UCL Centre for Artificial Intelligence


Cisco & UCL: Machine Learning/ Artificial Intelligence for Young Women

29 June 2021

On the 4th June 2021, Cisco and UCL teamed up to deliver an exciting full day of content about Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence for an audience of young women studying A level Maths, Statistics and Computer Science.

"AI" within the circle of the female symbol

The event was designed to inspire, encourage and embolden young women considering a career in ML or AI to follow their dream career - and we certainly had a fantastic time, with some very interesting speakers.

Cisco staff and UCL staff, students and alumni hosted and participated in various sessions throughout the day. These included:

"Intro to AI" by Pete Rai, Principal Engineer in the Emerging Technologies and Incubation group at Cisco

Pete is a Principal Engineer in Cisco's Chief Technology and Architecture Office. He works on a variety of innovation projects and has a background in complex and large-scale data management solutions. He spends most of his day worrying about data: its form, shape, meaning and function. He is part of a team helping to define Cisco’s internal processes around the ethical use of data and AI.

Pete's talk was primarily to set the scene for the day, and to discuss the changes taking place in the world of tech and how we use it. He covered what the change is, why it has a big impact on us all and involves the skills students learn and why women specifically should be involved in the continuing changes. It was a fantastic start to the day.

"Combating Fake News" by Rula Awad, UCL Graduate

Rula Awad is a machine learning expert. She is currently working to help governments combat misinformation and disinformation for the COVID vaccine rollout. She has built NLP prototypes for tech startups and worked for an IT consultancy where her clients included the UK Ministry of Defence, the BBC, UBS and HSBC. She has worked as an analyst for a Private Equity firm and has raised money from the European Union for her own media transparency and literacy platform. She is often called upon to review how tech and AI can be used to promote healthy information environments and online moderation. She has an MSc in Machine Learning, is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper and the UK ambassador for Women In AI.

Rula gave a very quick whistle-stop talk about her life after graduation, and what she is working on now.

"AI IRL", an interactive session by Pedro Oliveira,  Software Developer Specialist at Cisco

Pedro Oliveira is a Developer Advocate at Cisco focusing on emerging tech. From Artificial Intelligence to infrastructure programmability to Cloud, he’s all over it. The Goal? To look at the next wave of technology and workout how Cisco and its customers can leverage it to solve business problems. At heart he is a developer. If you can’t find him coding, look in the gym.

Pedro's session (AI IRL or "Artificial Intelligence In Real Life") covered some demos about how AI is used at Cisco, and around the world right now. Pedro covered the basics of what AI is, how it is applied and then all participants broke out into smaller groups to work on a real problem using open source software and information provided. This gave our participants a real, but brief, experience of how a career in AI can look on the ground floor.

Images of muffins or chihuahuas that are difficult for an AI to read

"Women Own AI" by Robert E. Smith, Teaching Fellow at UCL

Dr Robert Smith PhD FRSA is a technologist, complexity scientist, entrepreneur, writer and sought-after public speaker. He is an artificial intelligence (A.I.) expert and has worked with clients, companies and institutions across the private and public sectors. Dr. Smith has authored over 100 academic papers on complex-systems-based artificial intelligence and knowledge representation, and numerous articles in the popular press.

Other notable achievements of Dr Smith:

  • Author of Rage Inside the Machine, which was shortlisted for UK Best Business Book of 2020.
  • Currently an science, technology, and business advisor to a number of start-up firms, including Centigy (HRTech), Meomics (BioTech), MindHug (MentalHealthTech) and others.
  • Founding Trustee of We and AI, an NGO dedicated to improving AI’s effects of society.
  • Senior Fellow of the Computer Science Faculty at University College London where he co-founded the Centre for Decision-Making Uncertainty.
  • Co-founded and co-created BOXARR Ltd., a company whose technology being used globally by Blue Chip Companies to help people cope with some of the world’s most complex industrial challenges.
  • Conducted research and development projects for all branches of the US military, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, NASA, Boeing, NSF, EPSRC, The European Union, DERA, British Aerospace, Airbus, British Telecom, The Bank of England, The UK Competitive Market Authority, and others.
  • Former Associate Editor of The IEEE Transactions on Evolutionary Computation and the journal Evolutionary Computation.


Robert gave an amazing insight into the history of women in AI, and women in Computing. His talk definitely showed that Women Own AI (and SciFi), and have always had a place in AI and will always have a place. 

A graph of women working in various sectors

"Why Study AI", a panel session chaired by Tom Kneen Head Of Academic, Research & Technology Partnerships at Cisco
Tom is part of Cisco UKI’s CTO Office responsible for Cisco’s strategic academic, research and technology partnerships, which include partnerships with many of the leading UKI universities including UCL. Previously Tom led Cisco’s British Innovation Gateway (BIG) Innovation programme which was designed to support and accelerate “tech” innovation and start-ups/scale ups across the UK.

A full panel of current UCL Students: 

  • Athina Gavrieli – Electrical and Electronic Engineering Student. Athina is a first-year student studying EEE at UCL. Originally from Greece she studied in Belgium before coming to the UK. For her European Baccalaureate she studied Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry.
  • Jessica James - Computer Science Student. Jessica is a final-year Computer Science student at UCL, where she is specialising in AI. Previously, Jessica has worked for both Cisco and ARM.
  • Mira (Mayar) Hassan – Management Science Studentand Head of Marketing, UCL AI Society. Mira is going into her second year as a Management Science student at UCL.
    In her role as head of Marketing at the UCL AI society, Mira creates and manages projects based on these interests in order to attract a wider, and often underrepresented, group into AI.
  • Sakina Hansen – Machine Learning Student. Sakina is a master's student at UCL studying machine learning. She is interested in data science and machine learning in government and policy making. She got her undergraduate degree from the University of Nottingham in theoretical physics, where she did her dissertation project on deep learning applications in astronomy.
  • Siqi Zhu - Computer Science Student. Siqi is currently a 2nd year student Computer Science student as well as an officer at UCL Artificial Intelligence Society. She is now researching on Software Analytics. Her main interest is related to Algorithms, AI assistant and Autonomous Driving.
  • Thandi Madula – Physics Student. Thandi is a 4th year physics student at UCL. Her masters project is focused on using generative machine learning models in a particle physics context. Thandi will be continuing this work next year when she starts her PhD in data intensive science.


"Could AI enable a sustainable future?" a talk and interactive session with Maria Perez-Ortiz a Research Fellow at UCL

Dr Perez-Ortiz is a computer scientist specialized in artificial intelligence and its applications. Currently she is a senior researcher at the AI Centre at UCL. Prior to that, she worked as a researcher at the University of Cambridge, the Spanish Research Council and the University of Cordoba. She has collaborated in different research projects with multiple hospitals in Spain, the European Space Agency and companies such as Apple, Spotify and Google DeepMind.

Dr Perez-Ortiz has published more than 70 papers in conferences and journals in the area of artificial intelligence. She is also a teaching fellow with the London based educational startup Cambridge Spark and enjoys participating in science dissemination. Dr Perez-Ortiz dreams of a sustainable technological future, so the big pillars of her applied research revolve around building AI-based systems for biomedicine, environmental sustainability and education.

Maria's talk covered what sustainability is, and how she has been using AI to tackle issues. The interactive session then went on to give our participants current existing sustainability issues and allowed them to discuss and present how AI could be used to tackle these issues. 

Goals of Sustainable Development

"Is AI a Good or Bad Thing?", a panel session chaired by Chandi Panchal, Developer Advocate at Cisco, panel members included Prof Marc Deisenroth from UCL, Rula Awad as a UCL Graduate and Katie Shay, Head of Business & Human Rights and Privacy Legal at Cisco

Chandni Panchal is a part of the UKI Developer Advocacy team, focusing on all things programmability and API-related. That includes emerging technologies such as AI, IT culture and operation shifts to NetDevOps, and industry-wide trends such as cloud-native technologies. Having joined Cisco through the Sales Graduate program, Chandni now focuses on the enablement of Cisco’s internal, partner and customer communities in their programming skills and journey to achieving highly-respected qualifications.

Professor Deisenroth also holds a visiting faculty position at the University of Johannesburg and Imperial College London. In 2018, Marc received The President's Award for Outstanding Early Career Researcher at Imperial College. He is a recipient of a Google Faculty Research Award and a Microsoft PhD Grant. In 2018, Marc spent four months at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (Rwanda), where he taught a course on Foundations of Machine Learning as part of the African Masters in Machine Intelligence.

He is co-author of the book Mathematics for Machine Learning, published by Cambridge University Press. Marc is the DeepMind Chair of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence at University College London and the Deputy Director of UCL's Centre for Artificial Intelligence. He also holds a visiting faculty position at the University of Johannesburg and Imperial College London.

In 2018, Marc received The President's Award for Outstanding Early Career Researcher at Imperial College. He is a recipient of a Google Faculty Research Award and a Microsoft PhD Grant. In 2018, Marc spent four months at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (Rwanda), where he taught a course on Foundations of Machine Learning as part of the African Masters in Machine Intelligence. He is co-author of the book Mathematics for Machine Learning, published by Cambridge University Press.

Katie Shay leads the privacy & human rights legal functions at Cisco, where she works to identify innovative solutions to privacy and human rights challenges and integrates a human rights perspective across legal and business operations, including with respect to AI and machine learning. She works closely with product, policy, and legal teams across the company to develop and implement policies and to design processes for ensuring respect for privacy and human rights in all aspects of business.

Prior to joining Cisco, Katie served as Business and Human Rights Counsel at Yahoo/Verizon Media. Katie serves as a member of the Advisory Board to the International Business & Human Rights Center at the Oklahoma University College of Law. She earned her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and her B.A. from Marquette University.



The day was well attended and well recieved by all. We are thrilled to have worked with Cisco on this, and look forward to our continued partnership. If you want to catch any of the talks, please keep an eye on Cisco's Youtube Channel, where these videos will become available in due course.