Empowering Girls by Example, Simi Hoque Earns Annual Award

Simi Hoque, an associate professor with the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, was honored last week at the annual Girls Inc. 2018 Strong, Smart, and Bold Breakfast held at the Union League here in Philadelphia.

Hoque was chosen in recognition of her STEM University summer program for middle school girls held at Drexel and staffed largely by College of Engineering faculty and students. The summer outreach program serves underrepresented girls from Philadelphia.

Girls Inc. award recipients
Simi Hoque (second from left), along with Monica Malpass of WPVI-TV news, Emily Bittenbender of Bittenbender Construction, and Shawn Lytle of Macquarie Investment Management.

The sold-out breakfast drew 400 people and raised over $120,000 for Girls Inc. of Greater Philadelphia & Southern Jersey. Hoque was honored along with Monica Malpass, WPVI-TV/Channel 6 ABC Action News anchor; Emily Bittenbender, managing partner of Bittenbender Construction, LP; and Macquarie Investment Management.

The program also featured a dozen Girls Inc. members who spoke about the programs that have enriched their lives, Hoque’s program among them.

“Simi is passionate about inspiring girls to engage with STEM,” said Girls Inc. Executive Director Dena R. Herrin. “She has worked tirelessly to build middle school STEM programs for Girls Inc. girls, first in Massachusetts and now in Philadelphia with an incredible partnership with Drexel. Simi and her colleagues bring STEM to life with fun, engaging, and relevant experiential learning that the girls love.”

Hoque accepted her award before an audience that included several CoE colleagues and staffers. During her speech, Hoque told the story of her own evolution as an engineer beset with both gender- and relocation-based challenges. Hoque was born in Bangladesh and raised until the age of 12 in Nigeria. Because she loved to tinker with tools and devices, she was known early on in her community as “the engineer” who could fix anything – including her family’s precious radio. It wasn’t until she turned 13 here in the United States—always the only girl in her STEM-related classes—that she began to question her abilities, and the journey towards engineering became “difficult and lonely.”

Simi Hoque
Simi Hoque accepts her award.

Just five years ago, while stewarding a Lego robotics summer camp, Hoque said she heard a frustrated young girl say, “I don’t belong here.” The girl’s frustration inspired Hoque to organize a STEM camp exclusively for middle school girls to empower them and fuel their ambitions.

“I don’t want to hear ‘I don’t belong’ ever again,” said Hoque. “I don’t want tinkerers and builders to feel like they’re imposters just because they are the only girls in the room. And even when they are, I want them to feel strong, smart and bold, the way I did when I was a budding 12-year-old engineer.”

Under Hoque’s direction, the full-day STEM University camp will take place this summer from July 9 through July 13. The week of programming introduces middle-school girls to STEM subjects through one week of workshops, instruction, and mentoring.

“I was incredibly honored to be given this award,” Hoque added. “I’ve been working with Girls Inc. for many years, and this fundraising breakfast event has always been a highlight because it showcases what Girls Inc. is doing for the girls. Also, to make things even more poignant, the girls do the introductions and they also have a chance to share their own stories with the people in the room. I find that part of it to be extremely moving and inspiring. There really was so much girl power in the room.

“Also, anyone who can stand up and speak about herself with such poise in a room of 400 people is already well on her way to becoming a great leader,” Hoque added.

Girls Inc.’s mission is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold, and focuses on the development of the “whole” girl. More than 2,400 girls participate in Girls Inc. programs focused on healthy decision making, academic enrichment and life skills instruction in Philadelphia and Camden.