Innovation Campus scholarship recipient focuses research on broadening participation of women in tech
Nawar Wali, a current student pursuing her Master of Science in Computer Science, is the first student to receive an Innovation Campus scholarship funded by the generous donations of Virginia Tech alumni, faculty, staff, students, and friends during the university’s annual Giving Day. Her studies focus on broadening the participation of women and girls in tech.
As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, Nawar participated in the Women in Computer Science (WiCS) student organization and worked with autonomous vehicles while pursuing her Computer Engineering degree. Upon graduation in 2021, she worked in the defense sector, but found that she wasn’t making the impact she’d wanted. She decided to return to school to earn a Master of Science in Computer Science.
“I’m working with Professor Sara Hooshangi on using machine learning to figure out how we can improve student performance in the program and create ways and solutions to make them better CS learners,” Nawar Wali said. “One of our goals is to encourage female students in STEM because they’re historically underrepresented.”
Personal experience piqued her interest in this long-standing issue.
“Even in my undergrad I never saw professors who looked like me,” said Wali, who is Bengali-American. “And if you did have a female professor, the male professors treated her differently. In day-to-day life, people don’t always take you seriously when you’re a woman. Not everyone means it – some are just not used to seeing women in this field. We can do so much better to get women and girls involved in STEM through education and outreach efforts.”
Receiving this scholarship helped Wali focus solely on this research. “I’m paying for grad school myself, so having this scholarship really keeps me from constantly worrying about how I’ll pay for my future.”
“Nawar is the kind of student that we seek to educate at the Innovation Campus. She has an academic background in engineering and after working in industry she decided to come back to school to learn more and apply her technical skills towards issues that matter to her."
-Professor Sara Hooshangi, Director of the M.Eng in Computer Science
Her goal is to gain more industry experience before returning to school again. “Ultimately, I’d like to become a professor. I hope to be the person I didn’t have or see when I was an undergraduate.” The scholarship is allowing her to save for this next endeavor.
Professor Hooshangi, director of the Master of Engineering in Computer Science program, spotted Wali’s talent early and recommended her for the scholarship. “Nawar is an example of the kind of student that we seek to educate at the Innovation Campus. She has an academic background in engineering and after working in industry she decided to come back to school to learn more and apply her technical skills towards issues that matter to her. She is curious and cares about important issues in computing such as ethics, equality, and making computer science more accessible to a larger audience. I am confident that she will contribute to the field in the future and will be an example for young women who seek to enter the computing field.”
What advice does Wali have for female students interested in pursuing a career in STEM? “Don’t care what anyone thinks. Put yourself first and know it’s okay to be selfish. A lot of times people will say, ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘I’ve never seen anyone like you do this.’ And my response is, ‘I don’t care. I’m doing it.’”
Consider supporting the Innovation Campus and its students during this year’s Giving Day on February 15 and 16!