An Interview with Stephanie Su
ABOUT: This is an interview conducted by Ishita, one of new/gen’s outreach directors. Here, Ishita interviewed Stephanie Su, the lead of Superposition. Stephanie has been Superposition’s lead since Superposition IV. Ishita decided to conduct this interview because she wanted to highlight the work of a prominent advocate for girls in STEM as well as someone who is leading a very popular all womxn/non-binary hackathon in California’s Bay Area.
Ishita: Ok, to start us off, do you mind talking about how you got involved with Superposition?
Stephanie: In ninth grade, at my school, on the bulletin board, I saw an advertisement for an event called Superposition II, and it was the Bay Area’s largest all woman and non-binary hackathon; and when I saw the advertisement, I honestly didn’t think much of it at first, but I saw an opportunity to spend 24 hours in San Francisco completely free, away from my house, with free swag and everything, so I thought “Why not?”, and it ended up becoming one of the most empowering experiences I’ve ever had. Throughout my years in STEM, I was always the gender minority in the classroom, and it didn’t really feel like I belonged, and I always had to carve out a space for myself. However, when I went to Superposition, that was the first time I was put in an all female setting with all of these inspiring women in STEM, and that’s really what motivated me to get more involved with STEM and also pushed me to apply for Superposition III’s organizing team.
Ishita: Nice, that’s awesome, honestly. Yeah! So when you first became the Superposition lead, what were your initial goals for the organization, and have they changed since then?
Stephanie: Yeah, I became Superposition lead in August of 2019, so after one year on the organizing team and I had a couple of commandments when I stepped into my position. We were still just a hackathon at the time, so I thought of a couple things: 1) No Costco pizza! No matter how little budget we had, that was absolutely not going to happen, and 2) I wanted to prioritize the attending experience, because that’s really what the most important part was, getting girls into STEM and making them feel like they belonged, and not just competing for something, and 3) Topping the numbers from Superposition III, it’s kind of a long story but Superposition III ended up have 23 attendees, there were a whole host of complications, and the previous year we have 150, so you can see how big of a weight I was taking on in that role. So my goal was getting between 200-250 attendees, and ultimately we did hit that number. As for the goals and changing, during the course of organizing Superposition IV, in December, three months before Superposition IV, I realized that all of my work would be going to 24 hours only, and then I thought to myself, Female empowerment doesn’t stop after 24 hours, and neither should Superposition, so at that point, my goals changed from putting on the Bay Area’s greatest all woman hackathon to doing that in addition to having year round opportunities for community members, so that’s exactly what we’ve been working on right now.
Ishita: Nice, that’s awesome! And, kind of going off of this, where do you see yourself being in the future with what you’ve already accomplished?
Stephanie: With Superposition, I really hope to branch out our chapter system. So the reason why I wanted to create chapters is because at least 85% of our attendees were from the Bay Area, a very STEM oriented place, and there are a lot more places around the world that need more STEM outreach opportunities. So we couldn’t bring everybody to San Francisco, but we could bring our power and experience to them, and now we have 24 chapters across for countries, and by the end of the year, I want to get at least 40 chapters, and that’s one of the main things I want to be able to be working on because having local outreach is probably a lot more effective than trying to reach the entire world from the comfort of the Bay Area, so that’s one of my biggest priorities. But another priority is branching out to younger ages. Our biggest demographic right now is high school and college girls, and most of the time, they’re already interested in STEM. But the problem with the gender gap is that a lot of students lose confidence in STEM as early as elementary school. So with our chapters, we’re encouraging them to work with K-8 students to close that divide and make sure that girls are interested in STEM early.
Ishita: Nice, that sounds awesome honestly. And then the next question is, has there been a moment when you were with Superposition where you thought that you wouldn’t be able to succeed and move forward with it? Like, were you ever in a rut?
Stephanie: Yeah, absolutely. So in the months of November and December, I was absolutely panicking. So the lead director passed on the position to me, and it was already fairly late in the hackathon planning process. For reference, when I began on the organizing team, I started in the beginning of July. When I got handed the position, it was already the beginning of September. So we already lost two months, which was crucial because the biggest obstacle in hackathons is securing the venue. Once you secure the venue, sponsors know that you have an event that you’re actually going to put on, and then they give you money. In November, I was panicking because we didn’t have a venue, we had barely any money, and there was so much that we just needed to do that relied on other people that we just didn’t have. So at that point, I felt a little bit hopeless, but thankfully, our contacts pulled through, especially at Uber. Our point of contact was so helpful throughout the entire process, so even though our operations were delayed, it still ended up working out.
Ishita: Nice, so on the flip side of that, has there been a moment in Superposition history that has been the most memorable for you? Like, has there been any good points?
Stephanie: Yeah, it definitely happened during our hackathon. So the planning process took around five, six months, and at that point, everything I was doing for Superposition, I was sitting behind my laptop, I was sending countless emails, writing a bunch of documents. But seeing everyone come together in person and creating this space that I dreamed of was the most rewarding part. Of course, at the hackathon, there were ups and lots of lots of downs. To think that that team of 13 girls could bring over 220 girls together in celebrating our love of STEM was so powerful, and I’ve never been prouder of my work.
Ishita: Nice, and as a kind of follow up question to this, is there one project or moment during the actual hackathon that just really stands out to you?
Stephanie: Unfortunately, during the hackathon, I was so panicked that I didn’t actually talk to people that much. I was in our “War Room” trying to prepare for the next thing so our minute activity and our closing activity. I tried to take a break every few hours and walk through the main room and talk to people, and what I remember the most is the bright light and fire in their eyes when they’re talking about something they’re extremely passionate about and so excited. I thought that it was amazing that we were able to make this space for girls from all over the Bay Area to come together, meet new people, and create impactful projects.
Ishita: That’s awesome, honestly. I guess you can say that that’s one of the most memorable parts of it.
Stephanie: For sure!
Ishita: Yeah, so I guess this kind of ties into the previous questions, and so what would you say has been the most difficult part in planning the hackathon?
Stephanie: The most difficult part was hands down finding the venue and the sponsor. Luckily our operations team had a really good response rate and there were a lot of companies that were interested in hosting us. However, there were companies like Adobe that could only accommodate 75 people, and we were trying to have a hackathon with 250, so that wasn’t working out for us. So, so many companies were interested in hosting us, but in order to meet our goal of being the Bay Area’s largest hackathon, we had to wait for the perfect venue, and that ended up being Uber, because they could accommodate around 250 girls. The other complication came after that, realizing that we have this huge venue set, but we also don’t have the money to pay for all of these people to be here, so I was really stressed and pushed on our sponsorship team a lot at the end of December and the beginning of January because we had half of the budget we needed, and I also acknowledged that if there was a budget deficit, my parents would have to cover it. They were willing to do that, but of course, that wasn’t something that I wanted to do.
Ishita: Nice. Yeah, I can’t imagine what you must have been thinking during that time, honestly.
Stephanie: Yeah, for sure.
Ishita: So the last question I have written down is, what advice about what people should do if they’re planning on founding or leading an organization, what would you say is the best advice?
Stephanie: My best advice is knowing why you’re passionate about it. Right now, we see students founding organizations left and right, but it’s not for the passion, or the passion is a side effect, but in the name of resume building or trying to appeal to colleges. That’s how non-profit organizations become less impactful, because they’re not driven by passion. So just understand your story behind starting this organization and don’t be afraid to just go out and do it because nobody’s holding you back. There’s this quote that I really like, “The best time to start was yesterday, and the second best time is today”. So just don’t wait for anything, and just let your passion drive you.
Ishita: Thank you so much! So that’s awesome advice, and it’s something for people to think about, and it’s coming from someone who’s very experienced in leading an organization, it definitely should be taken into the future. Thank you so much for joining me today for this interview, I know it was really short but I’m really glad to have been able to talk to you about your work with Superposition.
Stephanie: Of course, thank you so much for the opportunity, and I love doing interviews like this because I also get to remind myself why I’m passionate about it, so hopefully we got some good material out of this, and I can’t wait to see what comes out!
Ishita: Thank you! See you!
Stephanie: See you!
Photo Credits: superposition.tech