Women STEM students deliver solutions with NATO Innovation Hub
Exploiting data can offer key advantages, but requires specialized skills and tools. The NATO Innovation Hub (IH) is exploring the topic with a team of four young Data Scientist women.
The four STEM students, from three different universities, are pursuing a remote internship at the NATO Innovation Hub. Their goal is to develop professional aptitude, strengthen personal character, and be offered new opportunities. They think that “by investing in internships, you'll give yourself the broadest spectrum of opportunities. Participating in internships can be a great way to get a taste of the actual professional experience in a particular field before you commit yourself truly to it.”
The goal of this IH Data project is to identify potential contributors to the IH initiatives. This is addressed leveraging data science applied to open source information. While supporting NATO, the team members are also advancing their professional skills in applied science, problem solving, team work, management, and leadership. These essential skills, practiced in a professional environment, will provide them with a head-start on the job market, especially those aiming to become managers.
Having an all women project team is not rare at the Innovation Hub. Women are well represented at the IH and achieving gender parity might become possible over time.
Meet the team
Lirika Sola is a recent computer science graduate from the American College of Thessaloniki. She decided to take a gap year before pursuing her graduate studies in order to acquire professional experience. Besides other open sources projects, this brought her into the NATO IH data project. The objective is to develop an automated solution for the recruitment of IH's community members. Concluding that the existing recruitment process was tedious and time consuming, the managers of the IH were looking for new ways through which the process could be less manual and more efficient. The team first decided to analyze already existing datasets and records of IH community members, collected throughout the years, to find out which prevalent categories were more likely to collaborate with IH. These insights would then be applied towards a series of project topics that the IH will be working on in the future. Lirika says that it is quite easy to coordinate the work between the team members. Many brainstorming meetings were held to develop the project plan. Then each team member selected the social network/research domain of their choice and started developing the scripts separately. According to Lirka, the tool that they developed makes scraping information from different websites and social media easier. The information of relevant users is saved into csv files and then displayed through a simple website that could filter the information on the basis of given keywords. She focused on finding information from Google Scholar. While the tools and environment used were very familiar to Lirika, the entire process of web-scraping was entirely new, and she is pleased that she got the opportunity to enhance her knowledge and expertise while working on creating a useful tool.
Maria Demiri is a Computer Science graduate from Lancaster University. She likes coding, listening to music, reading, working out, playing badminton and hanging out with friends. Following her 3-year degree in Computer Science she found the golden opportunity to become intern in the NATO IH Data project. Working with some very talented and hardworking ladies, she completed the first phase of the project. As Data Science intern, Maria’s job consists in creating a program that will ease-up the data gathering process from diverse social media platforms which are; GitHub, Google Scholar and LinkedIn. Within the team, Maria focuses on data from LinkedIn. Her objective is, taking the “field of expertise” as a key word, to identify the relevant profiles. The result of their project will be later used by IH to engage with those potential contributors.
Thanks to this project, Maria had the opportunity to establish very good connections with talented and passionate people working within the organization. Working for NATO is one of the best experiences for Maria and she is pleased contribute her part to the project.
Silva Bashari is enrolled in a MA in Data Science and Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin,Italy. Silva’s main objective is to support and organize events which aim to empower and inspire the participation of Women in Tech and STEM. In 2019 already, Silva organized a conference named " WOMEN IN TECH" located at the Tirana Center of Technology. In 2020 she organized, at the Canadian Institute of Technology, a month-long project to introduce high-school girls to computer science through programming training and engagements with successful women in this field. In March 2021, with the Mediterranean University of Albania and the Wikimedians of Albanian Language User Group, she organized a 3-days long editathon, to feed Wikipedia with articles related to famous women in STEM. This initiative contributed to increase the visibility of Albanian STEM women within the local and global community.
Danjela Lura comes from Tirana, Albania. She is currently majoring in Computer Science at the American College of Thessaloniki. In the process of finding individuals who would be willing to collaborate with the IH and with the objective of enhancing the NATO Innovation Hub community, Danjela was involved in many tasks such as; extracting user data through the utilization of the GitHub, performing data manipulation operations to bring the data in the desired format, building a user friendly server side search functionality, and to containerizing the search functionality for its deployment on the IH servers. To ensure quality of the end result, the group initially worked with technologies that they were already familiar with. However, they then stepped out of their comfort zone and learned to leverage tools that they were not familiar with. This allowed the team to practice new methods that added up to their existing skills. Danjela perceives the internship as a very valuable opportunity to exploit and demonstrate her expertise while developing new skills.
The NATO Innovation Hub seeks high diversity in its community, and within each project team. This is a key factor to enhance innovation. From day one, IH was developed as an environment attractive to members who are not the stereotypical NATO staff. Thus, IH is constantly recruiting from minorities, such as STEM women. Another IH objective is that women get more responsibility within projects and the structure of the Hub; hence, it is aiming at gender parity within the workplace. In this respect, the short supply of women in uniform is compensated thanks to the contribution of many women from the academic sector.