The McKelvey School of Engineering hosted nearly 40 students for the 2023 WeBelong! workshop Sept. 9. The woman-focused event aims to bring together students at Washington University in St. Louis who have an interest in technology and computer science.

The event included a mentorship breakfast, a student Q&A panel and hands-on work sessions on artificial intelligence, computing ethics and coding.

Sonia Dias, a senior majoring in computer science and president of Women in Computer Science (WiCS), moderated the student panel and served as a mentor during the breakfast. WiCS works with the Department of Computer Science & Engineering to host the event.

“I had a good time sharing my experiences with students who are curious or don’t know much about the industry,” Dias said. “It was rewarding to be a resource students feel they can talk to. I’m big on mentorship, and I like to share those experiences with others.”

Xiaoyan Zheng, a master’s student studying computer science, also took part in the panel. She said she appreciated the opportunity to share her perspective on different topics affecting women students and to hear what others have experienced.  

“During the panel, there was a question about imposter syndrome,” Zheng said. “I feel like I’ve been experiencing that a lot and didn’t have any way to cope with it. I heard a lot of suggestions from professors and other students on how to deal with it, which was very valuable for me.” 

While the event was focused on students, faculty and alumni were also invited to attend and many volunteered as mentors, including Athena Tabakhi, lecturer; Marion Neumann, teaching professor; Neha Singh, lecturer; and Steve Cole, senior lecturer, all in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering.

“This workshop can't happen without the mentors who come to give back,” Dias said. “I want to recognize those mentors and who were willing to share their experiences and time to help the first-year students.” 

Tabakhi and Singh also helped organize the event, which has been a department tradition since 2019.

“This event focuses on bridging that gap for incoming students and helping them feel more involved and connected in the computer science department,” Singh said. “It could be challenging for any new person, especially those from underrepresented or minority communities, to feel connected and reach out. The WeBelong event provides that inclusive environment and support system for all women and allies in computing.”

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