Sulakshana Sreeram, WiDS Ambassador in Hyderabad, Brings WiDS Education Outreach to Public High School Girls in India
Tell us about your background.
I was born and brought up in Hyderabad, India in a South Indian family where every second person is either a doctor or an engineer. I broke the tradition and pursued an MBA in HR. My specialization in HR has exposed me to management theory combined with direct engagement with people, practices, and environments. I also studied Indian classical dance for 10 years. It is believed that practicing Kuchipudi or any Indian classical dance form can help reduce the anxiety and depression. It’s been a very long time since I performed on stage, and I wish to start again sometime soon. I am also interested in music and I always wanted to play a musical instrument so started learning to play keyboard.
How did you get interested in data science?
I work for a group of institutions in the higher education space. It all started when my mentor Ravi Rajagopalan told me about the WiDS conference and asked me to find out if it would help our students. I started reading about it and I was so fascinated to know what wonders data science could do. Since I am new to the field, I started reading the beginners guide on data science and became an ardent fan of the subject and was really amazed to learn how data makes our lives easier.
What are you currently working on?
Currently I am working on a project to find out what percentage of undergraduate students from rural India are travelling to different parts of the world to pursue their Masters’ degrees. This information is useful for my role as head of the international studies division in the Graduate Study Abroad Center (GSAC) that supports students who aspire to travel abroad for higher education. I’m analyzing the differences between male and female students, and the most popular higher education destinations for students in India.
How did you first discover WiDS?
I work for educational institutions that are affiliated with JNTU university in Hyderabad and we were discussing how to bring in new streams in engineering like AI, ML and data science. When I started doing my research, we came across the WiDS conference in Pune. My leadership asked me to learn about it, so I attended the conference and was thrilled to know that there is such a great platform promoting women who work in data science. It was so inspiring to know that there were so many women in the field of data science and other related areas doing awesome work. I immediately inquired and was delighted to know that a WiDS chapter had not yet started in Hyderabad. I applied to be WiDS Ambassador and here I am today, sharing my journey.
I learned so much about how data science is used in our everyday life. For example, as we shop on ecommerce sites every day, I never realized how things appear on my screen with my keywords. I never knew that all the predictions are made using data science tools and techniques.
Have you been involved with WiDS since that first experience?
The first experience at the WiDS Pune conference was so inspiring that I immediately wanted to be a part of WiDS community and do whatever I could to create awareness around the conference and data science. When I became the first ambassador for the WiDS Hyderabad chapter, I organized the first ever WiDS Hyderabad 2020 conference and it was a major success. Amazon hosted it for us and other organizations like Microsoft, Oracle, the Indian School of Business, and state governing bodies also came forward with support. About 600 people attended the conference that included job opportunities through the conference networking. I also travelled to Stanford University to attend the global WiDS 2020 conference.
I organized the second WiDS Hyderabad 2021 conference, which was virtual, sponsored by Novartis, Google, Gojek and many other companies. This year we also signed up for the WiDS Datathon in which participants from Hyderabad got 8th place. I also launched the WiDS Education Outreach program in our K-12 school. This was the first time in India and in a Vishnu public school, which is in the rural part of Andhra Pradesh. Sixty students in 10th and 11th grades registered for this program where students learned about data science for the first time.
How has WiDS made an impact on your life and/or work?
I am basically a camera-shy person. The WiDS opportunity has changed me and now I speak more confidently in conferences and or events in our institutions. I also got an opportunity to deliver a lightning talk at WiDS Mysore 2020. WiDS made me more confident and brought out the real me, as I stood there on the stage and introduced all those wonderful women and their work in data science. To get more familiar with the field, I also pursued a certification in data analytics for business operations from University of Colorado, Boulder through Coursera. This is just the beginning and I look forward to more learning and contributions to my community.
What comes next for you? And what are your hopes for women in data science in the future?
I have launched the WiDS Education Outreach program in our Vishnu public school, Bhimavaram, Andra Pradesh India. I have also facilitated a collaboration between the WiDS Education Outreach program and a government body in Hyderabad to drive this program for a cohort of 100 girls from across the country. I would like to take this program to government schools that lack such prestigious opportunities.