Innovator to Innovator: AiC Community Member Rian Walker and Apple VP Lisa Jackson Inspire Underrepresented Students to Recognize Their Valuable Perspectives
Energized by the “Back to School” season to spark and further students’ passions for creating future innovations, Apple and NCWIT present a series of personal essays and stories of innovation, as told by NCWIT Aspirations in Computing (AiC) Community members by way of conversations with Apple executives. Below is the third edition of “Innovator to Innovator,” where NCWIT AiC Community Member Rian Walker talks with Apple Vice President of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives Lisa Jackson about creating pathways to success, combatting imposter syndrome, balancing a career while giving back, and their shared mission to increase the meaningful participation of women in computing.
The path I chose was definitely the one less traveled, and I faced a multitude of obstacles during my journey -- both personal and professional. I grew up in Mississippi -- a state known for a lot of history, ideas, and culture, but not so much for its involvement in the technology industry. Furthermore, I constantly struggled while I was in high school, causing my attendance and grades to suffer. When I was able to focus on my studies, there was a lack of opportunities available in my region, and I was in no way able to travel. However, I kept pursuing opportunities in technology.
One Passionate Path Leads to Another
When I was selected to speak with Lisa Jackson, as part of the “Innovator to Innovator” series, I was overcome with nervousness and excitement. I was eager to know the keys to her success as well as the keys to recruiting and retaining more underrepresented populations in STEM.
To my surprise, Lisa’s key to success was very simple: she followed her passion. Growing up in New Orleans and on the Mississippi River, she was inspired by water pollution issues. My passion began with exploring and making things better. I grew up heavily immersed in technology. I was given my first computer when I was six, began programming in HTML around twelve, and was repairing damaged or broken cell phones by fifteen. My own passions set me on a path to receive the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing (AiC) and many subsequent opportunities. Just as Lisa says, “Opportunity is when luck meets preparation.”
Creating Paths for Others
After winning the Award for AiC, I received a scholarship to attend Mississippi State University and an NCWIT AspireIT grant to create Bulldog Bytes, a residential, computer-science-based summer camp aimed towards minorities and other underrepresented girls who had an interest in computer science. I did everything I could to make the camp accessible to those who wanted to attend.
“The key for us with girls, and also people of color, is to really help them see that their worth and their value of their voice is actually more because we are rare, and our perspectives can make a huge difference,” said Lisa.
Differences Are Valuable
While attending Tulane University for her chemical engineering degree, Lisa was one of two female students in her class, but knowing her worth and value as a minority helped her persevere. “The things that make us different; those are actually our strengths,” said Lisa. These words stuck with me because it applies to my personal and professional life.
Being a young girl interested in STEM, there wasn’t a shortage of times that I felt different. I was constantly surrounded by boys in my classes, and I was afraid to speak up. I knew I was different, but I felt different in a bad way. I felt that my differences would keep me from being accepted in the community and taken seriously. As I grew older and attended college, I learned that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Professionals in STEM not only accepted me, but allowed me to speak up and pursue my passion.
Lisa shared two more ideas that stuck with me: “Learn your job all the way, down to the details,” and, “Be open to change and open to move.” The things that make me different are how I got to where I am today, and they will lead me as I move to North Carolina to start an engineering job with Bank of America and a limitless future in the technology industry.
About Rian and AiC
Rian began to explore technology at a young age. Her father had a job as an audio installation specialist, and she accompanied him to every job. She got her first computer when she was six years old, and took off in the world of technology. Rian learned HTML and CSS to make her Myspace page look how she wanted it to look; and she bought broken phones from Ebay, fixed them, and resold them. Now, as a graduate from Mississippi State University with a degree in software engineering, Rian is preparing to start her engineering job as a technical analyst at Bank of America.
Rian is a 2013 NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing (AiC) national honorable mention and a 2013 Mississippi Affiliate Award for AiC recipient, and a member of the NCWIT AiC Community -- an expansive network of more than 10,000 technical women who receive engagement, visibility, and encouragement for their computing-related interests and achievements from peers, volunteers, and NCWIT Alliance member organizations.
AiC is supported by Apple’s lifetime partnership and commitment to change the public perception of who creates technology.