Encouraging Women in Science and Technology

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Photo courtesy of Sylvia Wandahwa

Sylvia Wandahwa (C’12) came to Principia from Kenya with a focus on the sciences, ultimately graduating with a BS in chemistry. Since then, she has found ways to “pay forward” the encouragement and support she felt at the College. “I am where I am today because of the people who saw my potential and invested in me,” she says. “Principia College provided a strong foundation for my career, and now I want to give back.”

Two years ago, Wandahwa began serving as a motivational speaker when she joined Toastmasters International. Her passion to inspire women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math led her to speak at and help organize events for Women Techmakers, an international organization sponsored by Google that is devoted to encouraging women to value what they bring to the industry. “It's definitely a team effort to accelerate the entire tech scene,” Wandahwa notes. “Working closely with other groups, we've been able to host numerous events where women learn new tools such as Google's Cloud services.”

Wandahwa volunteers with Women Techmakers in addition to her full-time job in New Jersey as a research chemist at Reckitt-Benckiser, a UK-based multinational chemical company that develops household products. “I wanted to work for a company that innovates and makes products we see in stores,” Wandahwa explains. “The chemistry coursework and skills I learned at Principia, such as lab procedures, safety rules, and teamwork, provided the necessary scientific background to be successful in my job.”

Wandahwa also places a high value on the liberal arts education she received at Principia. “Exposure to courses outside of the sciences was very good for me and broadened my perspective in many ways,” she says. “Several favorite areas were political science, literature, sociology, history, and sustainability. A U.S. history class was so eye opening! Before I took the class, I often felt a bit lost in conversations when hearing about American culture, and the class helped me feel more connected.”

Wandahwa is considering graduate studies in the next few years. “Reckitt-Benckiser offers a tuition assistance program, which makes it possible,” she says. “But I want to work at least another year before starting graduate school—and select a program that is relevant to my career.” 

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