BLACKSBURG — Sevara Akramkhanova says she wants to break the mold of what a young woman can do.
The 16-year-old is a technology enthusiast, which puts her in the minority in her home country of Uzbekistan — as well as most of the world.
She said the stereotype back home is still for women to look after children, even though she says physical size is one of the few differences between genders.
“But the times when problems were solved by strength were the Stone Age,” Akramkhanova said. “We’re now in the 21st century, so I don’t think there has to be a limitation for people to go to different jobs or do something they like.”
Akramkhanova is one of 62 girls age 15 to 17 selected to participate in the U.S. Department of State’s TechGirls initiative. The program has included a stay at Virginia Tech’s campus in Blacksburg for the past four years.
The girls came from the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and the U.S. They toured the nation’s capital, spent time with host families, shadowed local companies and are taking technology classes from Tech faculty.
Dana Pittman, senior vice president of talent strategies and human resources for IT services company 1901 Group, said she jumped at the opportunity to host a handful of students today. They’re going to tour the company’s Blacksburg office, talk to employees and executives.
1901 Group hopes to show the girls what technology jobs really look like, and empower them to know there is a place for them in those careers.
“I’ve seen this in the industry for many years. There are still too few women,” Pittman said. “We want to be able to inspire and engage women through programs like TechGirls.”
This year’s classroom time, which wraps up at the end of July, focuses on cybersecurity and the Java programming language.
Akramkhanova said she and her classmates may come from different countries with different cultures. And some are religious; some are not. But she said they’ve found commonalities in their commitment to pursue technology — no matter what.
“I feel for some people it was more brave than for others to come here and prove that girls can do what they like,” Akramkhanova said.
The TechGirls program is put on by the federal government, with Legacy International running the day-to-day operations.
It’s a competitive program. Students have to be nominated and then chosen from hundreds that apply from each country. It’s free for those selected.
The program is an offshoot of TechWomen, a similar program for adults launched by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. TechGirls launched in 2012 in order to try to inspire interest in the field at a younger age.
The girls’ days begin with breakfast each morning and then classes from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
After class, Sulekha Kishore, 16, of Los Angeles, said they play volleyball, take walks and hang out on Tech’s campus.
Her favorite activity has been the cultural presentations, when students teach each other about the countries they call home. They dress up and sing and dance, Kishore said.
“Even though we have different backgrounds, we know the same things because technology is universal now,” she said.