Women are severely under-represented in science and technology professions in Connecticut and across the nation. Each year, the Connecticut Technology Council aims to highlight the work of women who ARE making it in those fields, with its Women of Innovation Awards. WNPR’s Sarah Miner went along.

Deirdre Arcand is sophomore at Mercy High School in Middletown. She says even in her generation she still sometimes finds she’s a gender pioneer.

“It’s definitely empowering as a girl to go to a competition and be able to be up there with all these boys… And to make a better robot than some of them do!”

Arcand is a part of the Mercy Tech Tigers – an all girls robotics team associated with FIRST. They’re one of two all girls teams in the state. Arcand had this message at the Women of Innovation Awards:

“It doesn’t matter what gender you are – you can achieve whatever you want.”

The event celebrated innovation in many different spheres. Jyl Camhi owns Great Play in Stamford, Connecticut– an interactive gym for children that helps develop motor skills, fitness and coordination.

“To me, it’s very important for children to live an active lifestyle.”

At the gym’s Interactive Arena, kids are mentally and physically engaged by eight projectors, a directional sound system and over a dozen sensing systems that make for a very real experience. As a small business owner, Camhi says hard work is at the root of innovation.

“Hard work first of al of course!. And I think just being creative and trying to come up with new and different ways to do things. You get separated from other people by the amount of effort and focus you give to any project you do and that turns into innovation and creativity.”

It wasn’t just business owners who were honored. Deb Santy is the Director of the Small Business Innovation Research office at Connecticut Innovations, she won an award for her dedication to nurturing small businesses, because as Santy says,

“That’s where great things happen.”

Santy also emphasized the importance of developing connections for both large and small businesses.

“These small guys need to be working with those big guys, because those guys don’t have huge research and development labs anymore. They really do open innovation, which means that they’re big and they’ve got some really, really, really smart people working in their companies, but they’re always are looking to partner with other really, really smart people that could be anywhere in the world. So my goal is to make sure they look at Connecticut first, and match them up.”

“We all know it takes a village to raise a company.”

That’s Matthew Nemerson, President and CEO of the Connecticut Technology Council, which organizes the awards.

“And women have known that and have these networks and that’s one of the reasons that as they get more prominence in big corporations, the corporations actually find that their innovation and their connections within the company are better.”

This year, 53 women were nominated as finalists for the Women of Innovation Awards and although there were only 12 winners, each has made a impact in the fields of science and technology. Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman:

“These women have broken through the glass ceiling. And not only have they broken through it – they are keeping it open for other women to come through.”

Wyman says it’s essential for the winners to know that the state is supporting them.

“Anybody that can create jobs, we want people to stay here and understand that government wants you her. We want you in this state – we need you to stay here. Bring your talents here and we’ll welcome it.”

This awards program has honored hundreds of innovative women over the years, and the organizers say they hope that’s helped to promote women in careers in science, technology, engineering and math throughout the state.

For WNPR, I’m Sarah Miner.