Meet Charlene Rocha: Activist, trail blazer, and most recently, recipient of the 2021 Meridian Commitment to Communities Sean Jackson Scholarship.
Charlene is recognized this year for her efforts to make spaces in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – more welcoming and accessible to everyone.
“I will encourage young girls to pursue STEM careers,” Charlene says, “and lead by example for future generations.”
STEM workspaces have traditionally been occupied by a narrow subset of society, but Charlene aims to change all that. Her passion and voice show that there’s a place in STEM for everyone – and that she’ll be there to help guide the way.
As a person of colour who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, Charlene’s story is one of courage and tenacity. Her family’s financial circumstances meant that she wasn’t often afforded the same opportunities as her peers. But now, as she heads to the University of Waterloo to pursue a degree in software engineering, her outlook is bright.
“By getting a degree in university, I hope to have a stable career and a fulfilling life for myself and my family. By pairing my enthusiasm for education with my passion for activism, I am determined to change the world.”
Change the world indeed. And in many ways, she already has.
In 2018, Charlene helped found the Toronto chapter of e-NABLE, the first student-led 3D-printed prosthetic group in Canada. Now, as team President, she instructs 30+ members on how to assemble and provide prosthetic devices to those with little access to medical care.
“Every day, children are suffering due to a disability that is out of their control.” Charlene explains. “In developing countries, custom-fit prosthetics can be impossible to find or too expensive. I wanted to utilize my skills to discover a way I could help.”
Charlene and her team have a goal this year to create prosthetic hands for 30 children; each created with durable material, customized for the recipient. We have no doubt that they’ll achieve it.
Even after proving herself in tech, however, it wasn’t always easy. “Being a queer woman of colour in technology, I was frequently discriminated against. I had to fight for respect. Even in a team I was leading, I often felt out of place.”
Over time Charlene learned to stand up for herself and be proud of her accomplishments. This confidence translated into her school experiences as well.
“In my robotics and AP math classes, I was the only girl in classes of 30. Leading the e-NABLE team, I learned to be resilient and thrive, even when underrepresented. Now, I present workshops to young girls in elementary schools to encourage them to pursue the field.”
What if young people from all communities felt welcome and secure in pursuing their passions?
The possibilities are endless. Young people who are made to feel welcome are more likely to feel secure, both professionally and personally. Charlene wants to show people that if they are passionate and hard-working, they will be welcome, and they can succeed.
“In my future, I hope to create software that will contribute to the wellness of society. My long-term goal is to launch a start-up that relates to my passion for humanitarianism.”
David More, Meridian’s Chief Marketing and Digital Officer, has high praise for Charlene. “Her commitment to community activism, and support of Indigenous and environmental causes is incredible, but perhaps more remarkable is her generosity to mentor other young women and people of colour in an effort to create a more inclusive community.”
On behalf of all of us at Meridian, we would like to congratulate Charlene for her commitment to community impact and innovation. Passion such as this truly makes the world a better, more inclusive, and welcoming place.
Meridian’s Commitment to Communities Sean Jackson Scholarship recognizes community initiative, innovation, and impact among Ontario youth. Each year, Meridian awards $10,000 to a high school graduate for demonstrating academic excellence and community commitment.