NJIT Student Speaks at the United Nations: Empowering Girls to Study STEM

Jinisha Patel, an NJIT junior, spoke at the United Nations about empowering girls and young women to study STEM.

Jinisha Patel, an NJIT junior, spoke yesterday at the United Nations.

She spoke about the importance of encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers during a U.N. Global Compact event called The Women’s Empowerment Principles.

Patel was the only U.S. college student to speak at the event, whose keynote speaker was Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State widely considered to be a presidential candidate. Patel even got to shake hands with Clinton.

During a panel discussion titled “Technology and Women’s Rights – Intersecting Revolutions,” Patel discussed how America can encourage the next generation of girls and women to pursue careers in computer science.

The event focused on the concrete steps that businesses can take to advance gender equality in the workplace, the marketplace and the community. In her comments, Patel, a computing and business major, used an analogy to make a point about gender equity in STEM.

“As it is, women buy most of the products in the marketplace, but we are not the ones mostly making them -- men are,” said Patel. “For those who wear contact lenses, imagine walking out of your house wearing only one lens. Not only will you not see the whole picture but you will lack perspective. If women made up half the workplace, they would diversify products and the marketplace in a way never seen before.”  

Patel was invited to speak at the event by a U.N. representative she met last year when the two participated in a panel discussion called “Big Dreams in STEM.”  The representative was impressed with Patel's comments on that panel and invited her to speak at yesterday's U.N.event. 

Patel has established a reputation as a campus leader for women’s rights in STEM. And this wasn’t the first time she was invited to a prominent venue. Two years ago, she spoke at a White House technology summit. At the White House, she spoke about ways to encourage young people, especially minorities and women, to cultivate an interest in STEM.

And last year Patel was a featured speaker during a TEDx Talk about how technology leaders can transform society. She will also speak during the March 27 conference at NJIT marking the 20th anniversary of the Murray Center for Women in Technology. Addtionally she recently founded the Women in Computing Society at NJIT, a student group that aims to connect women who love computing. The society will host campus events and sponsor hackathons for women, said Patel, who credited James Geller, chairman of the Computer Science Department, with helping her establish the club and with supporting her outreach efforts. Patel also visits middle schools and high schools on behalf of the Computer Science Department to talk to girls about the importance of studying computer science and STEM.

Patel's talk at the U.N. comes at a topical time: Governor Chris Christie has proclaimed this week -- March 9-13 -- to be known as STEM Week in New Jersey. The inaugural STEM Week comes in recognition of the fact that STEM is uniquely important to the state: New Jersey is home to the best STEM public high school in the country, it has the highest concentration of scientific professionals in the nation, and is the site of government research facilities that are the envy of the world, according to a press release put out by The Research & Development Council of New Jersey, which is partnering with the Governor’s Office on STEM week.

And for Patel, promoting STEM to girls and women has become a main mission of her life. 

“I was really honored to speak at this important U.N. event,” she said. “It was a great platform for me to express my thoughts about women in technology. My mother inspired me to study technology so I hope by speaking today I inspired many girls and women to study STEM.”

By Robert Florida (robert.florida@njit.edu)