Vanessa Ortiz, Microsoft Civic Tech Fellow
“As I worked with students, I learned that I have a passion to plant a seed and watch it grow. It impacted me seeing how much I enjoy positivity in others. I decided to double major with math and computer science, and keep it going.”
Meet Vanessa Ortiz. Vanessa is currently a Microsoft Civic Tech Fellow. She is also an undergraduate student at CUNY/Lehman College in the Bronx with a double major in Mathematics and Computer Science. Vanessa is the co-founder and vice-chair of Lehman College Women in Computer Science (WiCS), a campus tutor in math, and a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). She enjoys gardening, painting, and – after some mindful research – is about to embark in candling! You can reach her via email or LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter, and view her Github.
What Does She Do?
After seeing too few students who looked like her, last year Vanessa co-founded Lehman College Women in Computer Science (WiCS) to encourage and support Women of Color in STEM. Apart from raising awareness, WiCS was recently able to get scholarships for Lehman students to attend the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing – billed as “the world’s largest gathering of women technologists.” “I’m hoping that the club is ongoing, long after I graduate.”
While being a student leader – and a double major — occupies much of Vanessa’s time, as a Microsoft Civic Tech Fellow she has been involved in several projects:
- The CivicGraph is a visualization of the civic tech space community. “With the CivicGraph it’s been wonderful to be able to see how influential actors are around the world, inform others about it, and make it available to anyone.”
- BoardStat is a dashboard used the members of NYC’s Community Boards and their constituents. “I get a lot of questions on how to use this further – outside of NYC. How can I get MY community involved? It’s really cool to be a part of this.”
“I’m excited about anything that I can do to affect my community positively.”
How Did She Get Into This Work?
While Vanessa’s parents came over to the States from the Dominican Republic, Vanessa was born and raised in NYC, specifically Long Island’s Valley Stream. The youngest of five siblings, Vanessa was always drawn to education: “I followed in own footsteps. I always intrigued and loved the structure and discipline of academics.”
Vanessa started out her studies as a pre-med student, but an internship at SUNY Downstate showed her that she wasn’t passionate about medicine. She then focused on what she was good at – mathematics. Initially, she was terrified by a course for her degree — Java — and decided to satisfy the requirement as her sole summer course. Prof. Eva Marie Sofianos not only made the material accessible, but she validated Vanessa with praise and encouraged her to dive deeper in the subject: “Because of her recommendation I got a campus job as a Java tutor, and then as a math tutor. “As I worked with students, I learned that I have a passion to plant a seed and watch it grow. It impacted me seeing how much I enjoy positivity in others. I decided to double major with math and computer science, and keep it going.”
Since she’s become a Civic Tech Fellow her sister has demanded: “What does Civic Tech mean? What IS that?
As far as what’s next after graduation? “My thinking is totally evolving. I’m eager to see what I can do and how I can impact the community positively. Eventually, I want to do my own thing. Figure out what it is, and of course, it will involve tech.”
How Did She Come to Civic Hall?
Vanessa comes to Civic Hall as part of the Microsoft Civic Tech Fellow program. She first learned of this opportunity via Microsoft Civic Tech Fellow, Rosemarie Encarnacion, herself a Lehman student and the current Chair of the WiCS club. “John Paul Farmer [the head of Microsoft Cities] has become a mentor and is inspiring as well. Anything about diversity and inclusion; helping anyone really. They are RIGHT there. “
What Project Is She Working On?
In addition to the projects enumerated above, Vanessa has a great fondness for the Tech Jobs Academy and, more broadly, is interested in accessibility: “We can build and deploy technologies that include older generations and other communities that have historically been overlooked.”
What is She Reading?
“Unfortunately, due to the amount of material for classes that I currently have to read for school, I rarely have time to read. Lately, during part of my commutes, I have just been listening to NPR podcasts and reading random current event articles online.”
What Is Her Ask and Offer of Civic Hall?
“All I ask of the community is to be encouraging and supportive of women in tech/CS.” Next month will mark the 1st Annual Tech CreateHER Hackathon at Lehman (register here). Hosted by Women in Computer Science (WiCS), it will be held May 10th. Registration is still open for CUNY students. There WILL be prizes!