Staunch advocate for women in technology named Woman of the Year for STEAM Education
Dr. Sonal Dekhane, interim dean of Georgia Gwinnett College’s (GGC) School of Science and Technology, was named Woman of the Year in STEAM Education by the Atlanta-based Women in Technology (WIT) organization. This award celebrates women in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) careers for their leadership, vision and accomplishments in business, education and the community. WIT seeks to empower women and girls during all stages of their careers in STEAM disciplines.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic moved the WIT awards ceremony from an in-person to an online event. But there was a silver lining. The online event allowed Dekhane’s sister, Anushree Neurgaonkar, who is a San Francisco-based business technology consultant, to watch Dekhane’s shocked reaction.
“I was speechless,” said Dekhane as she described the moment her name was announced at the awards ceremony. “I was so excited and I was especially happy to have someone from my family attending with me virtually.”
Most of Dekhane’s family resides in Mumbai, India, where she was born and raised. Growing up in a middle-class Indian family, Dekhane said education was highly valued and many of her friends chose to pursue careers in the medical field or in engineering.
“If you go to school for a medical career, you have to study biology,” she said. “That includes a lot of memorization, which I was never good at, so I opted into engineering, which involved a lot of math and physics. It was much more logical and was something that I enjoyed learning.”
Dekhane studied electronics engineering at the University of Mumbai. Part of the curriculum included a course in programming. As a sophomore, she enrolled in the course — and something clicked.
“That was the best experience that I had in engineering,” she said. “It was just so logical and intuitive to me. I completely enjoyed learning programming and realized that’s what I wanted to do.”
Upon graduation, Dekhane still wanted to know more. She moved to the United States to further her education, earning her master’s and her doctorate, both in computer science.
She joined GGC in August 2007, ready to put her knowledge to work. Having seen the preponderance of men in the STEAM field, Dekhane vowed to break the stereotype.
“Technology is for everyone” she said. “If we are to create technology that works for all of us, then its development teams need representation from all of us, including women. At GGC, we’ve created a strong community of support for women to aid their success in the information technology (IT) program.”
GGC offers a number of programs to support IT students. The WIT@GGC Java Boot camp is geared toward women technology majors as a way to introduce them to programming before taking a required programming course.
“The boot camp is held each year and allows our students to become familiar with programming and gain confidence in their abilities before they take the actual class,” said Dekhane. “By the time they complete the boot camp and are in the programming class, they already have an established community of support.”
Dekhane also promotes GGC’s Technology Ambassadors Program, which aligns with the college’s four pillars – scholarship, leadership, service and creativity. Geared toward upper-level students, the service-learning program helps students enhance their technical communications, hone their leadership skills and conduct outreach to educate their peers about technology careers.
While Dekhane said she felt a lot of emotions when she was named Woman of the Year for STEAM Education, chief among them was a sense of validation.
“We do what we do because we feel strongly about the cause and understand the value of it,” she said. “Earning the award validates our efforts and brings awareness. That’s why awards like these are valuable. It acknowledges that there is a need to support women in technology, that this kind of work is important and that it needs to be done.”