Holly Nguyen

Women in STEM: Pursuit of a Light Bulb Moment

By: Holly Nguyen
Olympus Fellow, Littleton, MA

Throughout my life, I have always chased after the “light bulb” moment: the clarity, understanding, excitement and pride you feel when you suddenly realize how to make your code work. I have always preferred STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects as they challenge my logic, and problem-solving skills. Whether it was in Montessori elementary school choosing to do long division instead of a book report, or in high school when I joined the FIRST Robotics team, I have always been encouraged to explore the world of innovation. 

Young Girl Studying

As a young woman of petite stature —with a hobby list that does not include video games or assembling computers for fun— I do not fit the stereotypical mold of a Computer Science major. I was fairly immune to the fact that my chosen education path and career were in a predominantly male-dominated field; for me, this was not a barrier but, rather, a motivator. I wanted to prove to myself that I could be successful in the field I chose and that any success achieved was based on merit and hard work. My family as well as my Robotics coach and mentors, were my role models and biggest advocates, ultimately helping me decide to pursue a major in Computer Science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).

My goal was to excel in collegiate academics, but then what? Meeting a high academic bar was a broad and general measure of accomplishment but how would getting A’s help me figure out what I wanted my career to look like? From WPI’s unique, interdisciplinary, project-based curriculum

and my service-focused extracurricular activities grew an unexpected desire to work in an industry that makes people’s lives better. Technology, particularly software or computer science industries, is often associated with innovation and advancement, but not as much with improving people’s health and well-being. I wanted to have a direct impact. Throughout graduate school at WPI, I was able to do this by using machine learning in the context of managing chronic wounds. The project explored ways to provide automatic, actionable decisions that would support caregivers in understanding whether a wound was healing, required a consultation for treatment change, or needed immediate specialist care.

In May 2019, after five years at WPI and armed with a BS and MS in Computer Science, I embarked on the journey to find my first full-time job. I knew I wanted to find a company that would allow me to use and develop my technical skills while also contributing to an industry that truly makes people’s lives better. While there were other opportunities, Olympus provided the perfect platform to combine these passions. Beginning as a software engineer, I focused on exploring innovative, AI-enabled solutions for the Surgical Integration business. I was motivated by the idea that these solutions had the potential to make a positive impact in improving workflow efficiency, reducing clinician frustration, and enabling a more automatic process to capture medical videos, images, and data. Surrounded by a hard-working, values-centric community, I am excited to play a role in a company that makes significant, daily contributions to the medical industry.

Technology is evolving at the speed of light. Computer science is the

Senior thesis at WPI

linchpin of a world where AI and technology are components of the engine that fuels innovation. In contrast with an increasingly cautious public perception and approach, AI is already being widely adopted and embedded in many systems. The democratization of AI begs the question: how do we align the quickly advancing technology with the biggest needs in the medical industry in an ethical and responsible way? Answering this question on a global scale would be akin to a “light bulb” moment in the medical industry. I think the future will show how AI can be a trusted technological partner – the extra set of artificial eyes during a procedure, the brains behind improving operating room efficiency, the infrastructure supporting medical collaboration and learning platforms, and the key to solutions for the greatest health challenges we face worldwide.

As I move forward in my career, I hope to be a role model for aspiring computer scientists or software engineers. We may not all fit the mold at first glance, but perseverance, a willingness to learn, and a dedication to making people’s lives better will inevitably provide value in evolving STEM fields.


Holly delivering a presentation Holly and Olympus Fellows Holly and Olympus Fellows
Holly delivering a presentation Holly and Olympus Fellows Holly and Olympus Fellows
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