The inherent invalidation of marginalized communities in society is often echoed in specific fields such as STEM, a fact that isn’t surprising given the far-reaching limitations that have been placed upon minority groups. However, if you look deep enough, you’ll find organizations that are actively trying to change such blatantly discriminatory standards, such as Superposition. What’s Superposition, you may ask? Well, keep reading to find out all about it!
Stephanie Su, a high school junior from the Bay Area, had been interested in STEM ever since her grandmother taught her basic math concepts in Kindergarten. She, like many others, felt an indomitable thrill from the problem-solving process which drove her to explore and learn more. However, as she became more intertwined with Science, she couldn’t help but notice that regardless of the type of STEM classes she was in, be it math or physics, she was always part of the gender minority. Once, when walking into a competitive math class, her teacher announced, “Look, we have our first girl in the class!”
Stephanie, at first, chose to laugh off the skewed gender ratio in her STEM lessons; however, she eventually realized that many other girls were having the same experiences as her, perhaps even being discouraged by the lack of representation. “The feeling does make sense—when you don’t see any face that looks like yours, it’s easy to feel alienated,” she said.
One day, Stephanie saw an unassuming advertisement for an all-women and non-binary hackathon called Superposition II. At first, it seemed like a fun opportunity; however, she didn’t think much of it. Alas, the experience ended up being like no other! Spending 24 hours in San Francisco with free food and a chance to meet other girls interested in code was extremely inspiring, and Stephanie knew that she wanted to help bring such empowering experiences to as many discouraged students as possible. Several months later, Stephanie was extended a position on the Superposition III Operations team. Eventually, she was promoted to Lead Director.
Throughout the past 4 years, Superposition has organized the Bay Area’s largest all-women and non-binary hackathon at companies such as VSCO and Uber. In February 2020, they hosted 220 attendees at the Uber headquarters in San Francisco, establishing Superposition as one of the Bay Area’s largest student-run hackathons, even among co-educational groups. “With 35% of our attendees having never programmed before, and 77% attending their first hackathon, we were able to bring so many girls into the world of technology,” says Stephanie. One attendee even reported feeling “reluctant to pursue computer science because of male dominance,” but changed her mind after “seeing such a diverse community and being able to connect with girls pursuing technology.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Superposition is working to continue creating educational opportunities for the community through its virtual workshops and panel series. Just 3 weeks into their virtual series’, they’ve had a total of 520 students in 9 countries and 20+ US states participate. Most recently, Stephanie held a review session for AP Computer Science and had one attendee tell her that "words could not describe how grateful [she was]." Stephanie realized that being able to help even a single individual makes the process incredibly worthwhile.
Of the hundreds of hackathons around the world, Superposition is among the few dedicated to underrepresented gender minorities in technology. Their mission is to empower young women and non-binary students in technology by providing a supportive environment in which students can explore their passions. Though they offer prizes for outstanding work, their purpose is to recognize the attendees for their hard work, rather than to foster a competitive environment. Superposition’s first and foremost priority is maintaining the attendee experience. “Often, Superposition is an attendee's first hackathon, and we want to create an empowering community so that every individual who attends our hackathon leaves feeling confident and important,” says Stephanie.
Superposition’s amazing attendee experience is a factor that attracts students from across the country, year after year. One attendee from New York said, "My most important takeaway from Superposition IV was that there are many others out there, even miles away, that are willing to support me and I do not have to get through the tech industry alone or without support from my peers, mentors, or even professionals at companies. I see that there are so many creative women that are not only in the same place as me but that have come before me and have done tremendous things and I see myself being a similar mentor for the next generation."
Superposition is currently expanding beyond an annual hackathon to provide year-round events for the community in the form of hackathons, workshops, panels, and other opportunities. Stephanie was motivated to take the next step forward with Superposition because she realized that all of her many months of hard work and lost sleep were solely contributing to a measly 24 hours, and even after the hackathon itself, there would be so much work left to do to bridge the gender gap in tech. Back in December, she'd thought to herself, Female empowerment doesn't stop after 24 hours, and neither should Superposition. “It's been incredible to see how great of an impact our initiative, which started off in the Bay Area, could make, and I plan on continuing to bring empowering experiences to more girls,” Stephanie says.
Stephanie and her team are hoping to release their team applications soon to get more female changemakers on board as well. “There's a lot of exciting opportunities coming up that we can't wait to share with the community!” she says.
Keep your eyes peeled for more news from this inspirational group!