Opening a summit with a keynote speaker like aerospace engineer Aprille Ericsson from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center guarantees that everyone else has a tough act to follow, but the organizers of the 2013 Women’s Summit at Polytechnic Institute of New York University’s (NYU-Poly), held on March 14 and 15, were up to the challenge. They planned an exciting program packed with workshops, faculty presentations, and networking opportunities. One of the highlights of the event was an alumnae panel, moderated by Valerie Cabral, the director of alumni relations. The panelists were a dynamic trio comprised of Jagruti Bhikha ‘88, a veteran software engineer now dedicated to coaching and empowering women in technology; Bala Krishnamurthy ‘84, the founder and CEO of Aeolean, Inc. and the first female recipient of the robotic industry's premier honor, the Engelberger Robotics Award; and Stephanie Mitchko ‘87, a Cablevision executive and winner of several Technology and Engineering Emmy Awards.
The three discussed their career trajectories, the difficulties and rewards of combining work and family, and the importance of mentors. The result was a lively, refreshingly honest discussion that left the audience inspired and challenged.
All three recalled their time at NYU-Poly with fondness, and despite being among the few women in their graduating classes, they were not subject to much overt sexism. Mitchko did, however, relate the story of one professor (whom she graciously declined to name) who told her she should be taking cooking courses rather than studying engineering. After she was featured on the cover of an industry magazine for winning one of her Emmy Awards, she made sure to mail him a copy. Bhikha, who explained that the school was housed in a single building on Jay Street when she attended, because the MetroTech Center did not yet exist, got one of the biggest laughs of the afternoon by admitting, “I kind of liked being one of the few women. It meant I got a lot of attention.”
The talk turned serious, however, when the topic shifted to the issue of work-life balance. “I don’t even like using the word “balance” in that context,” Mitchko asserted. “Balance implies that when you give attention to one part of your life, it takes away from the other part, and that shouldn’t be the case.” She advised, “I know it’s hard with smart phones and laptops, but when you are at home, try to give it your all; try not to be focused on answering work e-mails and calls. Similarly, when you are at work, give that your full attention and passion. Wherever you are, be fully there.”
Each of the three stressed the importance of finding good mentors. “Early on, I was mentored by a man from the American South,” Krishnamurthy recalled. “He would tell me, ‘Bala, pull on your boots and get on out there.’ I didn’t understand that expression at first, but he meant that it was okay for me to go out and be aggressive, to take charge of my career.”
Other topics in the wide-ranging discussion included the importance of being not limiting yourself to one field (since you never know where opportunity will present itself), the value of nurturing your connections, and the absolute necessity of helping other women. “Forget the Old Boys’ Network; we need an Old Girls’ Network, the three agreed,”-- with alumnae like these to call upon, it seems that NYU-Poly women are already part of an amazing support system.
The 2013 Women’s Summit was planned and hosted by the Division of Student Affairs at NYU-Poly.