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LGBTQ+ Contributions to STEM

June 30, 2021

To conclude Pride Month, Capitol Tech is wrapping up our series on influential LGBTQ+ figures in STEM with a summarized compilation of just a few of the contributions the members of the LBGTQ+ community have made to science, technology, engineering, math, and beyond. This post highlights only a handful of inspiring individuals who have made their mark in the STEM field.


Cj Giovingo

On February 18, 2021, Cj Giovingo watched the Mars Rover successfully navigate an entry descent and land perfectly on the planet, having survived a trip of nearly 215 million miles. However, unlike nearly every other person on the planet, Cj watched the landing from the control room where they witnessed the success of a mission six years in the making.

As a systems engineer and part of the Entry, Descent, and Landing Team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Giovingo had a personal stake in the Rover’s success. In 2016, as part of the Lesbians Who Tech Summit, they spoke about the mission as well their non-traditional path to becoming a systems engineer on such an important mission.

In addition to their work at JPL, they are on the board of an organization called Out for Undergrad, a national non-profit to help high-achieving LGBTQ+ students by putting on industry-specific conferences.

Cj graduated from Capitol Tech in 2014 with a bachelor’s in aeronautical engineering. If you want to learn more about Cj, read the two-part Capitology blog interview series.

 

Leanne Pittsford

Leanne Pittsford is the founder and CEO of Lesbians Who Tech (LWT), a “community of LGBTQ women, non-binary and trans individuals in and around tech (and the people who support them),” as the organization’s website describes.

Pittsford founded the organization in 2012 and since then it has grown to a community of 70,000 with representation from over 100 countries world-wide. The LWT website shares that their virtual summits in 2020 featured over 40,000 participants making it not only the largest LGBTQ professional event, but also the largest global event for women in tech.

In addition to LWT, Pittsford launched include.io, a mentoring and recruiting platform for underrepresented technologists and recruiters, and Tech Jobs Tour, to help diverse and non-traditional talent connect to the tech companies with job openings.

 

Megan Smith

As if being vice president of Google wasn’t enough of a challenge, Megan Smith became the first woman named United States Chief Technology Officer. Named to the position by Barack Obama in 2014, Smith organized initiatives such as Tech Hire, which focused on expanding tech skills in rural communities, and Computer Science for All, which expanded computer science training in elementary through high schools.

While at Google, Smith worked on new business development and later acquisitions such as Google Earth, Google Maps, and Picasa. Prior to her time at Google, she “served as CEO of PlanetOut, a leading LGBT online community in the early days of the web, where the team broke through many barriers and partnered closely with AOL, Yahoo!, MSN, and other major web players,” states her White House staff page.

After her work at for the government ended, Smith founded shift7, a company working on solution-making through technology to solve systemic economic, social, and environmental challenges. She is also a co-founder of the Malala Fund.

Smith holds a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from MIT, where she completed her master’s thesis work at the MIT Media Lab.

 

Caitlin Kalinowski

If you are one of the many people obsessed with the Oculus line of products, you have Caitlin Kalinowski to thank.

As the head of virtual reality (VR) hardware at Facebook, “Caitlin’s team is responsible for the product design and integration of the Oculus Quest, Oculus Go, and Oculus Rift S, as well as the Oculus Link cable,” says her website. She also led the mechanical engineering team that shipped the original Oculus Rift and Touch controllers and worked on the Mac Pro, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro.

Kalinowski is on the strategic board of Lesbians Who Tech and has a passion for increasing the number of women and minorities in both technology and design.

In a blog post from April, Kalinowski wrote that, “Progress is being made, but there is still so much more to be done to level the playing field and ensure that more girls, particularly girls of color, are given the skills and confidence early in their education to succeed in math and science.”

Kalinowski holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford.

For even more fascinating stories, read Fast Company’s Queer 50 for 2020 and Fast Company’s Queer 50 for 2021, the first-ever list of LGBTQ women and non-binary innovators in business and tech.