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Biomedical Engineer Implements Tech in Her Approach with All Star Code Students

Photo: Courtesy of Florian Olivo

Pryanka is our incredible program manager and has been at All Star Code since 2017. She holds a B.E. in Biomedical Engineering from The City College of New York and an MPH in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.

Pryanka Bawa

Programs Manager, All Star Code

Why did you choose to study Biomedical Engineering?

Simple! It’s a means of making the impossible possible for everyone. It’s the perfect intersection between technology and medicine; two fields I’ve been in awe of since I was 4 years old and saw my quadriplegic brother receive his first custom wheelchair.

Was there a moment that sparked your choice to study biomedical engineering?

My journey towards a Bachelor of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering began with my acceptance into the Center for Excellence in Youth Education at Mount Sinai Medical Center in 2007. Prior to that experience, and in line with stereotypical South Asian expectations, my path was headed towards medical school. It was through this program that I learned about the field of biomedical engineering, discovered how much I enjoyed lab research, and learned about the tremendous power of properly collected and analyzed data.

Given your background in STEM, how do you see yourself in the Scholars? In what ways are you inspired by our young men?

Each of our All Star Code Scholars has taken the initiative to be active drivers of their future paths. I can recall taking a similarly meticulous approach in researching programs, speaking with my teachers, attending open houses, and cross-referencing the best programs based on my interests and financial position. I see determination, drive, and passion in each of our Scholars, and that in turn continues to push me to make their experiences more robust.

What key takeaway from your STEM education that has stuck with you the most?

When I was working on my MedTech startup in college, I was told that if my idea takes jobs away from folks, it’s probably not a good idea. Technology should always be a means to job creation, not job limitations.

As a woman and as a person of color, why do you feel the need for diversity in tech?

Because representation, recognition, and perspective are important. As a South Asian woman, I am intimately aware of the lack of opportunities and stereotypes perpetuated by a patriarchal society where a woman is always supposed to be submissive to a man. We are proud to be daughters, sisters, and mothers, but that in no way should stop us from being doctors, engineers, physicists, or leaders of industry. Imagine how many remarkable women like Katherine Johnson are lost in the pages of history, waiting, until someone decides to reveal these Hidden Figures.

How does your background in biomedical engineering reflect on your work with All Star Code to ensure economic opportunity and empowerment for our brilliant Scholars?

I feel like I’ve always been a natural leader. Even in college, I always wanted to lift others around me, always signed up for mentoring opportunities, always looked for ways to be involved with the future of our world. I was personally never encouraged to pursue engineering — in fact, I still remember an admissions counselor telling me to choose something “simpler” than engineering. I clearly didn’t listen.

Unlike that admissions counselor, I want to challenge our Scholars because I see their potential. Engineering, and technology in general, is the future. Every single individual is capable of a career in tech, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Students shouldn’t have to worry about choosing the “wrong” race on a job application, or sharing their gender identity, or filling some kind of corporate diversity quota. They should only have to focus on their passion and perfecting their skills to the point where they’re always doing some kind of good for society. It’s great to do what you love, but even better to get highly compensated to do what you love.

How do you see yourself or your family in our Scholars? How does that drive or propel your work for All Star Code?

I’m the youngest of four children. One of my brothers is nine years older than me, and I’ve seen him create opportunities for himself and for others. He went to one of the “worst” high schools in New York City, and he still managed to make the most of that experience. So much so, that all our shelves and walls are filled with plaques and awards with his name on them.

I see my older brother in our students. I see passion, I see hope, I see potential, and I see our future. To this day, my brother tells me about specific teachers and administrators that helped him reach his professional goals. He’s told me about people who opened doors and pushed him to be more than he could ever imagine. I’m fortunate enough to be in that position today. I can help make our program a life-changing experience for our students, their parents, and their families. Every day, I try my best to approach conversations with warmth, good intentions, and courtesy; because those are the qualities embodied by individuals who created the opportunities my brother was able to take advantage of.

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