March 30, 2016
Chris Luke wants to shine a light on the lack of women in tech -- an underwater flashlight, to be specific.
That's why the Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) network engineer, along with his wife and tech-savvy ten-year-old daughter, have started a program to encourage young girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers in part by creating a flashlight out of $10 worth of parts.
Luke's daughter Piper has always shown a predilection towards electronics and tinkering, although that could be because her mom teaches robotics and marine biology at the collegiate level and her dad is deep in the weeds of SDN and NFV as the lead architect at Comcast.
Recognizing that Piper is typically the only girl in her computer science classes and that she thinks she's bad at math despite being in the gifted program, Luke has made it a personal mission of his to show other young girls that engineering is cool and worth pursuing. (See WiC Poll: Start Young to Improve the Pipeline.)
Figure 1: Piper Luke and another camper create an underwater flashlight, soldering together components, during Tech Trek's camp in New Jersey.
"It's something where I've always thought that equality for women in their careers is an important thing, but it's not been a primary focus, and then I had a daughter, and she's smart and interested in things I do and things her mom does," Luke says. "She's her own person. It occurred to me I have to do what I can to make sure there aren't obstacles in the way to do what she wants to get done."
By obstacles, Luke doesn't anticipate his daughter being overtly denied opportunities or told she can't pursue a technical role, but rather more covert discouragement akin to what happens when women don't see any other females in the room. (See More Women in Tech Is Critically Important.)
Within the engineering department at Comcast, another particularly homogenous group, Luke's goal is to hire more women. He says he wants to make diversity a priority by making it normal. His message to young girls like his daughter is to have tenacity and don't get discouraged by any apparent discrimination, whether it's blatant or unconscious.
"My fear is that sometime down the road, she'll have all the qualifications and requirements, but knowing some of the older people in the industry, you look around the world and think it's not a picture of diversity," he says. "Some of it is self-selection and some of it is innate stuff. How do we fix it? Chipping away at it one person at a time. If she's persistent, it will work out, but there are obstacles."
This desire to chip away at the problem one person at a time brings us back to the underwater flashlights. Luke, his wife and Piper helped out at a week-long AAUW Tech Trek program at Stockton University in New Jersey last summer to encourage girls in the field of STEM. They provided electronic boards, PVC tube and soldering equipment and taught the girls how to use engineering to make it all fit together and work underwater. About 100 kids came through the course, and most -- if not all -- left with a working flashlight. Luke says he plans to repeat the program this summer.
"If she's determined, she will get where she wants to go," Luke says of his daughter and her generation. "There are these not-so obvious obstacles -- just 'not getting selected' obstacles that are difficult to overcome. I don't want them to disarm her. I want her to persist if that's the direction she wants to go."
— Sarah Thomas, , Director, Women in Comms
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