On Jan. 20, IGNITE Worldwide welcomed a panel of women in STEM majors from the University of Washington STEMinist organization to share their stories and advice with the next generation of women and non-binary STEM leaders! 50 students attended from Everett Middle School in San Francisco, Yosemite High School in Oakhurst, CA, Sedro-Woolley High School, Cedarcrest Middle School in Bethel School District, Eastlake High School in Sammamish, and Federal Way Public Schools’ Todd Beamer High School, Federal Way High School, and Sequoyah Middle School.
Carson Bryant, a UW student and the STEMinist president, welcomed everyone and shared background information on IGNITE, women in STEM, and the STEMinist organization at UW. Students heard that careers in STEM are growing rapidly and are a great place for women and non-binary individuals. They also learned that the first year a female graduated from the UW with a STEM degree was way back in 1876!
Next, the panelists took turns sharing their stories:
Olivia Thompson’s first introduction to STEM was in middle school, and she took her favorite STEM class in high school – Chemistry. When she received the highest score on an exam, other students didn’t believe that someone as bubbly and cheery as her could be good at STEM. That stigma motivates her to encourage others to break the mold of the STEM stereotype!
Angela Gomez is a junior at UW majoring in Public Health. She grew up in Vancouver, Oregon, and attended predominantly white schools. Angela said she struggled with imposter syndrome and wants to help others overcome that feeling. She encouraged students to explore all the relationships around them and to explore any interests they have.
Lizbeth Lucas shared that when she was younger, as a first-generation immigrant the idea of affording college and going to college was not in her mind. It was thanks to her trying different clubs and meeting an array of peers and mentors that offered support. She emphasized that there is not always a sign of what you are meant to be. You are the creator of your own fate; you need to not limit yourself, and YOU choose your own path!
Alexandria Cobb is a third-year student at UW studying physics. In her freshman year of high school, she took Algebra 2. Even though she didn’t do well she found that by working harder and finding a mentor to help facilitate growth she was able to succeed and discover that she has a passion for math. Alexandria recommends trying new things to see what interests you.
Natasha Schmid is a third-year at UW majoring in Human-Centered Design and Engineering with a minor in Diversity. A woman of color, she is part of a very underrepresented group in STEM. As such, it was hard for her to envision herself in the STEM field, but she emphasized not limiting yourself and exploring your options. By doing so you can find new fields that relate to you and expand your opportunities.
After hearing the panelists’ stories the students eagerly asked their questions. Here are a few of the questions asked:
- What courses do you recommend for internships and how do you find internships?
- How did you decide what college you wanted to attend?
- What courses should you take in high school to figure out what you want to do?
- How have you dealt with the stigma against women in the STEM field in college?
- Where do you find/get scholarships?
- If there are no STEM opportunities, how do I expose myself to STEM?
All the panelists found that by exploring all your options and reaching out to others you are able to fill a lot of your gaps. Exploring your options enables you to understand what will make you happy and help you grow. There are so many ways you can go and paths you can pick – it’s okay to not know and to try new things to find what interests you! Reaching out to others helps you find internship, job, and research opportunities that can be hard to find alone. The panelists also stressed that STEM can be found in anything, and volunteering is a great way to get some hands-on experience. Google and YouTube are also great resources that can help you find information and learn new things.
The panel really stressed to try as many different things as you can while you are young, take advantage of your time in middle/high school, and explore clubs and classes you might not initially think of joining. It takes time to figure out the age old question of, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Don’t be afraid to fail at something, because It builds character and experience!
Some final advice that the panelists had to offer was:
- Find organizations like STEMinist and IGNITE so you interact with others who represent you and relate to you.
- Challenge the stereotypes.
- Get involved, be part of the change!
Every speaker’s passion and drive to pursue STEM was inspirational! The large variety of majors represented – from geology to astrophysics to pre-med – was eye opening, and students enjoyed hearing from UW students who look like them. Students were shown that there is a place for women in STEM fields and that those women can look and act any way they want to. The advice to “know your voice matters” really resonated!
It was helpful to hear personal accounts of how being a women in a STEM field, even just studying to be in that field, can be a challenge. From having professors who don’t look like them to being surrounded by mostly men in class, it was encouraging hearing how the speakers overcome these obstacles and seeing their hope that things are changing for the better.
Thank you to everyone who attended and for asking amazing questions! And THANK YOU to the STEMinist organization and all the volunteers for making this event possible: Carson Bryant, Nicole Ferrie, Richard Zamora, and the fantastic panelists Angela, Lizbeth, Natasha, Alexandria, and Olivia!
After attending this event:
Here’s what the students thought of the event:
“Today’s event made me feel as if I wasn’t alone, as a girl or person of person of color. The panelists were very encouraging and made me feel welcome. You did an awesome job, especially at sharing why STEM is amazing!” – 8th grade
“It was very comforting. I felt like because of today I have a chance at being able to work in STEAM. They were all very nice and persuaded me to want to work harder.” – 7th grade
“It helped me learn more about my worth and that it’s okay to be unsure about my future right now. I also got more encouraged to try new things that might spark any interests. I’m really thankful to have the opportunity to listen to everyone today.” – 8th grade
“Today’s event helped me see that regardless of what other people think about me pursuing a STEM career there’s so many different options and things out there to help me decide what I want to do in the future. Also learning more about how to find what career and classes to take in High School and College. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to learn more about STEM careers.” – 8th grade
“Today’s event inspired me by meeting more girls/non-binary people in a STEM career, and as a daughter from an immigrated family, I was happy to hear that a couple UW students had to go through the same experience as I went through in high school.” – 12th grade
“Today inspired me because I got to see how several different women approach STEM differently. It was inspiring because they were very upfront with their struggles in the STEM field, and I feel a little more prepared to face the inevitable stigma against my gender. Thank you all for taking the time to sit and talk with us! Though it may not seem like it right now, you are helping to pave the way for women in the STEM field. Thank you once again.” – 11th grade
“I am very glad that I am able to attend today’s event. I am very inspired by hearing all of your experiences. I have come from an immigrated family, and I was in most all white school, which I felt I wasn’t included in some subjects (and constantly changing) that I love to learn. After hearing the volunteer’s experiences, I felt happy because I thought I was the only one going through this alone.” – 12th grade
“Just knowing that other people like me have faced some of the same challenges I have and that they overcame them. You’ve inspired me to keep going, and what I can do now to prepare for my future.” – 6th grade
“It inspired me to speak up more often. And to look into careers in STEM. Also to not be intimidated by a room full of Men/Boys.” – 9th grade
“It was nice to see other minorities in STEM and see them and hear about some of their experiences. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to talk to us!” – 9th grade
“It showed me that I can do it, with a little perseverance and hard work I can make my dreams come true. Also It showed me how few girls and women are in STEM careers, I don’t need to be scared to join these careers.” – 12th grade
“I loved hearing from inspirational women that aren’t too much older than me! You all are so sweet and I feel like I can see the drive that has led you to where you are, in myself as well. I want to thank you for this opportunity! Thank you for taking the time to support young dreamers like me :)” – 12th grade
“I feel more confident in myself and to not be ashamed of my skills. I’m inspired by the work ethics of the panelists and want to work even harder.” – 9th grade
“I feel more motivated to pursue a STEM career. I also know that I can get support in college now. Thanks for doing this, it really helped me learn more about different STEM pathways.” – 10th grade
“I want to thank them for inspiring me to pursue my goals in the medical field. I never realized how few people there are in science classes, but now I know that I don’t need to be discouraged.” – 12th grade
“It was inspiring to see first generation women going into STEM careers. Thank you for telling me about the careers that are in STEM.” – 8th grade
“I was able to understand that women should be in the STEM field because there’s mostly men. And I got to learn about the different careers and experience all of you had which inspired me to go into the STEM field and learn more about it.” – 9th grade
“This event inspired me by, as a girl seeing all of these powerful women talk about STEM. They really inspired me to pursue my dreams.” – 6th grade
“It showed me more paths in STEM than I thought were possible. Thank you for taking time out of your day to come and talk to us about STEM.” – 7th grade
“It was very inspiring to see these women persevere in pursuing what they want and at the same time reach out to us younger students to encourage us into a STEM career despite what other people say. I just want to thank them for sharing their struggles and achievements with all of us. Thank you so much for this opportunity.” – 10th
“Being a young woman in the trade/STEM environment, I have experienced plenty of instances where I’ve been told that because of my gender, I should reconsider a different career path. To the women who shared some personal things today, and stepping out of the group to answer questions my peers were intrigued of, thank you.” – 9th grade
“It inspired me to look more into STEM and opportunities I can take. Thank you for inviting me to this STEM meeting.” – 6th grade
“Helped me figure out what I want to do later on in life. I am adopted and none of my parents or brother went to college so I am really excited.” – 7th grade
“It was nice to hear from girls my age who have experience in the field I want to go into. It gave me more advice.” – 11th grade
“It inspired me in the way that several girls have dealt with being who they are in STEM.” – 6th grade
“Thank you so very much! All the volunteers were so inspiring and it motivates me to work even harder! :)” – 9th grade
“Today was fun and it opened a lot of doors that I thought were closed.” – 7th grade
“This event inspired me to be more out there and to participate in more STEM clubs.” – 6th grade