Melissa has been a member of Women & Hi Tech for just over a decade and is now a board member emeritus of the organization. She became an active member of the organization around 2011 with the Rolls-Royce corporate membership. After transitioning to Roche Diagnostics at the end of 2014, she was presented with the opportunity to apply to the Women & Hi Tech Board of Directors. Her biggest hope is that more women will take advantage of the organization’s programming and networking opportunities.
During her role as the K-12 Outreach Director, she spent numerous hours reaching external partners, growing their involvement, and getting Women & Hi Tech in front of the community at a variety of STEM events, such as the SEFI Celebrate Science exhibition. To support this increased community engagement, Lavella and her team were able to come up with a binary code activity to increase female representation in STEM. When asked about the details of the activity, Lavella said, “We created a sustainable STEM activity that involved making necklaces out of two different colored beads. The STEM element included using binary code to translate letters into various sequences of beads. It was a way to show our girls how computers translate letters into binary.”
Lavella’s impact on Women & Hi Tech and the STEM community extends beyond her role as Outreach Director from 2015 to 2018. As an engineer, Lavella believes that engineering allows for different perspectives across several industries. When asked about the impact of her role in the engineering field, she said, “Engineering’s presence in STEM is about representation and the opportunity for new and innovative ideas. We can’t all be engineers. It takes a variety of experiences to solve the problems that exist in STEM.” She continued to stay connected to the organization through her company, Roche. She was able to leverage engagement opportunities such as the Leading Light Awards to help launch an annual corporate sponsorship. She is most proud of the additional development and networking opportunities that women at her company have been able to experience due to the partnership. Specifically, Lavella is proud that many of the women at Roche have experienced a heightened sense of visibility due to involvement in Women & Hi Tech, which has led to more women learning about the organization as well getting involved in its programming and initiatives.
Of the questions that need answering in the STEM community, one that stands out the most to Lavella is How do we increase exposure for girls and families? “From the time I joined Women & Hi Tech board of directors in 2015 to now, a pivotal moment of change in the organization occurred when we updated our mission and vision statement” Lavella said “to be very clear about changing the landscape to make things more equitable in STEM. It’s not just enough to expose more women to STEM. It’s also about changing the rules of the game to create a more equitable scenario for all, especially those who are underrepresented.”
Because groups like Women & Hi Tech are focused on diversifying STEM talent, Indianapolis has grown its reputation as a tech city. There are great universities that are intentional about keeping talent in the state, and because of the amount of effort put into this growing industry, more students and youth are getting involved in the field. “As an organization, we have become more intentional about getting women and women of color in the forefront of STEM. We built enough confidence to be more radical. We are not afraid to be bold in our pursuit of equity in the STEM community. Twenty years from now, I hope that keeping our small knit community feeling within Women & Hi Tech is our biggest challenge, because we have grown so much with additional members and supporters. I also hope that Central Indiana continues to grow with STEM opportunities that create significant movement for women and other marginalized groups.”