hardware) Named 2022 Inspiring Program in STEM

Two women working on robot
Cal Poly WISH (Women Involved in Software & Hardware) members Elizabeth (Liz) Crisologo and Ankita Koratkar work on an autonomous robot to compete in Roborodentia, an annual competition at Cal Poly that brings together current WISH members and alumni.

INSIGHT Into Diversity has recognized Cal Poly WISH (Women Involved in Software & Hardware) as a 2022 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award recipient for their unique efforts to welcome individuals from marginalized populations to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that STEM careers will grow more than twice as fast as all other occupations by 2029. With demand for these jobs continuing to skyrocket, there is also an increasing need to address issues of representation and ensure that diverse students have the academic resources, financial assistance and social support necessary to pursue successful careers in these industries.

Record-breaking recruitment of diverse engineering students results from collaboration with programs across campus and off-campus entities. Incoming first-time first-year College of Engineering students are over 30% female (up from 17% in 2010) and include an almost 30% increase in Hispanic female students and two-and-a-half times in Black female students. One of those impactful programs is Cal Poly WISH (Women Involved in Software & Hardware), a support group for female computing majors founded at Cal Poly.

Louise Ibuna was one of those female computing majors. She struggled with inclusion within the Computer Science Department as a Filipina transfer student and a woman of color. To add to the stress, as a transfer student, she was unprepared for the intensity of the highly competitive program.

After facing a 0.35 GPA in her first quarter, she felt she didn’t belong in the Computer Science Department and decided to change majors…until she found the support she desperately needed. With financial support from WISH, she attended The Grace Hopper Conference and soon began to feel she belonged in the tech field. During the rest of her time at Cal Poly, she stayed actively involved in WISH, eventually serving as vice-president before graduating with a degree in software engineering. Now, she mentors other women in computing both at Cal Poly and within her profession.

WISH empowers technical women like Ibuna to stay in the field while rectifying the gender gap in the computing field by providing a community of support for females in computing majors and minors (Computer Science, Software Engineering, Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering).

WISH members and alumni.

WISH is also a critical component in evaluating the systemic problems associated with STEM fields and a lack of diversity. To help females within STEM, WISH focuses on career preparedness, contributes to regional and national workshops and conferences, inspires a love of technology in younger students in the surrounding communities and has a robust network of members who reach out both within Cal Poly and across the profession.

Various WISH teams on campus focus on a variety of outreach. The diversity team works to create a space that promotes collaboration and community among students of all backgrounds. The outreach team sends volunteers to elementary school Code Clubs and Robotics; hosts software and hardware workshops for middle schoolers; and leads panels for high school students to inspire them to spark a passion for technology and see a future for themselves in the tech industry. The mentorship team pairs incoming WISH students and existing members to foster friendly, technical and reliable relationships and introduce a welcoming community within WISH.

This year, when Cal Poly Engineering kicked off an initiative introducing more artwork to the college to make the walls of multiple engineering buildings more visually appealing and more welcoming to underrepresented students, WISH students entered the Art of Engineering Challenge, submitting the Women in Tech art series. Soon their artwork will cover the halls, offering a space that signifies the importance of inclusion while highlighting women who have shaped the field over the years.

Cal Poly WISH (Women Involved in Software & Hardware) members Halina Tracey, Elizabeth (Liz) Crisologo, Asmita Sharma, Jodie Ma, Nadia Wohlfarth, Mahi Choudhary, Ankita Koratkar and Syrsha Harvey celebrate the club’s 15th anniversary in May.

Founded in 2007 by Cal Poly students Jenee Hughes, Tracy Davies, Michele Mayorga, Alyssa Daw, Stephanie Long, Ashley Wager and Selina Chang, and led by advisors Zoe Wood and Julie Workman, WISH celebrated its 15th anniversary this year.

Among this year’s winners are programs that engage students in a rich array of educational experiences across STEM. Whether it is providing girls and women with hands-on activities aimed at building an interest in research, assisting underserved students in applying to medical school, or offering enrichment and professional development opportunities to underrepresented faculty and staff, the recipients of the 2022 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award have demonstrated inventiveness and dedication in supporting a new generation of high-achieving scholars and professionals