Shahnaz Baldwin

Shahnaz Baldwin

3rd-year student, Bachelor of Computer and Information Sciences in Computational Intelligence

For computing student Shahnaz Baldwin, the goal was always very clear: she wants to join the Royal New Zealand Air Force and make a positive difference.

“It has been my goal since I was a very young child to join a service role like the New Zealand Police, Customs or the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). My family has a strong military background and my grandfather was in the RAF during World War II, so this has been a huge inspiration for me to follow in his footsteps. Solving problems and getting the right information to the right people has always been my passion, and I’ve always loved mathematics, science and computing. My desired career combines all of these things.

“Before I came to AUT, I applied for the RNZAF in the intelligence and communications sector, but just missed out due to lack of life experience. I knew that completing a computing and information-related degree would be beneficial, as well as any extracurricular opportunities that may present themselves in a tertiary environment. As soon as I found AUT’s computing degree, I knew it would be the perfect degree to enrol in.”

She certainly hasn’t regretted this decision, and has been enjoying her time at AUT.

“I’ve really enjoyed the diversity of subjects the degree covers. I was expecting the majority of the degree to be coding-based, however I’ve been delighted to delve more into data analysis, interpreting information through statistics, learning about databases, and now embarking on a year-long project with an industry partner. It challenges me to think outside of the box and has widened my view of the tech industry, but also given me the confidence that I’ll have the technical skills and leadership experience employers are looking for.

“Outside of the academic side, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed joining the clubs Out@AUT and AUT STEM Women where I’ve met so many likeminded people of all ages, genders, sexualities, experiences and ethnicities. It has really helped me find a community, especially during lockdowns. I also got to participate in the Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies’ Year 2 Women in Leadership programme and loved representing AUT as a student ambassador.”

Inspired to create change
Shahnaz says a major lightbulb moment for her happened during a course for her business minor.

“We were exploring the stark reality of the gender gap in leadership positions, and it clicked with me that it wasn’t enough just to enter a career at the ground to make a change in the company’s diversity or leadership. If I want to see change, I have to create it myself. At that moment, I made the decision that when I graduate and reapply to the RNZAF, I won’t just reapply for the same specialist role; I’ll apply as an officer. This degree and my leadership experience gained at AUT are all enough to get me there.”

She is already well on her way towards creating that change and is proud of being awarded an Electric Kiwi-AUT Women in STEM scholarship; an award designed to help young women like her achieve their dream of a successful tech career.

“If I want to see people like me in my dream industry – mixed-race, rainbow women in positions of power – I have to be the change I want to see. Diversity only makes an organisation or a community stronger. Being awarded this scholarship is a huge validation that I can be that change, as can others like me.

“I want to prove to people like me that no matter who you are, what you have experienced or what opportunities may not be readily available to you, you can achieve your goals and make an impact in an industry that doesn't look like you. These industries need you, and you deserve to be there just as much as anyone else.”

Advice for other students
Shahnaz says she would highly recommend the Bachelor of Computer and Information Sciences to others.

“Don’t be intimidated if you’re not familiar with coding or data analysis or anything you ‘think’ a tech degree will have. The lecturers start from scratch in your first year and give you the resources to learn. This degree will challenge you but it’s worth it. Also, don’t be intimidated if you don’t see yourself represented in the demographic of the degree. Being a queer, mixed-race woman in the computer science industry was a little isolating to begin with, however all of my different experiences and perspectives are only an advantage.”

The advice she would give other students is simple: you can only do your best.

“There’s this huge pressure that you have to be doing super well academically at university to succeed. You aren’t always going to be good at a course or get a theory immediately, but what counts is that you do your best.

“Your best will be different in each course and even each day. It may look like getting that A+ in your first assignment, or it may look like putting your hand up and getting that burning question answered. It may also look like not achieving your best grade but receiving feedback that allows you to do well next time. Your best may even look like just showing up to class during a stressful week and finally having a theory click. All of these things are your best – they’re all valid and should be celebrated.”

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