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Illuminate x Durham: An Eye-Opening Experience!

Hi everyone! My name is Ioana Paun and I am a Grade 10 student at Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute. Today, I had the amazing opportunity to attend Illuminate x Durham’s regional conference where incredible women in STEM and Leadership explained their hardships and successes. With that said, I would love to highlight what I learned from these exceptional women in STEM!


The day started off strong with the opening keynote speaker, Ilona Dougherty, giving a thoughtful, motivational speech about the future of young people. As the co-creator and managing director of the youth and innovation project at the University of Waterloo, Ilona's viewpoints were organized on trustworthy research. She proceeded to inform us of all the amazing abilities that we younger people have. Our whole life, we managed to use our potential to help out adults wherever possible until we can fully take on the responsibility of an adult. Now, when we reach an age of maturity and capability, adults still look down upon us. This is because they believe we aren’t fully developed yet to be taking on such tasks. Ilona Dougherty mentioned how social media portrays teenagers to be lazy, boring and unmotivated; it leads to adults thinking we aren’t yet developed. Most adults are stuck in the past and don’t like to accept change because young people are seen as an economic burden. Ilona’s words truly reached out to me as I have personally gone through a moment when my ideas weren’t valid to adults because their current ideas were “how it’s always been.” Ilona has made me look at life from a different perspective. She made me realized that we all have incredible abilities that we need to tap into in order to challenge the status quo, innovate, take more risks, respectfully make my voice heard and be brave to change what isn’t working. I am going to apply this learning to question authority, stay curious in the community, work with the integration of adults to gain experience and overall making sure adults see me and support who I am.




Thankfully, I had the pleasure of meeting Mackenzie Clark who works at Google as a software engineer in the Cloud Healthcare Team. She spoke from personal experience when informing us about Imposter Syndrome. I’ve learned that Imposter Syndrome is the feeling that when you succeed, you think you are a fraud because you don’t belong there or you think your success was founded on dumb luck. I’ve learned that 70-80% of people who reported feeling this way at one point were highly successful people, more often women than men, usually minority groups and college students. Mackenzie discussed that everyone should recognize that they have strengths. Some symptoms of Imposter Syndrome include high amounts of stress, lack of confidence and an adverse effect on aspiration. Overall, I learned that there will always be something that others can learn from you, and something that you can learn from others.

To overcome imposter syndrome, you need to stop comparing and talking down to yourself, focus on value and not perfection, incorporate power poses into your day and making a playlist to pump you up. I am very glad that Mackenzie spoke to us about this topic because it seems that the majority of people feel this way after leaving high school. I will take her advice and apply it to my life to learn to value my successes.

I also had the chance to meet Andrea Gunraj, the vice president of the Canadian Women’s Foundation. She talked about prioritizing people would lead to human rights and it should be praised. Some key points I learned from her presentation were to prioritize yourself, others and human rights. She discussed what it means to be a good leader by not only serving and helping others but to do the same with themselves. Something she said that stuck with me was:

"Let people challenge you and pass on those skills to make others learn as well."

What I most enjoyed about Illuminate x Durham’s conference had to be the case study presentations. The topic revolved around security concerns in digital healthcare. Although Team 6 did not win, I had a lot of fun explaining our case study and was shocked to see all of the outstanding solutions that other groups had come up with. Being the only group with three girls, I believe we did exceptionally well and I am very proud of all the time and hard work we put into our presentation.


This conference was an astonishing experience that allowed me to challenge my limits, become more confident in my abilities and learn about being a successful female leader in my community. I would like to thank Illuminate Universe for hosting this remarkable event!