For startup booster Harshita Girase, BS ’19, there’s no community without unity.
She may have traveled halfway around the world to study computer science at UB, but Girase made sure she didn’t do it alone. One of her not-so-secret superpowers is working well with people.
Personable and outgoing, Girase grew up with her parents and younger brother in the city of Pune—one of India’s major IT hubs. Despite being surrounded by the technology industry, Girase says she wasn’t sure what she wanted to study in college. Encouraged by both parents to pursue whatever she wanted, she eventually began enjoying her mandatory computer science classes.
After a family friend suggested she consider studying abroad, Girase decided to apply early to UB; it was high on the list of affordable, high-quality schools with strong computer engineering programs. She jumped onto Facebook and found a group of like-minded students looking at international education. Several, including Girase, found themselves on the same flight from India to the U.S. as they began their academic journeys.
In 2015, Girase began her degree program at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and immersed herself in its community, finding faculty mentors and areas in which she could make a difference. She became a student ambassador for the school, led several clubs and joined the Department of Computer Science and Engineering’s (CSE) Undergraduate Student Advisory Board.
As a female minority, Girase says she gradually became aware of the gap in the number of women versus men at school and in the industry. “I had no idea about diversity in tech until freshman year, when I began reading about a few sexual harassment cases online.”
With the support of CSE professor of practice Alan Hunt, MS ’98, Girase and some friends decided to reinvigorate an undergraduate mentoring program, this time targeting new students, international students and women—all groups she saw struggling to find their place in STEM fields. She says her research into graduation attrition rates for minorities revealed an opportunity “to get them excited about computer science” right when they transferred, or arrived as freshmen, whether they had previous STEM experience or not.
“Most minorities don’t have the resources or access to develop their own apps in middle school, like some of their classmates,” she says.
While at UB, Girase also became active in Buffalo’s small but growing tech community, volunteering in 2019 with Buffalo Startup Week, an annual networking event for Western New York tech founders. In 2020, Clark Dever, BS ’07, senior project manager of Techstars, a global network for entrepreneurs and investors, asked her to run the event. A self-proclaimed “dabbler,” Girase eagerly stepped up to organize a busy schedule of online seminars and remote social events, despite the pandemic’s challenges.
“It was a fantastic experience, but I know that there is more work we have to do to fill collaboration gaps between business and academic tech communities,” she says.
Motivated by this potential, Girase decided to stay in Buffalo after graduation. She continues to mentor UB students and works as a software engineer at Torch Labs, a San Francisco-based tech startup. This summer, she plans to move out west to continue her career at Torch and, in true dabbler form, learn as much as she can before moving into product management, a field used in many industries that follows products along their life cycles, from ideation to creation and distribution.
“What’s great about working at startups is that you get to learn and do a little bit of everything.” -Harshita Girase
No matter where she ends up, Girase says she’ll treasure the opportunities she found at UB. After all, it’s where she honed her natural ability to create communities worth traveling the world for.
By Lauren Newkirk Maynard
Published May 12, 2021