Episode 16: Data Visualization with Giorgia Lupi (ft. Sasha Ariel Alston)

Welcome back to our 16th episode, all about Data Visualization! We start off by chatting about how zines can be an accessible alternative way to communicate science, or advocate for the people doing science. Next up, we learn about science illustrator and botanist, Mary Agnes Chaste. We were joined by the amazing and talented Giorgia Lupi to discuss how her theory of Data Humanism has shaped her career in the field of data viz. We wrap up the episode by talking with Sasha Ariel Alston, an inspiring coder leading the way for the next generation with her book, Sasha Savvy Loves to Code. Enjoy!

Listen to the episode by clicking the ‘play’ button on the SoundCloud file below, or download directly from iTunes or SoundCloud (or your favourite podcasting app!). See below to find all of our links posted in the shownotes, and the full transcript of the recording!

SHOWNOTES

Discussion:

ZINES:

Lab Notes on Power in Academia (downloadable PDF)
Neuroscientist Portrait Project (downloadable PDF)
Two Photon Art
Cordon’s thesis and zine!

Past scientist:

Mary Agnes Chaste read from Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Science

Current scientist:

Giorgia Lupigiorgia

Website: giorgialupi.com/
Twitter: @giorgialupi
Instagram: @giorgialupi
Pinterest: @giorgialupi
Bruises – The Data We Don’t See 

Next generation:

Sasha Ariel Alston headshot

Twitter: @TheStemQueen
Sasha Savvy Loves to Code

 

Follow us on social media!
Twitter: @SuperwomenSci
Instagram: @SuperwomenScience
Facebook: Superwomen in Science Podcast


TRANSCRIPT

N: Welcome back to our 16th episode! We’re really excited to share this episode with you today, and talk all about data visualization.

So to start our discussion today, Cordon and I are really excited to talk about something kind of parallel to the field of data visualization, but ways of getting information out through non traditional measures.

C: So one of these popular measures right now in the science art/ science communication world is zines. A zine is an independent publication, made by individuals for the expression of diverse voices and activism, or the distribution of art, storytelling or creativity. So it’s an effective way to present accessible data and synthesize the findings and feelings that people discover through data collection, analysis, the scientific method, you know – art, life.

N: And what I really love about zines too, is that they are often very handcrafted. It’s a very personal – either you’re creating/photocopying or drawing on it – you’re very connected to it as well.

C: Yeah and I find it’s a really great way to easily disseminate information to the public, which is something we both really believe in, as well. Another reason that we like zines so much is because I actually made one in my Master’s thesis. So the method that I used was heuristic self inquiry, which one of the steps in the process is a creative synthesis of either the data, the analysis, the whole method you went through – so I decided to create a zine. Like I mentioned earlier, I really love zines because you can easily disseminate information to the public, and that’s something that as an artist and a researcher I really believe in deeply. As well as a scientist, and a science communicator, which is I guess what we’re doing now, as well (laughs). Yeah.

N: I love that you made a zine for your Master’s! I think that’s incredible. And so inspiring, I want to do that too.

C: Thank you. And I guess that my Master’s thesis will be linked below, so that you can find it.

N: So we also wanted to highlight a couple different science related zines that we found online that are really inspiring and really cool.

So the first one was a group of PhD students who created a zine in response to sexual misconduct. So the grad student zine was in order to try to improve departmental culture.

C: So the zine is called Lab Notes on Power in Academia. Like Nicole said, it’s created by a group of PhD students led by Kriti Sharma who wanted to get together and discuss sexual misconduct and the departmental culture around it. After a former professor in their department was faced with sexual misconduct charges at three different universities that he worked at.

N: The authors also note in the zine – they say that, “This zine isn’t about any individual villain,” and they intentionally do not name the professor. “It isn’t about sex. It isn’t about ‘women’s issues’. It is about being aware of the system of power that we are a part of.” And then they go one and they really creatively show  through different poems, text, emails, just starting a conversation. So the zine is just a really great way of getting that information out in a different manner. So we’ve linked it in our shownotes and you can go and download the PDF for free, there’s a free printable version.


“It isn’t about sex. It isn’t about ‘women’s issues’. It is about being aware of the system of power that we are a part of.” – Lab Notes on Power in Academia


C: Another really great group of people who are doing amazing work with zines and disseminating scientific information is Two Photon Art, created by Christine Liu and Tera Johnson.

N: Mhm. So Two Photon Art led by the incredible Christine and Tera creates so many art projects of science enamel pins, but they also started out making some zines and different prints, which are really really cool. And one in particular that we wanted to highlight today was called the Neuroscientist Portrait Project.

C: The Neuroscientist Portrait Project is a zine that looks at the lives of neuroscientists inside vs. outside of the lab with an emphasis on highlighting the stories of those who are traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. So it was created by Christine and sponsored by Berkeley Neuroscience.

N: And just an excerpt from the zine which really kind of represents the project – so Christine has said, “all research scientists share the desire to understand the natural world, the creativity to design novel experiments and the skepticism to critically analyze results … However, each of us are multidimensional human beings with different identities, skills and interests. Now, more than ever, it is important to celebrate these differences – to embrace that there is richness and value in diversity. When we do not understand someone, we must defer to our scientific inquiry and as “why” instead of making assumptions. We must seek to understand others with an open mind and listen. Scientists stand not only on the shoulders of giants, but also on each others’ shoulders.” [note: this is an error – the zine actually says ‘on the shoulders of peers as well”]


“However, each of us are multidimensional human beings with different identities, skills and interests. Now, more than ever, it is important to celebrate these differences – to embrace that there is richness and value in diversity.” – Neuroscientist Portrait Project


So that just really kind of gives you an insight into how amazing this project is, and we really encourage you to go check it out as well. So head to our shownotes, where we also linked this project, which you can also download for free from Two Photon Art.

~Musical Interlude!~

Today, we’re reading about Mary Agnes Chaste, a scienceillustrator and botanist.

Mary Agnes Chase was a tiny woman with a fighting spirit. She was born in 1869 and grew up in Chicago. She started working after finishing grammar school in order to help her family, but in her spare time, she enjoyed learning about botany. She would go on trips to sketch plants and used her small savings to take a few botany classes at the University of Chicago and the Lewis Institute. Her informal education also included working with botanist Reverend Ellsworth Jerome Hill: he mentored Mary, and in exchange she illustrated plants for his papers.

Her impressive sketchbooks got her a part-time job at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, where she was the scientific illustrator for a few of the museums publications. Mary figured out how to use a microscope and do technical drawings on the job. With her new skills, Mary became a full-time illustrator for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1903.

At the USDA Mary worked as assistant to the botanist Albert Hitchcock. Together they took on the task of collecting and classifying grasses in North and South America until his death in 1935, when she became the senior botanist in charge of systematic agrostology. Unlike her male colleagues, Mary was often denied funding to travel, but, not content to just stay in the lab, she traveled all over the United States and South America, even if it meant paying her own way. Mary discovered thousands of new species of grasses from around the world and authored and coauthored many books on those plants.

Mary called grass “the plant that holds the soil,” and she was able to figure out which grasses to best feed livestock. With Albert Hitchcock, she studied commercially developed grass strains to make sure they were as advertised. A lot of today’s food has been informed by Mary’s important research.

Mary was also a suffragist. She protested for women’s right to vote in the United States even when the USDA threatened to fire her. She bravely participated in the 1918 hunger strike, in which she was jailed and force-fed. Her sacrifices helped gain women the right to vote in 1920.

Mary continued to work with the USDA until she retired in 1939. She was an honorary curator for the Smithsonian up until her death in 1963. Her research was left to the Smithsonian, where it continues to be used.

C: So for our interview today, we are both really excited, this is what we consider a Big Get for our podcast (laughs) – a dream guest that we really expected we would never get. We are super excited that we got to talk to Giorgia Lupi.

N: Mhm. This interview was a dream come true. Giorgia Lupi is absolutely a role model and just an incredible person in the field of data visualization and I have been following her work online for so long and have been so excited to see all of her new projects and to actually get to talk to her was incredible.

C: It also just goes to show that you can email anybody and maybe they’ll say yes in the end (laughs).

N: Mhm! Giorgia Lupi is an award-winning information designed. She co-founded Accurat, a data-driven design firm with offices in Milan and New York where she is the Creative Director.  After receiving her Master’s in Architecture, she earned a PhD in Design at Politecnico di Milano.

C: Her work is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, where in 2017 she also has been commissioned an original site-specific art piece. Her TED TALK on her Humanistic approach to Data has over one million views

N: She is co-author of Dear Data and the new interactive book, Observe, Collect Draw – a Visual Journal. She recently joined MIT Media Lab as a Director’s Fellow. She lives in New York.

N: Thank you, Giorgia, so much for joining us today, we’re so excited to have you on the podcast, we’re huge fans of your work. Before we get into the interview, we have a question that we ask every scientist who comes on the podcast. So we’re trying to break down some perceptions about what people think a typical scientist is, and often times people think that they’re just all just an old white man wearing a lab coat. And so as a scientist, and as a data visualization-ist (I guess), do you wear a lab coat in your everyday life?

Giorgia: Well thank you for having me, it’s such a pleasure to have, it’s such a pleasure to be here, I do not wear a lab coat (laughs).

N: Very nice.

C: So you do data visualization, and information design. Can you explain what that is and what that means to you, for our listeners?

G: Sure, so I work in the space of data visualization both as a designer and an artist. And data visualization is both an art and a science. It is viewed as a branch of statistics by some, but also as a modern equivalent to visual communication. So in general it is a definition of a set of rules and parameters and techniques to communicate data or information by encoding it as a visual object – it’s really the visual representation of data. And this can be done for many purposes, for analytical specific tasks, such as, I dunno, making comparisons and understanding causality, but also for looking at patterns and understanding the behaviour of a large data set but also for seeing your data as a visual system instead of a tab – just for this reason being to understand more and take more informed decisions.

N: And so would you say that you have a specific theory that guides your work through data visualization?

G: Yeah, at this point, yeah. What I say when I describe my practice and research – and I can go really deeper into that later – is that I am an information designer and artist advocating for what I call Data Humanism. And at this point I say that mostly as an artist primarily I use data as a tool, as a lens, to better understand our human nature, that is what interests me as an artist. And so I do this by, let’s say, capturing and distilling our personal experiences, our lives, our behaviours, our thoughts, one subject at a time, into what we so coolly call data, and by doing so actively build by data set. And in this way I use data as a lens to hopefully discover overlooked details, or even really grasping some glimpses of humanity that would be missed if you don’t pay closer attention to the work of data. But also this is more of my design job, and as an entrepreneur, because I also own my own company, every time that I am presented with data, so every time that I encounter a data set for my client for my design job, I try to humanize it, and I try to make it speak our language, and really represent our human nature. And I do so by often combining what is already in the form of data, you know, whether it is tabs or spreadsheets, with layer of softer or qualitative information that for this reason can render the more nuanced and therefore more human aspects of us. And in general I design data driven narratives that are very handcrafted, detail oriented, laborious, and in this case, inevitably more human in the process. And just to give you a very very quick view of why I do feel that Data Humanism is something that is guiding my work, it really comes from the realization that data is never the point, it is never that we work with data because we want to work with data, but data is only and always a tool that we have to abstract our realities and to describe our realities. And sometimes when working with data we tend to forget it and to get tangled up in the numbers and categories and technologies without realizing that always, always data represents us, human beings.

N: Yes. And I think that your projects have done such a beautiful job of that, of storytelling and finding the human experience.

G: Oh, thank you.


“I am an information designer and artist advocating for what I call Data Humanism. And at this point, I say that mostly as an artist primarily I use data as a tool, as a lens, to better understand our human nature.”


C: So can you tell us a little bit more about your previous projects?

G: Sure.

C: And how they encompass this work?

G: Absolutely. I also meant to say that in my day job besides my artistic and exploratory practice I run a data visualization company called Accurat. We are a team of around 35, between designers, developers and data scientists, and our main office is in Milan, which is my hometown – I am Italian, if you didn’t catch the accent yet. (laughs) But we also have a small office in New York where I live. But with Accurat we are not expert in any specific field of application but we do work with a variety of different clients, from clients in IT, healthcare, finance and many non-profits and organization. Every time we making or creating that make data accessible to our clients both to internal and external audiences, really through data visualization. So this is what I do with my team of designers and developers throughout the years. And I also feel like a project that I’m probably most known for is also what became my first book, that is called Dear Data, that is a collaboration with another information designer, her name is Stefanie Posavec, and I’ll invite everyone to check out her work, it’s just really talented as well. And we both, when we met, we met at this amazing conference that I always speak at that is called Eyeo in Minneapolis, which is a data art and data visualization conference. When we met there we discovered that we had so many personal and work similarities – we were both the same age, both ex-pats (she’s an American living in London, I’m an Italian living in New York… really so many other, both with no children – seemingly living parallel lives. But also, most importantly, we both work with data in a very handcrafted way, preferring drawing, as opposed to coding as our entry point to get to know our numbers, and really sketching with data a lot to get closer to the nature of numbers. And we were really struck by all of that and so we decided to really try to experiment this more human side of data through one main question: is it possible to get to know another human being through data only? And then when we went back home, went our separate ways, we started a year long project called Dear Data, where every week for one year we would collect our personal data both separately around shared mundane topics from our complaints, to the sounds of our surroundings, to the relationship with our partners, adding a lot of details about the context of these actions, so not only  counting for example the number of complaints, but really understanding every time what was the complaint about, or who we were complaining to. And at the end of it, since we also wanted to experiment also with this form, the technique to visualize data, we would hand draw our visualization of our weekly data onto a postcard. The front would be the data drawing and the back would be the address of the person and the legend, and we would send these post cards back and forth, from London to New York and New York to London for one year, really painting over 52 weeks and 52 topics a portrait of the other person through this warm and very analog data. And I feel that this is a project – and this was back in 2014 – that also shaped what now I call Data Humanism, and it really changed my perspective of data. Also because the project has been incredibly well received, and it got pretty viral for outside the data community as well, which is something that made me realize that really data is not interesting or boring or big or small per say it’s all just a medium that we have to talk about our life.

N: Mhm, yeah. That’s a really beautiful idea. I think we think often that data is stuff just for statistics and a small group of experts. And I think Dear Data was a great way of showing that you can incorporate it into your everyday life and it can inform you and inform your friendships, and it was really a personal practice, beyond just a Big Data thing.

G: Yeah!

N: In line with these theories, what is the motivation behind these projects you take on, and what you’re currently working on and where you’re interested in going in the future?

G: Yeah that’s such a good question. Over time I realized that I’m really mainly motivated by two things. First of all: creating. I don’t know if I know what my life’s purpose is but I do know that I take a lot of pleasure in creating and making things that are out in the world. Not necessarily for let’s say visibility purposes, but really for knowing as a human being that I’m making and I’m experimenting. And for me, besides my day job, that is still working with data visualization, but more directing a team of people and working digitally most of the time, but still the making in a very analog way and crafty way, it gives me really really lot of pleasure. And then as a human being again, I have always been endlessly fascinated by our human nature, by you know what makes us who we are, what makes us tick, what our obsessions and passions are and you know how we interact with each other and how we investigate our mind – this is something that even with my friends I could go on talking about forever. And so with Dear Data I found that you know, really this way of merging my two passions, and so the work with what we so call data and the work that was more artistic and was helping me create artifacts every week. So that type of creation that was using data as a material to craft stories about our lives gave me the motivation to also keep pursing art outside of my day job – really, I pretty much just work all of the time, I mean I don’t believe a lot in work life balance if you feel like what you are doing is something that motivates you a lot. So besides my day job I work a lot also on artistic projects. I also recently – well recently, that was like the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 I did a hand drawn data visualization at the Museum of Modern Art that was the closing piece of an amazing exhibition on Fashion, where Paola Antonelli the senior curator of design and architecture at MoMA put together this show called Items: Is Fashion Modern?, curating 111 garments and accessories that really shaped our collective vision of fashion. And really pieces that influence the way we behave, the way we think about ourselves. And even there – and I’m getting, this is really just to show that I’m always working – even in that piece, I really didn’t have any data, but I went to read the list of 111 items and all of the curatorial material that was put together for the show, and I found my questions to then create a data set that could possibly highlight for the visitors some hidden aspect of the acquisition of fashion as we relate as individuals. And I had this amazing opportunity to create a site-specific hand drawn visualization, but I did that on my only two weeks of vacation last year with my husband in a seaside place in the Bermudas (laughs) and yeah, I remember that at the very end I was like ‘well, now I need a vacation!’, but I’m still very motivated by creating every time that there’s something that excites me.

C: What has your journey looked like through the field of data visualization?

G: Yeah, well, it depends on how far back in time you want to start. Because I realize – and this is in retrospect – that I’ve always been a data collector. When I was a kid, like before 6 years old, I would spend a lot of time in my grandmother’s – she was a seamstress, so she had a tailor shop – and I would reorganize all of her buttons, ribbons and threads into colours and sizes and categories, and I would also draw tiny labels to illustrate to her, how she could read my organization. And I mean that drove her crazy, because she had her own very organized way to have all of her possessions. But that to me was a lot of pleasure. And I remember how I started to get interested into how by sizes and colour and different features – so example if a button had two holes or four holes – we can categorize and make order and make sense. And then at the same time, as most kids are, I was always drawing, I really was always drawing. So I feel like already there was these two components.

And then when I studied for college I didn’t know that data visualization was a thing. And even back in Italy at this time, I just didn’t know that data visualization is a discipline, so my Master is in architecture. That again, was sort of a non choice because I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew that I wanted to merge the need for numbers and scientific organization to my need for expressing myself creatively. And architecture at the time felt like the right way to do it. And then as I was studying I was much more interested in, for example, all of the areas of architecture that dealt with urban mapping – so the city, the level of the city and using the city as a landscape of information for all the things that were happing there. And even my Master’s project was definitely an information design project. And without getting into the depth of what I did after, then I got very interested in the representation of information. I worked at different interaction firms until I finally started my data visualization company with two partners. And then I also studied for my PhD, as I was already starting Accurat (so again, working and studying 24/7), so I started my PhD exactly, in Communication Design, in a specific lab in Politecnico di Milano that focuses on data visualization. And after that, even from the very beginning with Accurat everything was very manual and we would work on mostly editorial projects, and then as we started to hire developers we would start more interactive experiences and tools, and that was also the moment when I needed to go back to the making. So as I started to direct more, and draw and sketch less, in order to keep a fresh eye on what we were doing, and in order to find a vision to motivate my team, I sort of like needed to get back to making and asking myself what data really is, and how it can be, again, not the point of what we do, but a medium that we have to understand our lives and tell stories.


“Over time I realized that I’m really mainly motivated by two things. First of all: creating. I don’t know if I know what my life’s purpose is, but I do know that I take a lot of pleasure in creating and making things that are out in the world.”


N: So it sounds like you’ve had quite the… not a straight line path to get to where you are. So I’m wondering if you have advice for someone who is interested in maybe following in your steps and is interested in the field of data visualization, what your advice would be to someone starting in this field.

G: Yeah, well now there are many universities that integrate data visualization as part of their courses, both on the design field and the computer science field. So I’d say that there are actually right now really places where you could study to be a information designer. But I’d also suggest, to everybody who’s interested, to start making things, to start incorporating data, even small data, in their observations in their graphic design products, and start to create little rules of how to use any type of quantitative parameter as an element to inform visual representations. I also always really suggest a makespace for personal projects. We’re all busy, but I really encourage anyone who can make the time – not find the time, this is something that I borrow from my friend and another really talented podcast interviewer Debbie Millman, she runs the Design Matters podcast, and she always says to make the time not find the time, which I find really interesting – but really to make the time to do some necessary creating. I think it helps you build the portfolio that you want to be hired for, and it can give you the taste for experimenting, and even like I say a small graphic design project can incorporate a dataset on climate change, a data set that you collect from your life. You can really start small. And well our next book that is out in the fall – and this is not for promotion, but for saying there are so many of these types of research that you can look at – our next book, it will be a journal for people to learn to start small to learn how to work with data in a creative way without being a statistician, or a programmer, or even a designer or an artist. And in general, I mean, there are – and we could talk about the pioneers in our field – but now in the most contemporary side there are amazing skillshare classes, so for example by Nicholas Felton. There’s another podcast that I would recommend everybody to listen to that is called Data Stories, you can look for all their various books and tutorials. And in general I would also say look at data visualization artists and designers that inspire you and really dig into the work, understand how they use data to use art and design projects, and then just start making.

N: Mhm

C: I love that answer to, because it’s so open – really anyone can start anywhere.

G: Absolutely, absolutely.

C: What are your hopes for the future of women in data visualization?

G: I have to say that our field of data visualization being not so strictly scientific already sees a lot of women succeeding and there are lots of women among the top data visualisation people of the world. Also the community around data visualization and data art is pretty young so I guess for this reason is way more open then other scientific disciplines. So really is not a field dominated by old men like what might happen in other disciplines. Also events and conferences are paying a lot of attention in our field to being inclusive these days and I think it’s paying off really well because you see a lot of talent emerging and I just really hope we will keep this spirit. And the other thing that I need to say to frame it, is as always you can approach data visualization as a discipline coming from computer science side or from the design art side. And many of the women that I know come from the design side, where traditionally genders are more balanced than in computer science. But I’m also seeing lots of exceptions because I think it might also naturally appeal to the women who are already computer science and so they gravitate towards data vis. And so mainly I just really hope that we can see more of us working with data visualization and I notice that sometimes women can bring a lot of empathy and sensitively to a field that can seem cold and impersonal like data. So I just hope that there is more of this.

N: So where can someone find you if they’d like to find these projects, on social media or your website?

G: Sure, I’m pretty much everywhere on the internet at giorgialupi.com, where Giorgia is not as in the state but it’s G-I-O-R-G-I-A, Lupi L-U-P-I, so it’s giorgialupi.com, @giorgialupi on twitter, @giorgialupi on Instagram. I also have, I also use Pinterest a lot to collect my visual inspiration. So I feel that everyone who wants to start digging into data visualization can also check my pinterest that I really use to collect inspirational work form other folks. So Giorgia Lupi everywhere.

C: Perfect. And we’ll have everything down in our shownotes.

G: Thank you so much, that was really a pleasure.

N: Oh thank you! That was really – we really appreciate it.

G: Thank you guys.

N: And so one thing also that we didn’t get a chance to talk about in our interview but we wanted to highlight for our listeners, was this really incredible project that Giorgia worked on, which was called Bruises, the Data We Don’t See. And so the reason this really connected with both Cordon and I was that it seemed to kind of really blend together our fields and our passions. And so Giorgia Lupi and Kaki King collaborated on this project to really bring a chronic illness, which was actually Kaki’s daughter, to represent what they describe the data we don’t see. So it was an art project that represented more of the social side and the impact of chronic illness, through this beautiful artistic project.

C: Yeah, and everybody should really see it, it’s beautiful, we’ll link to the Medium article in our shownotes, and we really think that you should pause right now and go watch it.

N: And as they explain in their Medium article, they say “ Clinical records alone hardly capture the impact the illness of a child has on a family. This is how we used music and art to understand and communicate the information that was missing.”

C: So, one more time, thank you so much Giorgia for talking with us, it was really an honour, and all of her information will be linked in the shownotes.

N: For our last section, where we look to the future and the next generation of data visualization, we thought it would be really important to look at coding, because although Giorgia’s work was very analog and handcrafted, a lot of data visualization requires digital skills. And so we were really excited to talk to Sasha Ariel Alston.

C: So Sasha is the debut author of the children’s book Sasha Savvy Loves to Code. From Washington, DC, she is a college student majoring in Information Systems at Pace University in New York City. With eight successful internships in the tech and business industries, she is a sought-after speaker to encourage youth to explore educational and career opportunities in STEM.

N: She has appeared on Good Morning America, been featured in Forbes, Huff Post, Role Model Magazine, & Black Enterprise. She has inspired girls to dream big in Disney, Google, Snapchat, and Yahoo initiatives. Sasha was also selected as a 2018 Futurist by The Root magazine, one of Her Campus 22 Under 22 Most Inspiring College Women and as a Pace University 30 under 30 Difference Maker.

C: She talks a lot about her writing experience, her kickstarter experience, and some really cool experiences she’s had in the tech world. So we hope you enjoy our interview with Sasha Ariel Alston.

N: Thank you so much Sasha for being here today, we’re so excited to talk with you. To start, can you give us a brief synopsis of your book?

Sasha: Yes. So my book is Sasha Savvy Loves To Code, and I wrote this book to give girls, and especially girls of colour, interested in coding. So the book takes place in Washington DC, and it’s about a 10 year old African American girl, and she is trying to decide what she wants to for summer, for the summer, for summer camp. And so because her mom is a software developer, she kind of persuades Sasha to go to the coding camp. And it just goes through the life of Sasha and her friends and whether they like coding by the end of the day.

N: Amazing.


“My book is Sasha Savvy Loves To Code, and I wrote this book to give girls, and especially girls of colour, interested in coding.”


C: Mhm. So what motivated you to write the book?

S: I was motivated to write the book because I attended McKinley Technology High School, which is a STEM based highschool in Washington DC. And I didn’t become interested in coding – even though I took classes – I didn’t become interested in it until I had my first internship at Microsoft. And so basically when I had a radio interview just talking about the STEM internship that I had, the interviewer asked, ‘what is coding’. And so for an older person to not really be familiar with coding, it kind of showed me that it was important to bring that to other person through literacy. And so that’s kind of where I – probably that day I decided it’d be cool to write a quick children’s book. And it was going to be a picture book, just explaining it. But then I talked to people and they said it’d be great to have as a chapter book.

N: Yeah it’s such an important piece of literature. So great that we have this. So can you expand more about what your journey has been like? Like you said that this idea came in high school – that’s so impressive! What has it been like from creating this idea, or from having this idea, to actually holding your physical book?

S: Yeah it’s been a great experience. So I came up with the idea April 2015, but I didn’t actually publish it until June 2017. And so it took me a while to write the book, and since I also had to get editors and do researchers, that’s why it kind of took long. But I actually reached out to agents to get a publisher so I could have it published that way versus of self publishing, but I received a lot of rejections. And so because of that I decided to make a Kickstarter to raise the funds. And so I reached my goal of $5,000 in 4 days, and I raised over $17,600 in the end. And so that was very inspiring, because at that point I actually didn’t have the book out and I needed the money to publish it. And so the fact that so many people believed in my story and what I was doing, to donate even beyond my goal was really encouraging to me, and showed me that the book really needed to come out.

And so I published it June 2017, and just a lot of great things have come out of the book. I’ve been featured in Huffington Post, Black Enterprise, I was on Good Morning America, I’ve been in Disney, Google and Snapchat campaigns to promote STEM. So just me writing that one book kind of opened up a lot of doors for me. Ones I didn’t think that I would be able to be in, just as like a computer – an information systems student. This book showed me so many other opportunities in STEM.

C: Yeah. And what kind of response did you get from the science community, specifically?

S: I haven’t received that much recognition from science specifically, but more so technology. Just because, you know, its all, I understand people are just interested in general, but I’ve received so much more things from tech related people. And so when I put the Kickstarter on Linked In, a lot of different people from Google, Instagram, Facebook, all of the major companies, Apple, they reached out to me and some of the people donated as well.

C: Wow. That’s awesome.

N: What do you hope that your book can do for the future generation of women in science and technology?

S: Since I wrote this book to get girls interested in it, and just general exposure, I think that’s kindof the most important. You’re not going to be interested in something unless you’re familiar with it, or at least you’ve heard about it. And so, me just kind of exposing them to this field just kind of shows them this is something they can do, whether its science, technology, engineering or math. Just kind of giving them another option vs just general things of being a doctor or a lawyer. Another great thing about the book is that in March of this year, it will be translated in Japanese, so I do have a Japanese publisher and it will be out in a few months.

N: That’s amazing.  Wow it is so impressive just how many doors that you’re opening, and just seeing the impact that this book has had, that’s so impressive and it’s so cool to see all that you have done, and all that you will do.

C: Yeah.

S: Yes thank you, because I never thought of being an actual author, and even though I wrote the book I still kind of forget that I am an author, because I wasn’t really thinking about it as – like really being an author, but really just explaining the importance of STEM. And the fact that I was able to tie in the literacy component and also the tech component and put them together, I think that was great.

C: Awesome. So if anyone wants to find your book or follow your journey, where can they find all that information?

S: So for Sasha Savvy Loves To Code you can actually find that on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And if you’d like ot follow my journey you can follow me @TheStemQueen, or the Stem Queen Academy. And so I do have an academy that I’m starting to continue the process of getting girls interested in coding.

N: That’s amazing! So what all is – what do you mean by academy, what is that?

S: So I received a $25, 000 grant to have a pilot event for this. And so it was really just to expose girls to what coding is. And so I had about 15 McKinley Technology high school girls, which is the high school that I went to, so I really explained all of the things in the tech industry you can do, because a lot of people don’t realize that it’s not coding at a computer all day, at a tech company, but you can go into media and entertainment, fashion, just like a lot of different avenues. And so my whole purpose of the event was to explain all of the things you can do with STEM. So even though my focus is technology, obviously I talked to them about science, engineering and math as well. As so one of the big things at the event was I had a Shark Tank kind of competition. Basically the girls were broken up into teams and they had to choose a solution for a problem that they wanted to solve in their community or school. So by the end of the – it was probably about an hour of coming up with the slogan and being able to pitch it to us – and so by the end, I was able to give them prizes for the person who had the best solution.

N: Amazing!

C: Cool.

S: Yeah, and so overall, that was just one day of kind of exposing it to them, but I do want to have it, as weekly sessions. Because I do think it’s really important to teach girls about the soft skills, not just the tech related skills. So they need to start somewhere, being familiar with interview, how to talk in an interview, how you should dress and prepare for your interview, how you should talk in an email – all of those things are important before you even get into the coding skills. And so that’s what I mainly want to focus on, and then I’ll start adding technical components. But at that event I definitely had us do Hour of Code and coding activities.

N: So amazing. Wonderful.

C: Great. Well thank you so much Sasha for joining us, we’re really excited to have you on. We’ll make sure to link all of your social media and places people can find you down in our shownotes. But thank you so much!

S: Thank you for having me!

~Musical Interlude!~

C: So one more thing before we go, because I always like to tack something on at the end of our episodes, but we have a very exciting announcement. So anyone in Ottawa Ontario or the surrounding area, be sure to check your calendars because on Saturday February 16th, Nicole and I will be doing a live podcast recording at the Canadian Museum of Nature! We are super excited to be working with museum! We’re going to be talking to a lot of the women scientists that work right there at the museum. So if you’re interested be sure to follow us on all of our social media, where we’ll be posting a lot more information and updates. And we hope to see you there!

N: Thank you so much for listening to the superwomen in science podcast!

C: Just a reminder that we’re reading from Rachel Ignotofsky’s book Women in Science

N: And a HUGE thank you to our amazing guests Giorgia Lupi and Sasha Ariel Alston.

C: Make sure to follow us on Soundcloud or itunes to hear our podcast every other week! So search us in the podcast section, download, rate, and subscribe! And, leave a review if you really like us!

N: You can find us on twitter @superwomensci, Facebook at Superwomen in Science Podcast and on instagram @superwomenscience

C: A transcript of this episode and every episode can be found on our website superwomeninscience.wordpress.com! You can also find all the links that we put in the episode as well.

N: So tweet us if you’re a data visualization scientist or if you want us to talk about your field of science!

C: Thanks everyone!

~Fade out with bloopers, which include a special cameo from Cordon’s cat!~

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