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Grad student hits rails to inspire others

Grad student hits rails to inspire others

As part of the Millennial Trains Project, Loyola graduate student Pichleap Sok interviewed women across the country who work in technology. She then created a blog to inspire young women to enter the industry themselves.

By Elise Haas  |  Student reporter

This summer, Loyola graduate student Pichleap Sok took a low-tech approach to get young women interested in high-tech careers: She traveled across the United States on a train.

Pichleap, who grew up in Cambodia and recently received her master’s degree in computer science, came to Loyola in 2014 as part of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program. After a year in Chicago, she was chosen to take part in the Millennial Trains Project, an “engine of progress” founded by Fulbright alum Patrick Dowd.

The program, which made its first cross-country journey in 2013, aims to empower civic-minded Millennials and foster innovation in the participants and the communities they visit. This year’s 10-day train trip started in Los Angeles on May 21 and headed east to Washington, D.C., with stops along the way in Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, and Baltimore.

Highlighting women in technology

For her project, Pichleap interviewed women working in technology and created a blog—Faces of Women in Tech—to tell their stories. The hope, Pichleap said, is to build a site where young women can follow female technology leaders and become inspired to enter the industry themselves.

“Through their stories, girls can see other women and similar problems they faced, but more importantly, how they got through it,” Pichleap said. “Then they’ll think, ‘Why not me too?’ ”

Pichleap plans to continue her advocacy work throughout her stay in the U.S. and one day wants to bring her work back home to help the women of Cambodia.

“Growing up in a country where computer science is seen as an option for men only upsets me,” Pichleap said. “I feel like I have to do something about it.”

Life-changing experience

Before her cross-country trek, Pichleap only knew the U.S. as a place with flashy skyscrapers and neon lights. But as the train rattled on its tracks across the southern states—bringing Pichleap’s New Year’s resolution of visiting 10 U.S. cities to life—she was blown away by the scenery outside her window.

“From the water, to the mountains, to the forest: It’s so green, it’s so blue,” she said. “Watching the landscape change is like a moving picture. It’s really a moment.” 

Pichleap said she is grateful for all the motivating peers and mentors she met along the way. Her journey, she said, has taught her that every person possesses an inspiring story; all you have to do is ask.

“You never know,” she said. “Their experience could change your life.”