Pageantry gave me the confidence to take a plunge into the STEM field!

Technology Consultant at Accenture, multiple pageants title holder, and the founder of LibearatEDSujita Basnet is not your average millennial. Sujita is passionate about empowering youths. She uses pageantry and her organization LibearatED to uplift and empower youths from under resourced communities.

Sujita was raised by a single mother in a low-income and immigrant household. Her aim since her childhood was to find financial freedom. This year Sujita purchased her first home and is a proud homeowner under 30. She describes her journey of being a homeowner as one of the accomplishments that she is the most proud of.

“One recent accomplishment that I am most proud of is being a homeowner. This year I purchased my first home, and being a homeowner under 30 feels great! It’s not the fact that I can brag about it, for me it’s the journey itself that makes me proud.

As a daughter of an immigrant, single mom, until the day I got my first paycheck I was raised in a low-income household. My aim in life was to find financial freedom. I never desired lavish things growing up, but I always dreamed of being an educated woman who has a house of her own. Today the many hours of sweat and tears I put into getting through high school, college and paying off my student debt post graduation has finally paid off. I have reached a milestone in my life that I thought was out of my imagination. Now that I am financially stable, I can wholeheartedly pursue my other passions.”

Sujita’s interest in coding and web design started when she was in high school. However, as she grew up she noticed that people around her would always undermine her knowledge of technology and many of her conversations would be directed towards more “feminine” topics. This experience challenged and motivated her to pursue a STEM degree. “I wanted to have the knowledge to hold conversations around technology with people from all walks of life, to awe the general public that women too can hold these conversations,” says Sujita. She is also very passionate about sustainable development and believes that no matter the sector (health, finance, education) having a good understanding of how technology can be leveraged is a key component of the “sustainable” aspect of development work.

Sujita is also actively involved in pageantry and shares that getting into pageantry allowed her to embrace her insecurities. She recalls how she did not understand pageantry and thought it to be a stage only for models and actresses to advance in their careers until 2011. In 2011 she participated in and won Miss Nepal US, which helped her understand the value of pageantry as a platform that empowers women to find their voice.

“After blindly auditioning for a pageant, and then ending up winning that pageant (Miss Nepal US), I was immediately thrown into the reign. With that year of reign I truly understood the power of the pageantry. I came out a refined version of myself. I was confident, I was a public speaker, I was a leader, I was a voice for the youth and an ambassador for Nepal. “

Sujita thinks that the general views surrounding pageantry is partly because of how pageant organizers themselves fail at portraying the wholesome pageant experience. She wishes to showcase the true value of what a woman can gain from partaking in a pageant. “My passion for continuing pageantry is to bring acceptance of pageantry in our society,” says Sujita. “In many Nepalese households, unconsciously, young boys are raised to have so much self-confidence, while young girls are raised to become the perfect wife or daughter-in-law. Processing all of the comments and actions of society, women grow up to lack a certain degree of self-confidence that men tend to project. I think pageant platforms empower women to find their voice, to find their inner confidence that society often tends to crush,” she adds.

“To answer how this aligns with my career in STEM, the same logic. Women often feel insecure in pursuing a technical field. Weather that’s because of the industry being male dominated or because of the lack of self-confidence. Getting into pageantry as I was finding myself allowed me to embrace all my insecurities and take a plunge into the STEM field.”

Sujita also founded and is leading LiberatED, an organization that supports and empowers the youths from under resourced backgrounds. In 2013, she spent her summer in western Terai region of Nepal as a part of her fellowship with the Advocacy Project. During her time in western Terai she saw the life that kids there endure as a result of modern day slavery. A life where their voices are stripped from them. Shortly after Sujita founded LiberatED to give these kids and others alike their voices. She is using her experiences she accumulated in her journey as a pageant title holder, Advocacy Project fellow, and woman in tech to support youths through her organization. With LiberatED, she is working to set the ground to bring about change not just on an individual level but on the national level as well, all while working full-time at Accenture.

“At LiberatED, we understand that to liberate these kids and give them their voices, change will take much time. But we also believe in the power of an individual. We believe that if we can find one advocate within these disadvantaged communities, we can groom that individual with higher education and leadership training to be the voice of change for their community. To be the voice that can slowly fuel the cycle of change in their family to their community, to the nation to eventually the law. “

One thing Sujita believes that she learned throughout journey is that genuinely accepting the innate characteristics of a woman goes a long way. She says, “Being successful in a career is not a superpower, it’s not something that comes with practice. It’s about having that natural level of compassion, grit, and holistic reasoning to bring valuable outcomes in the industry and society. “ She adds, “as women we are underrepresented in the STEM field. But science itself shows that the connection between the two hemispheres of a woman’s brain are more significant than those found in men, which means that the qualities of analysis, reasoning and multitasking are all innate to women. All characteristics that are very critical in being successful in the STEM field.“

The piece of advice I would give to women entering a STEM field is to be genuinely you. Success may come slow but those that hold a certain level of compassion, grit and holistic reasoning will always succeed in the long run.“

This article is written by Shreeya Singh Dhakal, the Founder and Co-Advisor of Nepali Women in Computing.