The Student of Vision ABIE Award honors young women dedicated to creating a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for which they build it. This year’s winner is Mehul Raje, who continues to support, promote, and inspire other young women in tech.
Mehul had a sheltered upbringing in the small city of Patna, India where she attended an all-girls’ Catholic school, and was molded by dazzling female influences in the forms of her mother, maternal grandmother, and principal. Each of her peers excelled in multiple domains. In such a vibrant and zealous environment, her personal achievements naturally ensued, particularly her acceptance of one of four scholarship students into Manipal University’s Computer Science Department.
Once in college, Mehul stepped out of her comfort zone and into her introductory co-educational experience. Though she remained proactive in courses and extra-curricular that required lone efforts, collaboration over technical ideas and projects proved challenging. She observed that the unbalanced ratio of girls to boys in computer science (evident in her classroom itself) led to one’s skills inevitably being viewed in light of one’s gender. In one of many experiences during a programming contest where she remained the only girl to qualify for the final round, she was greeted with surprise, shock, and even doubt.
Determined to leave an impact and compelled to prove her competence at every opportunity, Mehul joined IE CSE, the largest computer science club on campus. Her contributions there included planning and organizing programming contests for over 300 students, becoming editor of IE CSE’s technical blog, and teaching Object Oriented Programming during the annual fest “TechTatva.” These all resulted in Mehul’s appointment as the vice chairperson of the club.
As an intern at IIT Bombay, she worked on building the online portal for an internet-based voice response system for farmer groups to sell their produce without corrupt middlemen. Mehul discovered that the two phases adopted to solve this social challenge were (1) winning the farmer’s trust through persistent efforts, and (2) building a robust technical system to attain the set goal.
Equipped with a platform and eager to make this journey easier for other female technology enthusiasts, Mehul constituted Women TechMakers Manipal (WTM). Mehul employed the same knowledge that she discovered during her internship to fiercely lead and grow WTM. WTM’s operations commenced with weekly meets for undergrad female students to work on technical experiments and applaud their achievements. As these meetings developed into help sessions on Data Structures, coding sessions “in pajamas,” and even a college-wide workshop on web development by one of their talented members, their audience grew from two to over 200.
Eager to allay fears about stepping into a largely male-dominated industry, Mehul directed “The Spectacular Female,” a YouTube series that chronicles the accomplishments of women in diverse fields ranging from computer science to yoga. To accomplish the second stage of her plan, Mehul wants to build emotionally intelligent systems that can comprehend the user’s thought process and offer solutions to challenges they may face in collaborating and communicating with others. With this focus, she has been accepted for the computer science masters programs at Harvard and Cornell Tech. Such graduate education will be critical in enabling Mehul to embrace and analyze such complex problems and build the multi-faceted solutions they demand.