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Tanisha Bassam, left, and Ayleen Farnood are photographed at the Microsoft Technology Centre at the Microsoft HQ in Mississauga on March 5, 2019.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The last 10 years have seen more breakthroughs in science and technology than the previous 100 years combined. We believe the next 10 years will be even more revolutionary. But, for that to happen, our generation (Gen Z) needs to be equipped with the tools and information required to succeed, and, most importantly, we need to see more of our peers, especially girls, pursuing STEM learning to prepare for the future.

Currently, five times as many men as women graduate with a degree in a STEM field. This is simply unacceptable. As we look to the future, there are huge problems that need our attention. For us, the most pressing challenge is climate change, which is very real and very scary. However, we are optimistic that we can change the world, and that the only way this can happen is with the right education and mentorship. Our generation needs leaders who have different perspectives and can leverage technology to help make the world a better place. We need to learn inside and outside the classroom about the emerging technologies that will affect everyone’s lives.

So, where does one start? While the classroom and the internet are great resources for learning, for us, the real magic has happened through mentoring. The Knowledge Society (TKS) is an incredible organization that exposes young students, including us, to emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, quantum computing and nanotech, and has given us the tools and guidance to learn, build and create in these fields. We have been truly inspired by what we learned through TKS’s mentorship programs. More business leaders need to support young people’s curiosity and enthusiasm for learning.

For me, Tanisha, after joining TKS, I was fully emerged in an environment that encouraged my exploration of science and technology and I found my passion in quantum computing. With mentorship from TKS founders Navid Nathoo and Nadeem Nathoo, I started my journey as a young developer. I learned that building projects was the best way for me to acquire knowledge. After I attended my first quantum-computing hackathon, I learned to use open-source quantum software, where I built a quantum game, simulated error-correction, and won the CES 2019 Young Innovators to Watch award for my project in quantum machine learning. The mentors and industry leaders I have met have helped me in my journey to forge my own path in the technology industry, regardless of my age. When I am able to build tangible things, I am free to be creative and to take my education into my own hands.

And for me, Ayleen, ever since I was little, I’ve been passionate about learning. This curiosity sparked my interest in STEM, and it was this curiosity that eventually caused me to study science, math and programming. After joining TKS, I became interested in brain-machine interfaces and studied how we could use this technology to help solve real-world issues. I created a program that allows users to spell out words by blinking, which can be used for people with speech impairments. I’ve also recently developed virtual-reality games and researched ways in which we can use this technology to help combat memory loss. It was my passion for learning and challenges that allowed me to build these projects.

We have both always been passionate learners and that passion has grown thanks to these incredible experiences. This past summer, Microsoft partnered with TKS and we had the opportunity to intern at the Microsoft Canada headquarters. This allowed both of us to get real-world experience and to learn in unconventional ways. In seven weeks, we helped to build a machine-learning model for predicting high-potential customers of Azure (Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform) and created a chatbot to answer frequently asked questions related to finance, which Microsoft employees continue to use across the organization. We also learned the business side of the conversation, and we were encouraged to share our perspectives and were recognized for our contributions.

Microsoft pushed the boundaries of experiential education by seeing the value of having high school interns. We learned very quickly about how Microsoft values a “learn-it-all culture,” in that they encourage questions, continuous education and always recommend employees pursue mentoring. Microsoft empowered us to be curious, helping us to understand our role as tomorrow’s leaders and how science and technology will help get us there.

While we are both extremely lucky to have been exposed to STEM from a young age, this isn’t the case for the majority of students. A study performed by Microsoft in 2018 found that only 37 per cent of girls believed careers in STEM would give them the potential to help the world. This shockingly low number, especially given the pace of technology, is not acceptable. So, how do we increase the number of women in STEM? How do we empower young girls and get them excited about technologies that will ultimately dictate our futures?

The answer lies in encouraging girls to see each challenge as a new opportunity. If you’re the only girl in the room, take this as a chance to lead. If you face judgement from others, push through it and continue to forge your own path. By setting an example for everyone else, not only will you benefit, but you can also inspire other young girls to pursue careers in STEM. And to current leaders, we challenge you to think differently, be curious and support and mentor young people as they embark on their education and career paths. Together, we will change the world.

This article is one in a series being published during the week of International Women’s Day.