Smart Girl Stories
Credits: Western Balkans Digital Summit 2022, Prishtina
Stories of inspiration from Smart Girl Stories across the globe. Jora Zeneli’s story’s of transforming education, transforming changemakers – Çikat n’STEM

Jora Zeneli’s story’s of transforming education, transforming changemakers – Çikat n’STEM

Her story goes beyond gender barriers; it’s a human effort to improve the world by providing opportunities for smart, strong girls, and women to shape it.

Meet Jora Zeneli’s

“Knowledge is power,” says Lord Baelish (Game of Thrones). Knowledge empowers us and makes us more persistent in achieving our dreams. Like Baelish’s words, Jora believes in the transformative power of education and mentorship. In the heart of Kosovo, a young nation rising from the challenges of war and oppression, a 20-year-old girl is taking big steps towards shaping the education system and inspiring many girls towards a future in STEM education.

Credits Jora Zeneli
Credits Jora Zeneli

The setting stones of STEM Impact

Jora’s journey to make an impact in the STEM field started where one would not expect it: during a gap year after her high school studies. In our culture, taking a gap year is a sign of weakness and a lack of a planned future. For Jora, it was an eye-opening experience; she saw a glaring gap in the education system: the underrepresentation of girls in STEM fields. Eager to make her own path, Jora, along with a friend and her sister, founded Çikat n’STEM. They set one purpose: to make STEM education accessible, engaging, and inspiring to girls in Kosovo. Like many other girls her age, she had to face gender stereotypes and overwhelming under-representation in the STEM fields. But she did not consider this a challenge but an opportunity.

“Together with my sister Etna, who is my role model, and with my friend Elta, we decided to co-found Çikat n’STEM, and we decided to launch it on the International Days of Girls in STEM, which was February 11th, and soon it’s going to be our second anniversary. We connected some girls with other youngsters studying abroad in STEM fields, and we saw how eager girls from Kosovo were to learn about this and to learn more, but had a fear of being in a male-dominated field,” shares Jora on how her journey started.

Credits Young European Ambassadors, EU
Credits Young European Ambassadors, EU

Overcoming gender gaps

In Kosovo, for the academic year 2021-2022 only, more than 56% of the registered students to study in higher education institutions were girls—showing a promising change in gender diversity. But in terms of STEM education, the figures seem to display a different reality. Only one in three, or 32%, of STEM students was female, showing a broad gender gap in key fields that the nation needs to enhance innovation. Nevertheless, women have shown higher success in graduation at the university level, where women’s graduation rates rose to 44%, reflecting resilience and the potential yet to be explored and used by women in these critical sectors.

Credits Junior Geeks progra, US Embassy
Credits Junior Geeks progra, US Embassy

“It is about making an impression, inspiring the girls to think without limits, and empowering them with the skills to chase those dreams,” says Jora. This success story mirrors her dedication, with many pursuing STEM education and careers after the program, breaking the gendered norms and setting new standards for what girls can achieve.

Challenges along the way

Her journey began with very limited resources within reach, yet they started this wonderful journey that would change the narrative, leaving skepticism on the part of society. People supporting their journey were few but impactful. With the lack of a space to operate, Çikat n’STEM was given a home in the heart of innovation of Kosovo, at Innovation Center Kosovo. “Without ICK, I don’t know how we would have been able to start. The financial aspect was the most challenging for us, and while I was happy to contribute my time and skills to make an impact, the space was something we would need financial support. And ICK opened the doors for us and made our journey so much easier,” says Jora.

Credits Municipality of Prishtina, Girls in STEM Week
Credits Municipality of Prishtina, Girls in STEM education Week

Achieving and growing

Since they started, they have organized workshops and coding courses and, for the first time in the country, the Girls in STEM Week, which reached over a thousand girls.

“My sister was away in USA and my friend studying abroad, and I was the only one left in Kosovo, I did not want the dream of Çikat n’STEM Girls in STEM to vanish. During these challenging times, another inspiration of mine, Deputy Mayor of Prishtina, Donjeta Sahatciu, approached us with a great event to inspire girls to take careers in STEM. We organized the first Week of Girls in STEM together with the Municipality of Prishtina with over 60 events and activities for young girls in STEM, and it was incredible, reaching more than 1,000 girls,” says Jora. While 1,000 girls may seem a small number, the impact was enormous. In a small country like ours, such impact does not come easy and is faced with numerous challenges along the way, the primary one being the lack of financial support from institutions.

Credits Jora Zeneli
Credits Jora Zeneli

When talking to these young girls that have now seen only a glimpse of the opportunities that the world of STEM provides, you can see the dream in their eyes and how much they want to be part of that. To have a career in something they thought it was beyond their reach and capabilities.

“For me, maybe the most memorable experience was when we organized some computer activities, where girls of an elementary school in Prishtina had to take apart its parts and then putting it back. And to see the faces of those little girls all excited to see the parts inside the computer was something that really made me very happy and made me realize why I am doing what I am doing.”

Future goals and further impact

“Elta, Etna, and I are now in three different parts of the world: Elta studying in USA, Etna, with her career in Canada, and me pursuing my education in Switzerland, but our vision is one: it lies in the heart of Kosovo. And together we are bringing a change in our country with our knowledge and skills,” says Jora.

Credits Girls in ICT, Municiaplity of Prishtina
Credits Girls in ICT, Municipality of Prishtina

While challenges grow, so do Jora’s dreams. She is on a mission to achieve her biggest dream: make STEM accessible by all the young aspiring STEMers in Kosovo. In a world where the voices of young women in science and technology are vital, the story of Jora Zeneli and Girls in STEM is a glimmer of inspiration. It serves as a powerful reminder that through determination, collaboration, and a shared vision, we can build a more inclusive future in STEM.

Her next goal is to transform the classical and outdated curriculum of public schools in Kosovo, integrate new technologies, and facilitate the partnerships that will ensure its long-term sustainability to enable the expansion of Girls in STEM.

About Jora Zeneli

Jora Zeneli is the Co-Founder of Çikat n’STEM, a Non-Governmental Organization located in Kosovo, Europe to support young girls in STEM and inspire them to pursue careers in such fields. She is currently in her first year of university studies in computer science at USI Universita della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland. She is also the Young European Ambassador of Kosovo, part of a network of future young game-changers from all across the Western Balkans and the European Union (an EU-funded project). She co-founded Girls in STEM to empower women to pursue STEM. The NGO’s vision lies in the goal of building a strong community of STEM leaders with huge potential to impact and grow our nation. While she is still focusing on her dreams of a better and promising future abroad, she has not forgotten her roots and the impact she makes: she sees herself in a few years bringing more girls into this world of opportunities and making Kosovo a place of grandiose opportunities.

Edlira Dibrani

Edlira Dibrani

Hello there! I'm Edlira Dibrani, an avid reader and lover of words. An enthusiastic reader who finds solace and excitement within the pages of books. While I shy away from the label of a bookworm, books have been my constant companions throughout my life, paving the path toward my destiny as a writer. From crafting poems and essays in the 3rd grade to embracing the daily ritual of writing, my journey has been one of continuous exploration and growth in the vast universe of literature.


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