The Many Faces of #GirlsLeadSTEM
By Teresa Drew
Early on, I remember hearing that people change careers on average 6 times in their lifetime. Today it is estimated that the average American changes jobs 12 times.
In a weird way, this always reassured me that it was normal, natural, and highly predictive for people to make changes as they learn more, change interests, or life’s circumstances change.
I’ve worn lots of hats: teacher, mom, wife, receptionist, student, nonprofit practitioner, founder, board member, director, and more. What’s missing? Scientist, engineer, technologist. And can I tell you…imposter syndrome is real. Especially for women who work in or close to STEM but are not traditionally trained STEM professionals.
Overcoming barriers is something all women in STEM share. How we look — or the specific jobs we hold — when we get to the other side looks different for many of us. On my “STEM” journey I’ve had colleagues and peers as allies and champions to lift me up, pull me up and sometimes shove me over a precipice.
Today I ask myself — am I a woman in STEM? Absolutely! While I may not spend my time in a lab or workshop I am constantly iterating, solving for, collaborating, testing, failing, and trying again. As a nonprofit professional — I activate my engineering mindset everyday and have the privilege of teaming with amazing people to excite and inspire young people to engage with the world around them.
Whether you are on your 1st, 7th, or 12th job… I hope you see yourself for the contributions you bring to the table everyday and everywhere. Because #GirlsLeadSTEM.
Meet a few of my amazing colleagues in STEM whom I am honored to share this journey with:
Nicole Evans serves on our fund development team and helps STEM Next manage national partnerships to advance our mission. Evans loves working with philanthropic and corporate social responsibility leads to build partnerships that help make STEM learning a reality for every kid.
Evans’ advice for others looking to pursue STEM careers is a quote from Admiral Grace Hopper, an American pioneer in computer science and programming.
“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” -Admiral Grace Hopper
Bunmi Esho co-facilitates STEM Next’s Family Engagement Project Community of Practice for program and community leaders in six-month cycles. Esho was born in Boston but grew up in Texas and Nigeria as a child of immigrants. Esho likes sharing that part of her story because so many young people can relate to straddling two different cultures.
Some of Escho’s fondest childhood memories involve baking with her mom and siblings where she learned to measure, mix and experiment with ingredients. She believes that cooking IS science!
Bunmi creating community in Cambodia
Escho faced many challenges due to institutional racism when she entered the 10th grade, after completing her first year of high school in Nigeria. She was able to persevere through thanks to the support of other Nigerian families that knew the American system, as well as a few supportive teachers. Thanks to this support and her ability to advocate for herself, Bunmi graduated college as a chemical engineer.
“Having a tribe, a community of people who share your lived experiences, and are ahead of you in your path is critical. Even if you’re just reaching out to check in, validate your feelings or for a pep talk! Find your tribe early, and connect with them,” advises Escho.
Sabrina Gomez is an Advisor to the STEM Next Opportunity Fund leading the technical assistance community of practice for the Million Girls Moonshot. She is the proud daughter of Mexican immigrants now living in Atlanta with her husband and 13 month old son.
Throughout her K-12 career, Gomez always enjoyed designing, inventing, building, and creating things. She credits her love of learning to having very supportive parents and science teachers who normalized and humanized the sciences. One teacher in particular, Mr. Zafran, who encouraged her to participate in my first regional science fair in middle school.
Sabrina facilitating an exercise for BIPOC youth as part of the Million Girls Moonshot initiative
Despite this love for learning, pursuing STEM in college became more challenging for Gomez as she was one of the few females and even fewer Latinas in chemistry and physics classes. There were few to no role models around Gomez to help her along the way.
Gomez lends advice to the systems, organizations, and people working in the STEM education spaces — Culture trumps strategy everyday.
“Think about investing in and designing programs and spaces where all youth not only are invited and have access to, but feel as if they truly belong,” says Gomez.
Veronica Gonzales joins the STEM Next team as the Director of Communications and enjoys sharing stories and information, in the most authentic way possible, to inspire all young people to pursue STEM.
Veronica hiking in Utah
Gonzales encountered life-changing bias in high school, most notably when a male biology teacher doubted her ability to succeed in any science career because she was a girl. Despite getting a perfect score on her AP biology test, Gonzales selected a different career pathway based on that experience, as well as several others that continued to show her she “didn’t belong.”
“STEM is a social justice issue for me. It is the fastest-growing, highest paying sector of jobs in the world, not to mention is responsible for innovations that could contribute to a reduction OR a persistence of existing bias today (see issues with facial recognition technologies and racial bias). Working to ensure access to STEM learning for ALL is one of the most powerful ways to uplift all communities,” says Gonzales.
Melissa Moritz has the privilege of serving as the Director of Policy for the STEM Next Opportunity Fund. She builds and supports a strategy for aligning Federal, State and Local policy to ensure that every child regardless of race, income or gender has access to high-quality, joyful, engaging out-of-school STEM learning experiences.
Despite growing up doing math at the dinner table for fun (Moritz’s mom was a middle school math teacher and her father was an engineer), Mortiz still faced challenges in her pursuit of a STEM career.
“I started at MIT as a civil engineering major, but when asked to code — something I had never done before — I struggled and quickly switched majors, assuming that I was the only one that didn’t know how to do this vs. working through the challenge,” says Moritz.
Moritz advises other women in STEM to lock arms with others who will help carry you through the tough times. She says “Don’t ever think that just because you are facing those challenges doesn’t mean that’s not the place for you.”
Melissa and her minis
Moritz is the mother of two amazing daughters, who enjoy doing messy, sometimes explosive, science experiments with her almost every day.
Andria Parrott supports the program and research elements of the Million Girls Moonshot initiative. As a former teacher and rowing coach, Andria loves supporting young peoples’ educational journeys both in and out of the classroom and furthering STEM Next’s mission to close the gender gap in STEM careers.
Andria rowing for USC
Starting her college experience in Chemistry 101, Andria remembers the professor spouting the “look to the left…look to your right… one of you will not be pursuing medical school by the end of the semester” rhetoric all too common in STEM fields. Though she didn’t become a doctor, she has been privileged to mentor other young women in their own STEM journeys.
“Find your champions, lean on them, and keep reaching for more.”
Raisa Rosado serves as the senior manager of social media strategy for STEM Next. Raisa was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and now lives in North Texas where she has built her professional career as a social media science communicator for the last eight years.
Raisa has always been interested in science. As a little girl living in Puerto Rico, she recalls being obsessed with rocks and maps, wanting to understand how rocks formed and more about their locations. Rosado would collect beach rocks, seashells and even small fossils from around her grandmother’s house, thinking that her obsession was only a hobby, not something she could turn into a career.
Raisa the explorer!
When Raisa went to the University to study marketing, she took an elective class in geology, and the professor was a woman! It changed her perspective on who can be a scientist, and she quickly changed her major. Unfortunately, pursuing a STEM career was still a challenge for Rosado. Besides her geology professor, Raisa never saw another person who looked like her.
It was then Raisa realized that it was critical to get more representation of women in STEM fields.
“To all the girls that might be reading this, don’t give up. STEM is not easy, there is still a lot to change, but it’s worth it. There are wonderful organizations like the Million Girls Moonshot and the National Girls Collaborative Project that can connect you with resources, mentors, and role models- something I wish I had. Don’t be afraid to take the first step, express your passions, and ask questions. Take your moonshot!” says Rosado.
Victoria living life with her favorite people
Victoria Wegener supports the 50 State Afterschool Networks to provide high quality STEM learning opportunities to all youth through the Million Girls Moonshot with STEM Next.
Wegener was introduced to STEM by going to the hardware store with her dad who always gave her a chance to work with tools. Wegener’s father even taught her how to fix her first car — a VW Super Beetle. Victoria recalls always being encouraged not to be afraid of taking something apart to learn how to fix it.
Wegener always believed she would be a doctor. In college, however, Victoria had a lot of trouble with organic chemistry and advanced physiology classes. Her professors were not encouraging and recommended that she switch majors, which is what she did. While Wegener loves her work now, she always wonders if she would have become a doctor with more support and encouragement.
“Take advantage of support groups for STEM majors in college — join them! If you struggle with a class, consider different ways of learning the material. It isn’t a reflection of your intelligence or ability to pursue your goals!” advises Wegener.
Who leads STEM? A lot of really hard-working dedicated people who ask more questions, explore more opportunities, experiment frequently, and design new paths… for themselves and others.
Be the person who lifts up, pulls up, and sometimes give an extra “shove” because #GirlsLeadSTEM
Celebrate the contributions of non-traditional STEM professionals because #GirlsLeadSTEM
Join the movement to change the narrative around who leads STEM because #GirlsLeadSTEM