Aiming to promote the digital sector among young women by challenging gender stereotypes in the field of computer science, the Trophée Excellencia award enables three female high school graduates to enter EPITA each year. The three new students become ambassadors for women in digital technology on behalf of the engineering school and also receive funding for their two-year preparatory cycle. One of this year’s winners is Margaux Asselin, a highly motivated 1st year student at EPITA Lyon!
From the cliché of a geek to the first attempts at programming
It is possible to spend one’s entire childhood surrounded by computers without paying them much attention. Margaux is the perfect example. With parents who both worked in the field, she waited until her 9th grade internship to really start changing her mind on what would eventually become her passion. In the beginning, I didn’t enjoy computers at all, because I felt that only geeks liked computer science,” she says, laughing. On the other hand, I loved math! It was during my internship in a computer company that I discovered the different facets of computer science and realized that it wasn’t bad after all!
In high school, the young girl gradually changed her mind about this field, which relies heavily on logic: “Over time, the idea grew on me. Basically, I liked the fact that I was given a specific problem to which I had to find solutions.” Without specializing in NSI (digital and computer sciences) (“it wasn’t well developed or promoted in my high school!”), Margaux learned about Python programming in her math classes. The teachers often gave us optional exercises and I really enjoyed doing them,” she explains. In fact, I didn’t see them as work. This was when I realized that I wanted to make a career out of Computer science!”
The EPITA challenge and the Excellencia opportunity
While attending a student fair, Margaux discovered EPITA, an excellent school that fit right in with her mindset: “I wanted to go to university and study subjects that I didn’t know much about, with challenges that would keep me on my toes. I always need something that keeps me busy and makes me want to push myself even further. As I already liked math, I realized that there wasn’t a huge difference between math and computer science.”
As she looked into EPITA, Margaux discovered the existence of the Trophée Excellencia. Two reasons motivated her to apply: “I was interested in the financial aspect, of course, but also in the idea of being able to prove that women have a place in digital technology and computer engineering. It’s important to talk about it and show that we exist. And, although there are not many of us today working in the sector, we have to start somewhere! For example, it took me a long time to realize that I really enjoyed computers, even though my parents were already working in this field! If I can help other girls realize this earlier and encourage them to discover their passion by speaking with them, I definitely will!” In her opinion, it doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl: “Everyone can work with computers as long as they enjoy it. But, you just have to give it a try!
The commitment to the advancement of women
Fortunately, Margaux did not wait for Excellencia to support female solidarity. During the last two years of high school, she was treasurer of an association that launched several projects, such as “Free Period”, “a project that allowed us to make free, environmentally friendly and ethical sanitary pads available in the school’s restrooms”, and a fundraising project for Courir POUR ELLES, “an association that supports people suffering from cancers that affect women – breast cancer, ovarian cancer, etc. A commitment that she is eager to pursue at EPITA. “I saw that the school has a partnership with Cadettes de la Cyber, which allows students to mentor junior high and high school girls. I would really like to participate in this kind of project!
Discovering the courses and the benefits of teamwork and mutual aid
The winner has had quite a busy schedule since receiving her baccalaureate and starting her first year of the preparatory cycle on the Lyon campus. During this time, she has been studying both familiar and new subjects, which she truly enjoys. “There are classes I was already used to, like physics and math, and those that are totally new to me, like algorithms and programming,” she explains. I’m happy to continue with those I am already familiar with as well as discover the others!”
While waiting to experience the Piscine during the Engineering Cycle and the academic semester abroad in the 2nd year (“I can’t wait for this”), Margaux is gradually making strides, also thanks to her classmates: “At EPITA Lyon, you quickly form a tight-knit group of people with whom you can talk and work. My group is very uplifting: even when things are difficult, we really support and help one another. Moreover, the teaching staff is also great in this respect: they are always there for us and, when we have difficulties, they lend us a helping hand. Of course, there is a lot of work to do independently, which is normal, but the teachers are there to keep us motivated and to guide us.”
A career to prepare for and memories to create
At EPITA, Margaux is also learning to find her place in an environment that is still too often male-dominated. Nonetheless, she goes with the flow: “It’s true that there are a majority of boys in the school, but that’s just how it is! Some of them are great, but it’s like everywhere else: you can always find a minority of people who don’t necessarily understand that women can also work in computer science. It’s not so much the school’s fault, but rather society and mentalities that still need to change!”
Determined to make a difference, Margaux savors every single day, knowing that she still has many memorable projects to work on and classes to enjoy at her school. In fact, she admits that she will never forget the moment she learned that she had been awarded the Trophée Excellencia. “I was walking a friend to the train station and only had 1% battery life left on my phone! EPITA called me – I had already missed the first call due to silent mode – I knew that the phone could die at any moment… It was horrible! Fortunately, the person on the other end of the line had the time to tell me the news. The call ended and I didn’t believe it at the time. It took me a long time to realize that I had won! Even today, between two classes, she sometimes thinks about the opportunity she was able to seize, which, in the future, will allow her to work in the field of cybersecurity or health… even if she still doesn’t know exactly what she would like to do or even what subjects she will major in! “Maybe in six months, I’ll be speaking about something else entirely because I’m still in the middle of discovering all of these possibilities!”