30 boys. 2 girls. Walking into my first computer science camp, I was greeted by these very numbers--numbers that would both define and shape my journey in STEM moving forward. I recall freezing, taking a look at the classroom, and suddenly feeling very, very out of place. I immediately thought, “Why are there no girls here?”
Two weeks later, the answer came to me through my own experiences. In an environment with drastic underrepresentation of not only women, but also racial and socioeconomic minorities, important voices can and will be lost. I remember being stereotyped as the quiet girl, I remember being given the “easy” tasks in group projects, and I remember being ignored when I tried to contribute to group discussions. It was an isolating, suppressing feeling--you could scream all you want, but your screams were always stifled into whispers.
The message was resounding: STEM isn’t a place for a girl like you.
Minorities in STEM around the world are receiving the same message that I did, or even worse, they are disadvantaged in accessing such opportunities to begin with. In fact, as of 2015, 84% of all STEM-related jobs were held by white and Asian males alone. Let’s just take a moment to consider this number.
STEM has always been vocationally unwelcoming and inaccessible for youths from low income backgrounds, racial minorities, and females. I decided that this needed to change. Thus, in my freshman year, I worked with two other girls to conceptualize and ultimately found the EduSTEM Initiative, an international organization that educates, encourages, and empowers historically underrepresented minorities to pursue STEM. Our initiative started off teaching just 5 low income youths every Wednesday, and eventually turned into a global movement with chapters in areas such as Boston, Seattle, New York, San Mateo, Connecticut, Turkey, and Thailand. To date, we have harnessed the support of many organizations and amazing youth leaders to reach almost 500 minority youths internationally through 50+ workshops.
Every class, camp, and workshop is a glaring reminder of the importance of engaging youths in diverse and meaningful ways. EduSTEM focuses on immersive STEMX curriculum, such as STEMXPoliticalScience and STEMXEntrepreneurship, which are intended to teach youths how to use science and technology for social good. Our end goal is not just to diversify the STEM workforce, but to enable future generations of youths from all backgrounds to feel empowered using STEM in tandem with their passions. It is incredibly important to provide these youths the opportunity the thrive in diverse and inclusive environments, as the sense of belonging they feel can carry over for the remainder of their lives.
As a girl in STEM, I began my journey feeling unheard, ignored, and irrelevant. As a young woman in STEM, I now feel empowered, acknowledged, and confident.
To all the girls out there, find your journey within yourself, persevere for what you are passionate about, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Once you have overcome your personal struggles, lift the other minorities around you, and push for the changes we want and need to see.