Intrapreneurship with Stephanie Su

Stephanie Su is a 17-year-old rising senior from the Bay Area. She is the Lead Director of Superposition. Superposition is an international non-profit bridging the gender gap in STEM. Their mission is to empower women in STEM by creating educational opportunities and supportive environments in which they can develop their passions. Every year, they host the Bay Area's largest all-women and non-binary hackathon.

This February, they hosted 220 attendees at Uber HQ in San Francisco. Recently, they've expanded beyond a 24-hour hackathon to provide year-round opportunities for the community, such as a virtual webinar series and chapter program. With their events, content, and 23 chapters, they've reached 60,000+ individuals in 51+ countries.

What is it like organizing a hackathon that big? What are the different components? How long does it take?

Organizing Superposition IV was the largest task I've ever undertaken. Though the event was scheduled for the end of February, we started organizing late September, and even then, we should've started earlier. Similar to most high school hackathons, we had 4 teams: operations, sponsorship, outreach, and tech. Operations comprised the backbone of the event, like securing a venue, recruiting adult volunteers, sourcing prizes, creating the schedule, and most on-site logistics. Outreach was in charge of all things attendee-related: recruiting attendees, managing registration forms, and our ambassador program. Sponsorship secured funding and in-kind donations from companies, and Tech developed our website from scratch. I strongly believe an effective Lead Director should be able to fulfill the tasks of every team member, should one of them be unavailable one week. As such, I did a little bit of work for every time each week but was most hands-on for Operations and Outreach.

In the beginning, the biggest road-block is securing a venue. Once a venue is set, you're at least 50% of the way there. The next biggest challenge is securing enough funding. Given the extreme oversaturation of hackathons in the Bay Area, sponsorship was especially tough this year. As the date drew closer, I became more and more concerned about whether we'd be able to fund everything. After our venue was secured, our operations ramped up even more. Attendee applications were up, sponsorship was able to leverage our partnership with Uber, and operations began recruiting volunteers.

During January and February, I'd taken a huge workload on my own back, sleeping less than 6 hours every night, and less than 3 the week before. Even if I'd finished my work for the day early, I began working ahead so I could average the same amount of sleep, rather than getting 8 hours one and 3 the next.

The on-site logistics were also a challenge. We'd never dealt with hundreds of people under a single roof before, and our opening and closing ceremonies were rocky.

Overall, we were still able to deliver a positive attendee experience, which was our main priority.

Why is it important to get more women and minorities involved in high impact fields like tech? What does it mean for the world if we don’t have gender diversity?

Technology is truly driving our future. It's the reason why we can access millennia of information at the click of a button, and why we can connect with each other across once-insurmountable geographical distances.

As brilliant as technology can be, it is specially developed to serve those who created it, who for now, are typically men. Without taking the female perspective into consideration, we decrease the accessibility of technology and the power for it to impact the entire global population.

Moreover, there is no biological reason why women are less inclined to pursue STEM fields, so the divide must be a product of their environment. From birth, activities are classified as traditionally "masculine" and "feminine," so girls are more likely to be discouraged from pursuing subjects like STEM from early on. However, no one should ever feel discouraged from their passions for any factor outside of their control. It's time to bring more girls into STEM, and let them know that they belong.

Does anyone really need to be a founder in order to create something really impactful?

You certainly don't need to be a founder to create impact. Among high school students, I've noticed such an eagerness to have the title of "founder," even if the initiative contributes nothing new to their cause.

Founding an impactful initiative requires a demonstrated need. For example, I am, by all means, an advocate for more women in STEM, but I've seen too many organizations promoting women in STEM, without doing much to differentiate from one another. At that point, it can be even more impactful to join an existing organization and contribute your expertise, rather than compete for resources or an audience.

Within the organization, you can bring revolutionary ideas, and build upon their past experience. This dramatically increases the probability of genuinely contributing to the cause, because you have much less heavy-lifting to do yourself.

How can people start thinking entrepreneurially in order to grow and improve existing organizations? What has your experience been with taking Superposition into a new direction?

The most important step is making a detailed assessment of the existing organization, inside and out. Understand every program they're implementing, how they're interacting with their audience, how the team works together, what they aren't doing, and so much more. One technique I especially appreciate is the SWOT analysis-- strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You can use your internal strengths to take advantage of your opportunities and minimize your threats. You can also take steps to counteract your weaknesses so they don't amplify your threats. One question I like to ask is, I'm in a great place right now, but how can I take this to the next level? I'm all about creating more impact, so usually what I think about is how I can bring my mission to as many people as possible.

With Superposition, I always knew I wanted to do more. In December, I realized that all of my months of work would be going into 24 hours only. Much like with a motivational speech, I didn't want our attendees to feel empowered for one day and lose that same spirit the next.

thought female empowerment doesn't stop after 24 hours, and neither should Superposition.

In March, I didn't have the clearest idea of what I wanted Superposition to look like, but I knew I wanted to start off with a workshop series. Given my experience working with everyone for our hackathon, I condensed our team into 4 members, so that everyone would have a higher level of responsibility.

The reception to our expansion has been entirely positive (if anyone had something negative to say, I haven't heard it). With our expansion, I've been able to actively encourage more girls into STEM from around the world, reaching farther than we ever could've with our hackathon. Through our new content and webinar series, we've been able to reach thousands of girls in over 38 countries. Now, we're piloting several new programs, including a chapter program, a mentorship program, and a summer class for middle school students.

What does it mean to be a good leader? What does it mean to be a good team member?

Great leaders and team members have a lot of qualities in common: being proactive, having effective communication, and being passionate about the cause. What differentiates leaders and members for me is that leaders generate new ideas and pilot their own programs, whereas team members work hard on the programs that already exist.

What is the process of organizing a successful workshop?

The process is actually fairly simple! For our workshops, we go on LinkedIn or we reach out to our network to find someone who is a good fit for Superposition. We often rely on cold-emailing and we suggest several topics the speaker might be interested in. Then, we finalize the workshop date, time, topic, and summary, and then we start promoting! Successful workshops often have high turnout, so we invest a lot of energy into promotion.

What advice do you have for young people reaching out to professionals whether it's for a workshop collaboration or mentorship?

My advice is to personalize your message! People of any age love being recognized for their work, so let them know how much you appreciate their content, or why they'd be a fantastic fit for your initiative.

Also, make sure to be professional, and when following up with them, acknowledge that they're likely very busy and that it is okay if they're unable to respond.

Outside of Superposition, what are some other organizations you are involved with? What are some of your other interests, hobbies, and passions? Do you have any time management strategies that you use in order to help you balance everything?

My other main extracurricular is running Ad Astra Youth, a non-profit empowering youth to reach for the stars by fostering student initiatives. We mostly provide consultations and mentorship and have thus far consulted 52 organizations in 7 countries. This is one of my latest passion projects and was just founded in May 2020 during the pandemic.

I realized that I had value to provide to others, and really missed having a human connection.

My other activities include leading my school's Key Club, competing in varsity debate, and studying competitive math. I wouldn't say I have the strongest time management, but I try to carve out blocks of the day reserved for specific extracurricular activities. When determining my schedule, I often evaluate each activity's priority and urgency. I've also been getting in the habit of using Google Calendar!

What is your favorite thing about being part of generation Z?

My favorite part is that we're unafraid to challenge the norm. We often see so many inspiring Gen Z activists, and I believe it's because young people are often more receptive to new ideas, rather than the older generations that have lived for decades in the status quo.

What do you plan to study in college? What is your dream career?

In college, I plan on studying computer science with potentially a double major or minor in business.

I view CS as a way of solving a problem, and business as the way I can share it with the world. My dream career currently is product development.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why?

There are so many places I'd love to visit, but nowhere I've done enough research to want to live there. My top travel destinations so far are Iceland, France, and Singapore because of the beautiful scenery and tourist destinations.

Check out Superposition, Ad Astra Youth, and Project Create a Future!



Ad Astra Youth

Project Create a Future!