"You are literally changing the world, and I am honored to be part of it, even if for few hours" said Arwa Guesmi, from Tunisia after her visit to Berkeley Lab. Guesmi is an Emerging Leader (EL) at the U.S. Department of State's TechWomen program. Nine TechWomen ELs from seven countries visited Berkeley Lab on October 14th to learn more about energy research and green technology. The visiting group was hosted by the Energy Technologies Area (ETA). The women had insightful exchanges on building energy, renewables and microgrids with ETA staff Reshma Singh, Naim Darghouth, Joachim Seel and Michael Stadler. Ari Harding provided the group a tour of the FLEXLAB® where they learned about the building efficiency simulator and building integrated photovoltaics. Gulnora Anvarovao (EL from Tajikistan) found the tour eye opening stating, "especially after visiting FLEXLAB I have got new ideas of using solar panels."
The Building Technology and Urban Systems Division welcomed the group to their lunch social event to informally meet and connect with those with similar interest areas. The women also had a chance to meet with TechWomen alumna Essma Redouane-Salah, a current Postdoc in the Berkeley Lab's Physics division, about her experience working at the Lab in the field of high-energy physics. The visit ended with two lab tours. Andre Anders showed the group the Rutherford Backscattering Facility, where next generation PV module materials are tested and Ramya Sankar and Lena Trotochaud provided a tour of the Advanced Light Source. When asked if anything surprised them about visiting a research facility, Ayah Soufan (EL from Palestinian Territories) noted the international diversity of Berkeley Lab staff, stating, "they are from all around the world but they act as a family of science, they all work together for one goal, science."
The TechWomen program selects Emerging Leaders from STEM disciplines such as science, green tech, and social media, to be hosted in companies across the Bay Area to network and learn more about the science and tech sectors. A diverse group of companies ranging from Tesla to Twitter, and from SunPower to Salesforce host Emerging Leaders. This year there are two Emerging Leaders hosted at Berkeley Lab. Rund Awwad, who has a startup in Jordan in renewables and building efficiency, is being mentored by Reshma Singh of Energy Technologies Area. Titilayo Aladesanmi, who works in the field of ecology and environmental science in Nigeria, is being mentored by Romy Chakraborty from the Earth Sciences Division. Berkeley Lab has also hosted TechWomen Emerging leaders in past years.
Although the program is only a month long, it is a life changing experience for the ELs. Awwad shares some of the obstacles that face her back home stating, "I face several challenges as a woman in engineering, and also as a working mother, and an entrepreneur in the emerging energy technology field. This, in a country which imports 97% of its energy, and is at high risk due to scarcity of energy resources coupled with a huge influx of refugee populations. Having the opportunity to affiliate with the renowned Lawrence Berkeley Lab and learn from top energy technology scientists, researchers and professionals has made the experience worth all troubles, pain and the challenges."
TechWomen program not only provides an opportunity for women abroad to learn and connect, it is an enriching experience for mentors who are often inspired by the caliber of women they meet in the program. "Talking to the Emerging Leaders, I am struck by a moment of sonder. Each of these women have overcome significant cultural and economic barriers in their journey. Even though they seem to be from two different worlds, women in the Silicon Valley and the world talk the same language of STEM and are helping changing the face of the future," says Singh.