Being a relatively new affiliate of the Society of Women Engineers in the Czech Republic did not stop determined members from expanding initiatives supporting women in technical fields to another level. After a few years of hosting various workshops and educational events, we started to think about the concept of a bachelor’s thesis competition as a platform to connect graduates with STEM companies. This is a short story about how the SHE STEM Award 2021 (SHE award) was born.
The main goal was to help young female students boost their career by strengthening their presentation skills, expanding their professional network, and of course spicing up their CV. Above all, it also gave one more reason to spend more time on the bachelor’s thesis instead of taking it as just an intermediary step toward a master’s degree. As with any new activity, it required great vision, agile planning, and several trial and error rounds to produce a viable concept. All of this was accomplished with a team of professionals and the support of SHE Award volunteers.
While a bachelor’s thesis competition is not a new concept, it is usually targeted on a narrow field of expertise. With the SHE Award, we decided we needed to cover all four STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to encourage and support all women in all technical fields. Since STEM fields boundaries are a bit fuzzy, we had to define the boundaries for ourselves.
For the first year – being new and unknown – we reached out to all relevant Czech universities to provide nominations for the challenge. In the end, we were pleasantly surprised as we received more than 30 registrations for the contest from universities across Czech Republic. Our general partner, Brno, a Czech Republic branch of tech giant Honeywell, provided half of the jury members and the other half were SWE Czech Republic connections.
The finale was in November, subsequently we had to adjust the format and go partially live and partially online due to covid restrictions. In the end, our jury made an unanimous decision and Ivana Suchánková became our first superstar.
From the very beginning we knew we did not want the finale to be the end so we made the main prize having the winer attend and present her thesis at a WE Local conference. Ivana presented her work in the field of biotechnology at the WE Local Conference in London.
Her bachelor thesis, under the title Comparison of the ability of capsid proteins of selected flaviviruses to assemble nucleocapsid under in vitro conditions, is a topic which she focused on during her studies at the Prague University of Chemistry and Technology as well as during her current studies at Uppsala University, Sweden.
“The competition gave me an opportunity to improve my presentation skills and, together with a mentor provided by the organizers, focus on the abilities that I will use in my further studies and professional life. A great experience was attending the conference in London where I had an opportunity to meet many inspirational colleagues,” Ivana said.
On top of that, we are glad that the second year of the SHE Award kicked off a few months ago and we are looking forward to new contestants taking up the challenge. To learn more about the SHE Award visit the website here.