By Kenna Hughes-Castleberry from Inside Quantum Technology News
In addition to International Women’s Day, Ada Lovelace Day is the other major holiday celebrating women within the sciences. Originating in 2009, Ada Lovelace Day celebrates the work of Victorian computer scientist Ada Lovelace, who helped develop the first computer algorithms. The holiday has evolved to recognize the work of women in STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) who carry on Lovelace’s legacy. This year, a global quantum technology company, ColdQuanta, has partnered with the Colorado nonprofit organization, Pretty Brainy, to support girls of all ages within the Colorado community in their interest in STEAM through the “Secrets of STEAM Success” event. The program is meant to connect girls with mentor figures and hone important skills for success in science fields.
“This event is geared towards providing an environment where girls can develop the critical skills needed to be successful in STEAM,” explained Dr. Judith Olson, the leader of ColdQuanta’s atomic clock division. Olson, the keynote speaker at the “Secrets of STEAM Success” program, will share her story and offer unique insights. “It’s important to have tools that develop that resiliency, and a solid network of people who can support you,” she stated. “This is especially important since data shows there is a drastic pipeline drop rate for women in STEAM.”
With special networking events and unique talks given by Olson and others, ColdQuanta and Pretty Brainy hope that the celebration can make an impact. “My hope is that everyone participating in the event gains confidence and feels more comfortable asking questions,” Olson said. “I want them to be okay with the idea that they might be wrong, but by asking the question, by participating, you’re already going in the right direction.”
Olson and others hope to inspire the younger generations to consider a career in quantum science. Currently, the industry is struggling with a talent shortage. “We have to get people interested in the first place,” Olson explained. “That’s something that is a very broad conversation that can happen through culture and social media.” While Olson and others are looking ahead, they are also working in the here and now to support the local community.
Colorado is becoming a growing quantum hub, and many companies like ColdQuanta are supporting organizations in their hometowns. “ColdQuanta chose to partner with Pretty Brainy as they recognize the importance of inspiring the next generation of STEAM workers,” said ColdQuanta’s Director of Engagement, Brittany Mazin. “Today, most STEAM-related initiatives are focused on young professional women. ColdQuanta is taking its work one step further to support women earlier in their lives. The discouragement and barriers girls face in the STEAM field happen as early as elementary school. We want to address those challenges earlier to set the girls up for success later in life.”
Both Mazin and Olson hope that other companies are inspired by ColdQuanta’s efforts and also give back to the local community.
Heidi Olinger, the founder and President of Pretty Brainy, echoed the importance of partnering at a local level. “The partnership [with ColdQuanta] happened because we had the She has the Floor program in the fall of 2021,” Olinger stated. “And Judith was our final speaker of the series. It was December 21, so we were finishing the program right during the holidays. And Judith gave us such an impassioned and fabulous kind of STEM talk and I thought, ‘we need to have at least 50 girls who are ready to hear Judith. So here we are, we’re here almost a year later from when she spoke, and we have more than 40 girls in the room.”
As the Ada Lovelace Day festivities continue, it is a time for those in Colorado to take advantage of this period of wisdom-sharing and mentoring. “Schools are not teaching this [information], “said Pretty Brainy ambassador and mentor Madeleine Boyles, who is an undergraduate at Colorado State University. Offering a safe and comfortable place to learn and network is essential for girls to develop the skills needed to succeed in their future careers. This environment is rare to find in other communities.
As a leader in this program, Olson hopes to carry on Lovelace’s legacy. “I currently don’t see myself being a mentor, and I think that’s a lot like how Ada felt too,” Olson said. “You don’t often think of yourself like that until after – when other people tell you about the impact you’ve made on them. So, I hope that I have that effect on other people and even if just a few people get a little bit out of it, that’s a job well done on my end.” For many of the students, this is exactly what happened. According to student attendee Ava Iverson, a 9th grader at Poudre Valley High School, the program helped her to learn more of the essential skills needed for her dream job of becoming a personal trainer. “I personally want to learn how to introduce myself and maybe end up getting a job [in my field],” she stated.
Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is a staff writer at Inside Quantum Technology and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). Her writing beats include deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology.