Virtual Launch Interview Series: In Conversation with…

We are thrilled to present the second installment of our conversations at Girls in Tech Hawaii between our Managing Director, Naré G. Aleksanyan and local wahine in technology who have demonstrated a continued effort and commitment to the advancement of girls and women in technology in Hawaii.

Meet Sandra Fujiyama!

In her role as Innovation and Business Development Officer at the University of Hawaii (UH) Office of Innovation and Commercialization, Sandra is responsible for leading UH’s innovation and entrepreneurship efforts, including strengthening ties with community stakeholders. Among the multitude of her responsibilities, Sandra oversees of the Innovation Impact Challenge (IIC) Initiative, UH Ventures Accelerator and Local Entrepreneurs Initiative.  She also conducts technology and marketing assessments of inventions, protects and markets technologies in UH’s IP portfolio, and helps secure funding for the development and commercialization of UH-based inventions.  Read on to learn about her thoughts on UH’s role in providing access to equal opportunities for women in technology and entrepreneurship in Hawaii and much more.

Naré G. Aleksanyan (NGA): Why is it important to engage with female students and faculty interested in STEM and encourage woman-led innovation and entrepreneurship?

Sandra Fujiyama (SF):  Women can play a key role in catalyzing innovation and driving economic growth.

In the fall of 2019, the University of Hawaii hosted an Innovation Roundtable with the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, Andre Iancu, with support from Connie Lau, CEO of Hawaiian Electric Industries, to bring together a cross-section of leaders from various sectors to engage in a discussion on the role of innovation and collaboration as an economic driver.

At the roundtable, Under Secretary Iancu shared a 2019 USPTO report titled, Progress and Potential:  A Profile of Women Inventors on U.S. Patents.  The report made a number of key findings, including, among others, that women continue to comprise a small minority of patent inventors, and despite greater female participation in science, engineering and entrepreneurship, the notable differences in the number of male and female patent inventors persist.  These findings suggest that “women are among the ‘lost Einsteins’ – people who would contribute valuable inventions had they had early exposure to innovation and inventor role models” … and “that harnessing underexploited talent in these groups would be valuable to spurring innovation and driving growth.”

NGA: How can we attract and retain more women in STEM in the local schools and other educational institutions?

SF:  Follow the finding in the USPTO report – expose girls to innovation and inventor role models and experiences early and often, encourage girls and women to pursue STEM activities, research and careers, and create opportunities to ensure that women are at the table, participate in the innovation and entrepreneurship process (including identifying themselves as inventors on patents and/or co-founders of companies) and are recognized for their accomplishments.

It is wonderful that you launched Girls in Tech in Hawaii!  That is definitely a step in the right direction!

NGA: As a graduate of Punahou School, who then went on to graduate with honors from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and receive the Ethel Terry McCoy Award, which recognizes women for excellence in biochemistry, what helped you along the way to not only stick with a biochemistry major but to excel in a STEM area?

SF:  I love the sciences – I’ve always had an interest in how things work, figuring out the right formula, and solving problems.  That said, it didn’t come naturally – so I consider myself very lucky to have had a number of supportive, encouraging and inspiring mentors and role models that guided me along the right path and pointed me in the right direction.  Having a support system that includes a variety of mentors is invaluable at every stage of life.

As an example, one of the more difficult classes was organic chemistry, but it ended up being one of my favorite classes.  I totally credit the professor – I must have attended almost every office hours she offered and she was always incredibly positive and encouraging.  Not only did I end up excelling in the class, I also gained a trusted mentor – whose feedback and advice taught me to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible and challenged me to do my best and reach my fullest potential.  She championed my efforts and accomplishments, she inspired, and she brought out the best in me.  I am very thankful to her and to all of my mentors.

NGA: Finally, based on your own experiences working with UH-based innovation and entrepreneurship that plays such an integral role in advancing local innovation, what is your message to young girls and women considering pursuing STEM education and careers in Hawaii?

SF:  Believe in yourself and go for it!  Ask for help early and often — build that support system.  And, don’t be afraid to try and fail – life is about learning.

NGA: Sandra, thank you for your time and for sharing your thoughts with us. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from your experiences and look forward to doing our part in building the diverse and inclusive technology workforce Hawaii needs.

We are excited to get to know our community and grow the chapter with you and for you! Subscribe and stay tuned for our next interview.

Have someone in mind that you would like to nominate for an interview? Email us at [email protected] with their name, short biography and contact information for consideration.

Mahalo #GITohana.

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