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Megan Hampton’s #SheCanSTEM Event Inspires Young Women

Megan Hampton’s #SheCanSTEM event inspires young women to pursue careers in STEM.

Megan Hampton, software engineer, IBM Wave for z/VM and Fatou Jammeh are photographed.

Image by Natalie Chitwood

As someone who was often the only woman and person of color—or one of very few—in her courses, Megan Hampton, software engineer, IBM Wave for z/VM, knows firsthand the importance of both representation and mentorship.

Hampton was first inspired to go into the technology industry when her father got Hampton her first computer, and showed her how to take it apart and see its inner workings. “He taught me from a young age that, regardless of being a minority, regardless of being a female, that I could do whatever I chose to do,” Hampton said.

During her college years and her early career, Hampton craved a female mentor. Then she met Dale Davis Jones, the first black, female Distinguished Engineer at IBM. Jones was a keynote speaker at the Women Excelling Avidly and Learning Through Habit (WEALTH) Tea Party, which Hampton hosted for the National Society of Black Engineers. She spoke about her experiences, and the women there were able to talk about their own experiences too—what they could change, what they would like to do better and the impact they could make.

“After her speech, she came up to me, looked at me and said, ‘When are you going to start working for IBM?’ I thought she was joking, but she was serious,” says Hampton. “A couple months later, she put a referral in for me and the rest is history.”

Since starting her career at IBM, Hampton has moved through several roles. She began as a software engineer in a testing role, and later joined a smaller team where she had to learn development along with Python, Java* and JavaScript* coding skills. After that, she began interacting with clients and service support, learning why clients liked a product, what could be changed and whether their expectations were being met. Recently, Hampton moved to secure engineering, where she hacked and reverse engineered some of the software products that she worked on.

To help other women, Hampton established an event called #SheCanSTEM. The first event, held on Oct. 19, 2018, hosted 11 young women from Newburgh Free Academy P-TECH. Hampton planned every minute of the day, designing a number of activities including a “Girls Room” panel of female IBMers, Tina Tarquinio’s top 10 chat, an Agile Space tour, a Python challenge, an Executive Briefing Center tour and, with the help of Edward Pryor, a Raspberry Pi demo.

A Strong Mentor/Mentee Bond

Fatou Jammeh, Hampton’s mentee, was the primary inspiration behind the #SheCanSTEM event. “When I first met her, I could tell she was a very intelligent girl. She had so much potential, but she wasn’t thinking of pursuing any STEM-related careers because she hadn’t met anyone who looked like her in the field, or was close to her age,” Hampton says. “So I thought, ‘I need to expose her to engineering.’ I told her about myself, my background. That opened her eyes to the point where she became interested in engineering.”

Jammeh asked Hampton what she did at work, too, but Hampton soon realized that it would take more than a high-level explanation to fully convey her career experiences. “The best way to explain was to show her, so I put this event together,” she says. “And I wanted other girls to come too, so they could experience it.” Attendees had to have a 90% GPA or higher. Eleven sophomores were invited, most of whom were students of color.

It’s clear that Hampton and Jammeh’s mentor/mentee relationship is a special one. “When I first saw Megan, I was so surprised. One of my teachers said my eyes lit up. She looked like me. She was a person of color, and she was a girl,” Jammeh says. “Not only that, but she helped me push through my tough classes. She gave me helpful advice. She used that event to try to empower not only girls like me, but people everywhere, and show them that they could do anything. She’s an inspiration to me.”

“When I first saw Megan, I was so surprised. One of my teachers said my eyes lit up. She looked like me.”
—Fatou Jammeh, Mentee

Representation and Mentorship

As Jammeh and Hampton’s experiences demonstrate, representation and strong mentorship are irrefutably important when it comes to bringing diversity into STEM. That’s why it’s crucial for others in the industry to follow Hampton’s example and inspire others. “One person really can make a difference,” says IBM Z* Skills Offering Manager Christy Schroeder. “You can influence lives of people coming into the field. Go out to a school. Host a Master the Mainframe meetup—we at the IBM Z Academic Initiative will help with that. Inspire somebody.”

Programs like P-TECH—a grade nine through 14 education model where students simultaneously earn their high school diploma and associate degree in applied sciences within four to six years—are also inspiring others and making a difference. “We’re working to fill the skills gap where IBM and other companies have jobs that are available that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, but require more than a high school diploma,” says Danille Jager, education program manager, Newburgh Free Academy P-TECH. P-TECH provides the opportunity for students to gain these critical skills, and provides a pipeline to careers in companies like IBM.

P-TECH also has a mentoring program, which is how Hampton and Jammeh connected. Newburgh Free Academy has approximately 210 students and 145 mentors. The school itself is very diverse, with primarily Hispanic and black students. While each mentor may not provide exact representation, the program ultimately creates vital exposure through communication, site visits and shared experiences.

The IBM Z Academic Initiative is another driving factor for inspiration and closing the skills gap. Among other things, it supports the Master the Mainframe competition and helps coordinate several boot camp programs designed to cultivate mainframe skills, such as one convened by not-for-profit educational organization Per Scholas. For more information, see “The Per Scholas Mainframe Boot Camp.”

The IBM Z Academic Initiative’s main priority is to make its programs as open and inclusive as possible. “We’re broadening the aperture to include more people coming in through new-collar programs through mainframe apprenticeship programs,” says Schroeder. “Another exciting area is trying to incorporate veterans where we can, and getting them involved in these programs as well.”

Hands-On Experience

#SheCanSTEM created a lasting impact on the young women who attended. “Most of them wanted to get an IBM internship right away. They were so excited,” Hampton says. “I think they had a different mindset at the end of the day about working at a technology company.”

One particular highlight of Hampton’s #SheCanSTEM event was its hands-on nature. “The event gave confidence to students,” Jager says. “They’ve learned coding in class, but it’s different when they can go to events like this and actually do a Python competition. They see their coding skills in action and they can show what they’ve learned. They love hands-on coding activities.”

The hands-on activities were Jammeh’s favorite, too, along with the “Girls Room” panel, where female IBMers relayed their experiences to students. “The hands-on coding was great because they really taught me, instead of showing me. They made sure I learned the materials, and when I got it, it was a really great feeling,” Jammeh says. The panel helped Jammeh meet other women in the STEM field in person, and she was able to ask questions about what it’s like. This experience offered her more insight into a field she could potentially go into.

Looking Forward

Due to the success of the inaugural #SheCanSTEM gathering, Hampton aims to make this a regular event. “I want to make this annual so that the sophomores next year can get exposure, and so on,” she says.

The students who attended seem to echo Hampton’s thinking, too. “We were all talking about how we want it to happen again. If it happens yearly, I think that would be great,” Jammeh says.

In the meantime, Hampton remains dedicated to inspiring those around her—a feat she’s masterfully achieved so far in her career. In addition to inspiring her mentee and the other students who attended #SheCanSTEM, Hampton is setting an example of making a difference in the STEM world. “What really stood out about the event was hearing Megan tell her story to the girls,” Schroeder says. “Her story was one of triumph, of never letting others define who you are and what you can be. Everybody in the room couldn’t help but be inspired by her story.”

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