Category Archives: Women in IET

Student Spotlight: Women in STEM President at NOVA

“The NOVA Women in STEM club has introduced me to a diverse group of people from all six campuses, many of whom travel to Annandale for our weekly meetings. Collaborating with other clubs enhances the fun, and I’ve learned from everyone I’ve met here. I’m grateful for the unique and enriching Nighthawk experience.” ~ Judy Marouf


Last spring, Judy Marouf co-founded the NOVA Women in STEM Club. The club seeks to “present women that pursue STEM studies with the opportunities to depart from a transitory academic environment with the tools for success in their future endeavors.”

54% of NOVA is female, but only 17% of the engineering program is female and 21% of the Computer Science program is female. In this regard, the club seeks to be “a small force of change” in order to increase female engagement in STEM fields at the college.

The goals of Women in STEM are:

  1. To create a safe space that offers a well-rounded support system full of uplifting connections and friendships.
  2. To provide members with the latest opportunities and information for academic and career development – including jobs, internships, scholarships, research, and transfer support.
  3. To organize exciting and enriching events, workshops, guest speakers, activities, trips, and games.

Judy serves as the club president, with her duties divided between internal and external responsibilities. Internally, Judy closely manages the board’s schedules and key tasks. She keeps the vice president and secretary updated, approves documents, helps the treasurer with fundraising, guides the membership chair in promotions, and sets goals with the social media manager. She also mentors the president intern for future leadership roles. Externally, she works with other student clubs and handles tasks like organizing events and ensuring the club meets all regulations.

Physics professor Manori Nadesalingam serves as the club advisor. Meetings take place at the Annandale Campus on Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. The club has grown to almost 250 students on Discord and offers peer support, career resources, and organizes various events. Judy encourages all NOVA STEM students, regardless of gender, to participate in club events and join the Discord community to engage with and benefit from this diverse and active group. Join using this link: https://discord.gg/fqRFxE3qzf.

Judy will graduate this spring with an associate degree in business administration and plans to complete an associate degree in computer science this summer. She is considering a future career in project management.

Recently, Judy completed her first internship during the winter break with a program called Nvolve, designed to support women in overcoming barriers in STEM fields. As a web development intern, she significantly enhanced their website and trained other interns, gaining valuable experience.

Judy is also active in the FAB Lab Product Design Incubator, where she is paired with a mentor to enhance various skills, including resume building and technical development. Last semester, she developed an AI chatbot, a project supported by the Women’s STEM Club, which showcases program benefits like stipends and skill development. This experience has enriched her resume and provided key talking points for job interviews.

Additionally, she is a semifinalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which helps exceptional community college students transfer to top four-year institutions without incurring student debt. The winner will be announced in May.

As for her interest in STEM? “I was inspired by my oldest brother’s love for coding and robotics,” she says. “I’ve always looked up to him as a role model. In elementary school, I noticed I wasn’t naturally gifted in math, but I enjoyed the subject enough to challenge myself. I had to work twice as hard, but that didn’t stop me.” Clearly, her efforts have paid off!

PWCS IT Intern Now Working at NOVA in IT

Fatima Shareen comes full circle from NOVA cyber student and CLRI to NOVA IT employee.

 By Kristy Gillespie

Fatima Shareen is a recent NOVA cybersecurity graduate and now works as an Information Technology (IT) Support Technician at the bustling Woodbridge Campus, future site of NOVA’s Data Center Operations Training Facility and where NOVA’s Information and Engineering Technologies (IET) program is based.

Her current career pathway was trailblazed from her time as a Prince William County Schools (PWCS) IT intern when she was a NOVA student. From the beginning, the 150-hour internship at Forest Park High School provided flexibility as she could choose between an eight or six-hour day, giving her the freedom to efficiently manage her busy schedule at work and at George Mason University, where she is pursuing a cybersecurity bachelor degree.

Like many technology students at NOVA who are looking to develop their soft skills, Shareen previously completed NOVA IET’s Career & Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI): “I loved the CLRI program. I actually enrolled twice because the instructors provided great support for the interview process and helped with resume building.”

Shereen highly recommends that NOVA IET students take advantage of CLRI so they have better internship opportunities, as being a CLRI grad played a pivotal role in securing her own PWCS intern spot.

Her key tasks during the internship included computer imaging (which involves the installation of operating systems, applications, and settings) and computer scripting for automating tasks in websites and web applications. She utilized Configuration Manager, a systems management software product, to handle a total of 3,000 laptops.

At Forest Park High School, Shereen progressed through her internship in a “warm and welcoming environment with supportive individuals.” One person who had a profound influence on her was Sylvia Avila, an IT Support Technician. “I’ve been working for the last six, seven years, but never encountered someone like her. She was simply amazing and incredibly helpful,” Shareen said.

The PWCS internship significantly bolstered her resume, enhanced her teamwork skills, expanded her IT knowledge, and provided valuable hands-on training. Shareen emphasized how those skills acquired during the internship continue to support her in her current career, particularly with diagnosing and resolving computer errors or technical issues: “If you are in the IT field, troubleshooting is the most important thing that you should know.”

Shareen has come full circle, from NOVA student to NOVA employee. Reflecting on those who made a positive impact during her time as a student, she singled out IET Professor Michael Spiller as her favorite instructor: “The way he taught was different from other teachers. He always showed up to class stating that he was the boss and we were his employees. I took 3 or 4 classes with him. He was amazing.”

In her professional environment, Shareen is keenly appreciative of NOVA’s “positive vibe,” with friendly people and job tasks similar to those performed during her internship.

Looking forward, Shareen aspires to venture into entrepreneurship and develop her own business, possibly through the Fulfillment by Amazon platform.

Shareen’s heartfelt message to NOVA students is: “your time at NOVA is an invaluable investment in your future, and I encourage you to approach it with dedication and belief in your capabilities.”

PWCS IT Internship Opportunities are currently available for NOVA students. Apply by December 13 through the NOVA Career Connection portal

More about NOVA IET at https://www.nvcc.edu/academics/divisions/iet/index.html

#Nighthawks #NOVAPride #InDemandTech #InformationTechnology #Internships #InformationTechnology

CLRI Hosts Women’s Mentoring Event

Joanna Bidlack, Senior VP of Human Resources at Leidos, inspires women to succeed.

 By Kristy Gillespie

Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to celebrate women in the field of Information Technology (IT). The IT industry is experiencing exponential growth in Northern Virginia, leading to an increasing demand for qualified employees. While there are fewer women than men in IT, companies are actively seeking diversity of thought, recognizing that women will bring new perspectives and innovative ideas to the IT sector.

In celebration of women in IT, NOVA’s Information and Engineering Technology (IET) division recently held its inaugural Women’s Mentoring Session at the Annandale campus as part of its Career and Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI) program, which trains IET students in the soft skills needed to secure in-demand technology jobs.

Joanna Bidlack, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Leidos – Intelligence Group, is a powerhouse in her field and served as the distinguished guest speaker for the mentoring session. Although she has 15 years of experience in HR, her career began with an undergraduate degree in graphic design, whereafter she co-owned a business focused on graphic design and photography, alongside a grocery store management venture.

However, the unpredictability of entrepreneurship led her to pivot towards the stability of the local government field as she pursued and earned a graduate degree in Human Resources and Organizational Development.

At the mentoring event, Bidlack shared her wealth of knowledge with female IT students and graduates, covering a range of topics including details about her professional journey, finding support in a male-dominated IT field, and providing tips on resumes, interviews, and effective networking.

Careers Are Not Linear

With a confident smile, Bidlack explained, “Careers are not linear. You are going to pivot. You may find that what you go to school for is not exactly what you choose to do, and that is okay.”

As women progress in their careers, she suggests that they will encounter defining moments such as marriage, the birth of a child, changes in their current job, or other factors that prompt them to question their chosen path.

“Pay attention to these defining moments and assess your satisfaction with your current situation. It’s important to find happiness in your career. If you experience stress, frustration, a lack of appreciation, or poor treatment, summon the courage to make a change, or at least devise a plan for change.”

Don’t Limit Yourself

Acknowledging that men are often more inclined than women to apply for a position even if they don’t meet all the job requirements, Bidlack emphasized that while meeting the primary job requirements is key, it’s not necessary to fulfill every single one. Job requirements should be considered more as a wish list for the employer rather than a strict checklist of must-haves.

“If a position within your company aligns with your interests, make sure to inform your boss about your interest. Your boss won’t know unless you express it.

Instead of pondering ‘what if I can’t do it?, start asking yourself, ‘What if I can do it?’”

Additionally, if a woman fails to celebrate her successes, there’s a high probability that others may not notice them. She suggested that a great opportunity to highlight achievements is during an annual performance review, emphasizing the value of keeping track of accomplishments throughout the year to include them in the review.

Highlights or Gaps in the Resume

Bidlack highlights the value of proficiency in additional languages, particularly in the IT field. Many companies are willing to offer higher compensation for multilingual skills. Therefore, women should ensure to focus on this valuable skill on their resumes.

In addition, if there’s a gap in employment history and the hiring manager inquires about it, a simple explanation such as “for personal reasons” or “due to a family commitment” will suffice. “Remember, employers are not permitted to ask for specific details regarding your personal life,” she explained.

She stressed the importance for women to conduct thorough research on the business they are involved with. Understanding the mission, purpose, and operations of the company is critical. Taking the initiative to familiarize themselves with the business, rather than waiting for others to educate them, will significantly benefit their careers.

Preparing for the Interview

Bidlack, offered numerous constructive tips, stressed the value of thoroughly studying the job description before an interview. She advised identifying skills, recognizing gaps, and ensuring overall preparedness. Bidlack recommended creating an Excel spreadsheet to list job requirements alongside personal and professional experiences. This spreadsheet can spotlight transferable skills and assist in addressing gaps, either by acquiring certifications or discussing these during the interview with the hiring manager.

In addition, generating a list of potential questions based on the job description and practicing them through role-playing with a trusted friend or family member can significantly enhance a candidate’s readiness.

While a comprehensive understanding of the company isn’t necessary, she pointed out the importance of studying its website. Knowing core operations, unique initiatives, and how

the applied role aligns with the company is key. Such preparation not only fosters confidence but also helps in providing specific and relevant answers when asked about one’s interest in working for the company.

Moreover, taking the initiative to familiarize oneself with the business rather than waiting for others to educate will significantly benefit a candidate’s career. Requesting a copy of the questions beforehand is acceptable, as it’s essential to stay focused during the interview.

 Creating a Professional Brand

Bidlack emphasized that creating a successful professional brand is paramount for a woman’s career success. It encompasses how they interact with others, their communication style, attire, and work ethic. Women should reflect on what they want to be recognized for in their professional sphere.

Maintaining a professional appearance at work is essential. If a woman is unsure whether an outfit is too tight, short, or revealing, it’s best to opt for a more conservative choice.

Behaving appropriately in the workplace and at work-related events is vital. For instance, when alcoholic beverages are offered, it’s advisable to adhere to a two-drink limit.

“It takes a lifetime to build your professional brand. It takes one situation to tear it down. It’s one outfit. It’s one interaction. It’s one crying fit session that you have in somebody’s office because you didn’t get your way,” she said.

Create a Network

Both Nga Tran, a student in the Cloud Computing program, and Maya Figueroa, an Engineering Technology student, were most interested in networking tips.

Tran expressed, “The one thing I hope to get from today is to hear everyone’s stories and to keep going. You know, see where I fit in and see where I am in everyone’s stories.”

Mya asked, “Do you have any tips on networking and meeting people that will help you further your career?”

Bidlack explained how it’s important for women to establish a supportive network of professionals within their field, whom they can approach for assistance when needed and with whom they can celebrate their successes.

She recommended setting a goal to engage with three new individuals during work events instead of attempting to network with everyone. By doing so at each event, women will gradually build a more meaningful network.

Receiving Feedback

For many individuals, receiving positive feedback is motivating; however, not every employer will provide it. Nonetheless, the most impactful feedback comes from within. For women, striving to do their best is what truly matters.

She advised being open to feedback, even when it’s negative, as it offers an opportunity for growth. Women should consider insights from individuals, even those they may not prefer, as there’s always something to learn from it.

“The most successful people in the world have failed so many times. So what we do as women is we expect perfection from ourselves, but that’s not realistic. You have to go into your career knowing that you will fail. You will make mistakes. It’s normal. Everybody does. Make your mistake, let it sting for a minute, and move on,” she explained.

 You Will Never Be Liked by Everyone

She expressed that being universally liked, especially in higher positions within a company, is unlikely.

“If I’m liked by everyone, then I’m not doing my job as a leader,” she said.

However, the most important aspect is for women to appreciate and like themselves. Women should speak to themselves with the same kindness and support as they would to those they care about. When negative self-talk arises, women should remind themselves of their positive qualities. They should embrace their unique skills and the distinct way they perceive things; that’s what makes someone truly special.

Uncomfortable Situations

Unfortunately, there may be instances when a male coworker puts a female in an uncomfortable situation. In such cases, Bidlack suggests that women consider these steps:

  • Be direct: Clearly ask them to stop their behavior.
  • Physically take a step back or remove themselves from the situation.
  • If the discomfort happens in a group, address it privately by speaking to the coworker.
  • Discuss the issue with their manager.
  • If needed, approach the HR department. If it’s not available, inform the manager. If their concerns are not taken seriously, reconsider working in such an environment.

Ask for Help

Bidlack stated that despite the tendency among women to avoid seeking help, it’s crucial to ask for assistance before feeling overwhelmed. Women should focus on a few things they excel at and be recognized for those strengths. Attempting to handle everything often leads to inefficiency. Instead of solely working hard, aim to achieve specific goals.

Seizing Opportunities

Cloud Computing graduate Asma Eldahshory mentioned, “I’d like to get confidence even to apply. I never apply. I say, what if they interview me and I can’t do it?”

Bidlack recommends reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, which illustrates that many successful individuals simply seized opportunities they were given, while unsuccessful ones missed those chances.

When an opportunity arises, “what you choose to do with it will either propel you toward your goals or you’ll stop and stay where you’re at. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You fail? Well, we already know we’re going to fail at things. You’re going to make mistakes? Well, we already know we’re going to make mistakes. So what does it matter, right? Give it your all – what could happen is, you’re actually successful.”

Enthusiasm about New Tools

Shamalee Jayakodi, a NOVA cybersecurity student who attended the event, was effusive about what she’d learned and felt that the session was “an amazing experience. I had an opportunity to meet powerful women who have proved that there is no limit to what we, as a woman, can accomplish. We are stronger when we support each other and cheer each other on. I’m grateful to be part of the women mentoring community.”

Nga Tran, a Cloud Computing student at NOVA praised the outcomes of the event by describing it as a “welcoming and inspiring meeting for me and great working advice for women in technology. I found heartwarming story-sharing and encouragement from fellow peers. The struggles and passion are now not only mine but for all of us to share and overcome. I found friends here and we will continue to be each other’s support throughout the journey.”