“With my Glenview’s Got STEAM program we want to excite girls about the possibilities of STEM that are available to them and pair them with high school mentors who are involved in STEM.”

— Kate Stack

 

This Women’s History Month at Mand Labs we focus our attention on the incredible “Little Women” who are following their passion with grit and determination. In this blog series throughout March, we bring you stories of a few dynamic young women who are paving the way for our generation to soar right through the glass ceiling.

Kate Stack, a high school student at Glenview, Illinois, has taken her love for STEM beyond the four walls of her classroom. Her invention, Epi-Spot, a stuffed animal that teaches people with food allergies how to administer lifesaving epinephrine injections, had won her the Infosys Young Maker Award 2017. Kate has also been instrumental in starting a makerspace and STEM program at the Glenview Public Library with her Infosys grant money of $10,000.

Founder of Glenview’s Got STEAM, an outreach program for middle school girls, Kate loves attending and presenting her projects at Maker Faires. She spoke to Urmila Marak, Head of Communications at Mand Labs, about her invention and what inspires her to be so passionate about STEM. Excerpts.

 

 

1. Your prototype Epi-Spot was chosen for Infosys Young Maker Award – could you please tell us what is Epi-Spot all about and how did you come up with this invention?

Epi-Spot is a furry friend helping people with food allergies learn how to administer lifesaving epinephrine injections. Ever since I was three years old, I have had a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. So I had to learn how to self-administer epinephrine in case of a severe allergic reaction. As a kid, I remember learning how to use my injector was a scary experience because I was afraid of needles. The only ways of training were to practice on myself with a special training device or by injecting an orange. I wanted to create a friendlier method of training that was also engaging.

To create Epi-spot, I had to teach myself how to program electronics with an Arduino. The toy has a touch sensor on its thigh to register the injector being placed. Then an instruction screen is activated which guides the user through the steps of the injection. I have been able to use the project in many cool ways. I submitted the prototype to the Infosys Young Maker Award competition and received a $10,000 grant to donate to my local library to start STEM programming and a makerspace. I have also taken Epi-Spot to national food allergy conferences for feedback.

 

 

2. You have also founded Glenview’s Got STEAM, an outreach program for middle school girls. What inspires you to be so passionate about STEAM?

What inspires me to be passionate about STEM is how I can apply my creativity to solve problems. The area of STEM that I am most interested in right now is biomedical engineering. It’s been amazing to see how this field of engineering (and others!) is directly improving the lives of people. With my Glenview’s Got STEAM program we want to excite girls about the possibilities of STEM that are available to them and pair them with high school mentors who are involved in STEM.

 

3. How do you think as an influencer in your space you can motivate more girls in STEM?

I think that being a role model and enthusiastic about STEM is important in changing perceptions. It’s important to break stereotypes and show that you can be in STEM and still have a multitude of other interests. On my twitter account (@MakerKate) along with other teens in STEM we use our platform to encourage others and talk about our experiences.

 

 

4. As a young girl aspiring a career in STEM/STEAM, what major challenges do you face?

I think it is important to be resilient and keep a growth mindset. It’s crucial to believe in yourself even if others do not. I have found that by keeping focused on what I am learning instead of what others are doing is when I am the most successful.

 

5. Who are your role models and why?

My role models are mostly peers whom I have met at conferences or through social media. Many of them are a part of @TheSTEAM_Squad on Twitter but others include people like Abigail Harrison (@AstronautAbby) or Emily Calandrelli (@TheSpaceGal). They are all extremely talented and always willing to give advice or help with projects. Each one of them is rocking it in their own way and are an inspiration to others!

 

6. Why do you think it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age?

When I was younger I thought that you had to be extraordinarily smart and understand everything in order to have a chance at a STEM career. But through the Maker Movement and my various experiences I have seen that this is not true! These misconceptions exist among students so it’s important to challenge these notions.

 

 

7. What advice would you love to give your peers and other young girls who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

The biggest piece of advice I would give is not to be afraid of taking chances and trying something new. When I was younger I never imagined I would be as involved in STEM as I am now, but I had an open mind and took risks. It’s easy to measure yourself against all that you don’t know, but instead try to measure yourself by how much you have learned. It’s also helpful to reach out to people who are involved in things you are interested in; whether that be a neighbor, family member, teacher, or even a fellow student.

 

8. How do you like to relax when you are not working or studying?

I have been teaching myself the ukulele for the past couple years and I enjoy film photography! I love to work in a darkroom and I appreciate the hands-on aspect that goes into every roll of film or print. I’m also endlessly inspired by the Maker Movement and I like to attend and present at Maker Faires whenever possible.

We wish Kate Stack the very best in her future endeavors! Follow Kate Stack on Twitter @makerkate 

 

“Be yourself and know that your goals are more important than what others “think” you can accomplish. It’s okay to dream, but it’s better to do it.”

— Taylor Richardson

 

This Women’s History Month at Mand Labs we focus our attention on the incredible “Little Women” who are following their passion with grit and determination. In this blog series throughout March, we bring you stories of a few dynamic young women who are paving the way for our generation to soar right through the glass ceiling.

Meet 16-year-old Taylor Richardson, an aspiring engineer, scientist and an astronaut, who has an impressive list of accomplishments in her kitty. Taylor is on a mission to inspire more girls of color into STEM and has successfully raised over $100,000 for STEM-related causes through her crowdfunding campaigns. She has also donated over 10,000 books to young people across the world.

Also known as Astronaut Starbright, Taylor is a student of the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida. She spoke to Urmila Marak, Head of Communications at Mand Labs, about her philanthropic work and how she remains undeterred by the obstacles that come her way and doesn’t let the challenges slow her down. Excerpts.

 

1. You are just 15 and you have achieved so much at such a young age. What inspires you towards your dream of becoming an engineer, a scientist and an astronaut?

Knowing that there is so much in the world that hasn’t been explained, or explored. My curiosity drives me to keep moving toward my goals.

 

 

2. Please tell us more about your philanthropic work, including what propelled you to start a GoFundMe campaign to help 100 girls watch the movie “Hidden Figures.”

I advocate for girls in STEM so that they know that they have someone encouraging them and who looks like them. Representation in the STEM community is lacking women and people of color, and the media plays a part in that. When I saw a private screening of “Hidden Figures” I was inspired to help other girls see the film because it was the first time I had learned of the extremely important roles that African-American women played in the space program.

I knew that if more girls knew about those contributions then they would feel that they could achieve anything they put their minds to. I’ve raised over $100,000 for STEM- related causes and donated over 10,000 books to young people across the world because representation and education are so important to me.

 

 

3. How do you think as an influencer in your space you can motivate more girls in STEM?

Just by showing them that they are enough. I was bullied because of my skin color, retained in second grade because I initially was a slow reader. I was told not to participate in STEM activities because I was a girl, and have ADHD (Which I call Abundantly Different Happily Divine) but haven’t let any of those obstacles slow me down or make me feel like my goals are not attainable. I believe in doing, not just dreaming.

 

4. As a young girl pursuing a career in STEM, what major challenges do you face?

I mentioned many of them above. When you don’t resemble everyone doing it, sometimes it’s hard to find your comfort space. That’s why I’ve been building groups of STEM sisters so that we’ll have a built-in support system.

 

5. Who are your role models and why?

Dr. Mae Jemison, Arlan Hamilton, Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey. They’ve each added to a system that already existed, but completely transformed how others think about the space program, investing in companies, creating impactful films, and being the voice of reason in the media.

 

 

6. Why do you think it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age?

The more exposure that children have to STEM education the faster they can find what they do and don’t like about it. Plenty of college student go into pre-med, without even realizing whether they really like it or because it’s the only job they know in the field. Almost everything that we use in our day-to-day lives like cellphones, apps, cars, television, computers email were created by someone in STEM. If we can convey that message to children, many may not grow up wanting to be doctors.

 

7. What advice would you love to give your peers and other young girls who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Be yourself and know that your goals are more important than what others “think” you can accomplish. It’s okay to dream, but it’s better to do it. Find mentors, and ask questions because it’s the only way to learn what you don’t know.

 

8. How do you like to relax when you are not working?

Hanging out with my friends, going to the movies, and talking on the phone like most teenag

We wish Taylor Richardson the very best in her future endeavors! Follow Taylor Richardson on Twitter @astrostarbright 

 

“…Be passionate, persistent and work hard. Success does not come overnight, but it is an accumulation of hard work spanning many years.”

— Hasini Jayatilaka

 

This Women’s History Month at Mand Labs we focus our attention on the incredible “Little Women” who are following their passion with grit and determination. In this blog series throughout March, we bring you stories of a few dynamic young women who are paving the way for our generation to soar right through the glass ceiling.

Meet Hasini Jayatilaka, the young scientist, who in just a few years into her research has brought hope to millions of cancer patients with her significant discovery. This discovery will help in slowing down the spread of cancer by directly affecting the complex mechanism behind the spread.

After completing her postdoctoral research from Stanford University School of Medicine, Hasini recently joined Syneos Health as a consultant. This young scientist has also made it to the Forbes list 30 Under 30 – Science 2019.

She spoke to Urmila Marak, Head of Communications at Mand Labs, about what got her interested in taking up her study on cancer and how her discovery can help in cancer treatment. Excerpts.

 

 

1. You have discovered a signalling pathway that blocks the spread of cancer. Could you please elaborate more on the findings – What it is all about and how will this discovery help in cancer treatment?

My team and I discovered that cancer cells can communicate with each other based on how they are closely packed. They communicate through two molecules called interleukin 6 and interleukin 8. Like anything else in nature, when things get too packed, this signal is enhanced causing them to move away faster from the primary tumor and spread to a new site. So, when we block this signal using a drug cocktail that we developed, we can stop the communication between the cancer cells and slow down its spread.

Ninety percent of cancer-related deaths are caused due to metastasis. Our finding is significant because currently there are no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved therapeutics that target metastasis alone. In fact, metastasis is thought of as a by-product of tumor growth. It is believed that if we shrink the tumor we can stop its spread. However, we successfully slowed down the spread of cancer, not by shrinking the tumor, but by directly affecting the complex mechanism behind the spread.

 

 

2. Tell us more about yourself. What inspired you to take up this study on cancer?

I started working in the lab of Dr. Denis Wirtz as an undergraduate research assistant during my second year of university. At Johns Hopkins University, it is mandatory for undergraduate students to complete at least one semester of research. I chose to do my research in Dr. Wirtz’s lab after I had seen him present at a seminar. His enthusiasm and passion for his work on cancer metastasis is what drew me to research on this subject.

As an undergraduate research assistant, I was given to look at how cancer cells move in a 3D Collagen I Matrix that recapitulated in a dish after migrating cells are exposed to the human body. This was new and exciting for me as most studies had been conducted in 2D flat plastic dishes that really weren’t representative of what was happening in our bodies.

During this time, I attended a seminar conducted by Dr. Bonnie Bassler from Princeton University. She talked about how bacterial cells would communicate with each other based on their population density and perform a specific action. This was a light-bulb moment for me! I thought “wow”, I see this in my tumor cells when it comes to their movement. The idea for my project was thus born. I hypothesized that the movement of cancer cells could be regulated by how closely packed they are in the tumor microenvironment.

We then recruited undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and professors from multiple institutions and disciplines to come together and work on the idea that I conceived as a sophomore in college. After years of experiments together and merging diverse perspectives and ideas, we identified a new signaling pathway that controlled cell density dependent migration in cancer cells.

We decided that we wanted to block this pathway and see if we could slow down the spread of cancer. We implemented this in pre-clinical animal models. We came up with a drug cocktail that consisted of Tocilizumab, which is currently used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and Reparixin, a molecule currently in clinical trials for breast cancer.

Interestingly, what we found was that the cocktail of these two drugs only targeted metastasis and not tumor growth. This was significant because currently there aren’t any FDA approved therapeutics that target metastasis alone.

 

 

3. How do you think as an influencer in your space you can motivate more girls in STEM?

I think part of encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM is by showing them how women, who are currently pursuing STEM, are “ordinary” like any of us. When I was younger (and even now) I look at women who are successful in STEM and think they are superhuman and I don’t have the superhuman talent that they possess. However, what I have learned is that these women who I look up to are just like me. They all enjoy a good laugh, they all want to have fun, and they all want to pursue ideas that interest them. Showing that “ordinary” side of me, has helped me motivate girls to pursue more STEM careers.

 

4. As a young girl pursuing a career in STEM, what major challenges do you face?

Working with difficult scientists. Working with anyone difficult takes a lot of patience and self-restraint to tolerate the toxic environment. It’s important to teach girls how to navigate these kind of situations. In my case, once the projects ended, I was able to stop working with those scientists and cautiously pick who I wanted to work with.

 

5. Why do you think it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age?

I think with anything else in life it’s important to expose children to all opportunities available to them and let them pursue what interests them. Introducing children to STEM at a young age gets them excited about the possibilities that exists.

 

 

6. What advice would you love to give your peers and other young girls who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

I would advise them to pursue a career that they love. I wake up every day excited to enter the lab and work on challenging projects. I would advise them to be passionate, persistent and work hard as success does not come overnight, but it is an accumulation of hard work spanning many years. My professional journey has been hard but I persisted because I got support from friends and family and I am grateful to be where I am today. I would also advise them to be kind and supportive to peers as individual success contributes to collective success. I wouldn’t have been here without my peers.

 

7. How do you like to relax when you are not working.

A lot of my free time now is spent meeting with friends and skyping with my family in Sri Lanka. Sometimes when I have time to myself, I like reading, experimenting with recipes, and watching TV shows and movies. I also like to work out and stay active. This usually involves yoga and running. Anything that takes me away from my phone and computer is relaxing.

We wish Hasini every success in her research and future endeavors! Follow Hasini Jayatilaka on Twitter @HasiniJt 

 

I want to walk on Mars because it’s my dream, but even more so, because going to Mars represents the dreams of my generation and our future.”

— Astronaut Abby

 

This Women’s History Month at Mand Labs we focus our attention on the incredible “Little Women” who are following their passion with grit and determination. In this blog series throughout March, we bring you stories of a few dynamic young women who are paving the way for our generation to soar right through the glass ceiling.

Abigail Harrison, popularly known as Astronaut Abby, has set her sight on not just being a NASA astronaut but on being the first astronaut to set foot on Mars. She started being vocal about her larger than life dream when she was only 13 years. She’s come a long way since then and today is a social-media influencer with over one million followers and fans to support her dreams and mission.

Abigail, who studied astrobiology and Russian at Wellesley College, graduated in 2019. Founder of The Mars Generation, 501c3 non-profit, when she was only 18 years in 2015, Abigail is also a big time advocate of STEM and Space Exploration. Through her outreach program she focuses on educating people around the world about the importance of science literacy and how space exploration is crucial to the future of mankind.

Astronaut Abby spoke to Urmila Marak, Head of Communications at Mand Labs, about her non-profit, The Mars Generation and what keeps her ticking. Excerpts.

 

1. You are just 21 and you have achieved so much at such a young age. What inspires you towards your dream of becoming the first astronaut to land on Mars?

I have wanted to be an astronaut for as long as I can remember- some of my first memories are of staring at the night sky and dreaming of going to space. Over the years this passion for space exploration has only grown stronger.

In addition, I’ve been inspired to continue reaching for this dream by all of the incredible people who I’ve met in the space and STEM industries. I want to walk on Mars because it’s my dream, but even more so, because going to Mars represents the dreams of my generation and our future.

 

 

2. Please tell us about your Mars Generation initiative.

The Mars Generation is a 501c3 non-profit which I founded when I was 18 in 2015. We focus on educating the public about the importance of science literacy, increasing interest in space exploration, and inspiring/supporting the next generation to pursue careers in space and STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts, and math). The idea is that if we want younger generations to accomplish great things we need to be inspiring and supporting students today.

The Mars Generation provides educational programs and materials for students of all ages and all around the world through our Student Space Ambassador and Future of Space outreach programs. We also curate an annual awards list (24 under 24) of young people who are changing the world through their passion for STEAM and education.

In combination with my own channels (as Astronaut Abby) The Mars Generation has over 1 million followers on social channels, where we produce and share space and STEAM-based content. Finally, The Mars Generation provides fully paid (including transportation!) scholarships for students living in poverty to go to space camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

 

3. How do you think as an influencer in your space you can motivate more girls in STEM

I think it’s absolutely essential that we do not underestimate the importance of representation. Role models are incredibly important, especially on a subconscious level. Girls need to be able to picture themselves excelling in STEM careers, and for that to be possible, they need to see women and girls who are already doing so. The most impactful way (both in reaching the largest number of young women and in making STEM ‘cool’ or engaging) is through pop culture and social media.

As an influencer I can utilize my channels and communities (1 million followers across social media) to be a role model, to engage more girls in STEM, and to encourage people to be more open to girls/women in traditionally male dominated fields. Additionally, being an influencer allows me to support STEM education and advocacy financially- I donate 100% of the proceeds from paid influencer work that I do (speaking/appearing at events/conferences, brand work, appearing in commercials, etc.) directly to The Mars Generation.

 

 

4. As a young girl pursuing a career in STEM, what major challenges do you face?

One of the greatest challenges I have faced as a woman pursuing a career in STEM is self doubt. Women and girls face an inordinate level of something known as ‘imposter syndrome’. Imposter syndrome is basically a nagging feeling that your achievements aren’t legitimate or deserved based on your skill and effort.

I have found that many women with equal or greater qualifications to men question their ability to succeed, especially in traditionally male dominated fields, such as STEM. I am no different. Despite having great self confidence, I definitely still sometimes struggle with believing in my abilities. Rather than trying to change this piece of myself I try to look at it as a positive quality that has the potential to be negative, if not kept in check. A little bit of self doubt isn’t a bad thing as it allows me to be introspective.

When I start to feel self doubt I use it as an opportunity to reflect on my actions, to ask myself questions such as; ‘have I given this task my all? What are my accomplishments? What defines success, to me?’ Asking these questions helps me to stay on track and stay motivated. However, self doubt can quickly become a slippery slope.

To avoid this, I try to stay vocal about my dream, so that people around me can remind me to believe in myself. I greatly appreciate my community- family members, friends, teachers, and all of my followers on social media- for being a part of my journey.

 

5. Who are your role models and why?

Role models are incredibly important to achieving big dreams and even more so for women. I was fortunate to have multiple people step in over the past 10 years to help guide my journey towards becoming an astronaut

Notably, my 5th grade science teacher who assured that I didn’t lose an interest in STEM fields throughout middle school, Astronaut Wendy Lawrence whose belief and encouragement has helped me never give up, and my research advisor Dr. Andrew Schuerger who has helped guide me as I take the big leap from Undergrad to Grad school.

Despite each playing a unique role in my life, one thing which each of these people (and other mentors I have had) have in common is that they have believed strongly in me and my ability to succeed in STEM. Of course concrete help, such as career guidance, is important.

However, when entering fields (such as STEM) which women and girls have been dissuaded from for decades, I think it’s equally important for women to have guidance as it is to have someone who believes that they can accomplish their dreams. Knowing that someone who has already accomplished a career in STEM believes in you can be an incredible help.

 

 

6. Why do you think it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age?

Kids are born as explorers. They have this natural sense of curiosity and wonder. Introducing them to engaging and exciting STEM education early on allows us to help them retain this curiosity and funnel it into their future education and careers. We need to make sure we teach kids how important having a strong base in STEM fields is (regardless of their future career path) and how much fun it can be to use STEM to explore.

 

7. What advice would you love to give your peers and other young girls who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Be loud and be proud about your dreams! The first step in making a goal come true is believing in yourself- no one else can do that for you. The next step is talking about your dreams and goals and plans. Once you start being vocal about what it is you plan to do in the future other people can step in and help you. But others will not know to help you if they don’t know what you are planning to do.

One of the biggest problems we have with recruiting young women and minorities into STEM fields is that they often don’t feel supported and they often feel actively unwelcome in STEM fields/careers. By being loud and proud of your goals and dreams you can build a community of people around you who will support you during times when reaching those dreams may feel like a struggle.

 

8. How do you like to relax when you are not working?

My favorite way to relax is through dance! I am passionate about dance and am fortunate to have gotten to learn a handful of different styles over the last couple years. Currently, I do Ballet, Lindy Hop, West Coast Swing, Blues, Salsa, Bachata, Fusion, Contra, and Waltz. I have also always loved to relax through sports. Currently, I play Rugby, but in the past I have trained for marathons, been a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) collegiate diver, and a ton of other activities.

We wish her the very best in her future endeavors! Follow Astronaut Abby on Twitter  @AstronautAbby 

 

“It’s never too late to get started on your dream, and never too early!

— Makiah Eustice

 

This Women’s History Month at Mand Labs we focus our attention on the incredible “Little Women” who are following their passion with grit and determination.  In this blog series throughout March, we bring you stories of a few dynamic young women who are paving the way for our generation to soar right through the glass ceiling.

Makiah Eustice is a true example of how it is never too late to dream big and get started. This commissioned US Air Force officer and an aspiring astronaut, has in her own words, “grown from a space enthusiast to an aspiring aerospace industry leader.”

Makiah, who graduated from the Space Studies Program at the International Space University in 2019, also received her B.S in Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University. She is also the president of Texas A&M SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) chapter and founder of the Aggie Astronaut Corps program.

The rising star in defense, aviation and space, also has two space analog missions, Mars Desert Research Crew 200 and the Mars Academy USA mission, to her credit.

Makiah spoke to Urmila Marak about her love for aerospace and why it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age. Excerpts.

 

1. When did you discover your love for aerospace? What has been the most defining moment in your life so far?

I don’t remember the exact moment, but it was junior year of high school when I first heard about Space X and Virgin Galactic. ‘We are going back to space’ was the message. ‘We are going to Mars’! That sounded absolutely crazy, but it gave me such a yearning to be a part of something big, something humanity shifting. I decided to try what I thought was the hardest, most important job for getting to space, engineering!

During my freshman year at Texas A&M, I had several life changing experiences back to back. I had the chance to ride in a T-38 Talon (what they train Air Force pilots and astronauts in) and attend Space Camp USA. I knew then that I wanted to become an Air Force officer and an astronaut. Soon after, I was accepted into Aerospace Engineering. It was like my purpose in life suddenly became clear!

 

 

2. How do you intend to take your aerospace career ahead as the commissioned US Air Force Officer?

I’m so excited to finally serve and work as an engineer! I hope to eventually become a flight test engineer. For that I will need to do additional education, so I need to get a Master’s degree through the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) and be selected for the Test Pilot School. At the same time, I’ll be balancing my other pursuits, like spaceflight-related research and training.

My career is unpredictable at this point. I might find a new interest that leads me to another field that I pursue in the private sector. Either way, I want to go to be an astronaut someday! Between the civilian and commercial opportunities in the future, I believe starting my path in the military will help bring my dream closer to reality.

 

3. How do you think as an influencer in your space you can motivate more girls in STEM?

I believe being my authentic self, whether on or off duty, can help girls see themselves in STEM. I’m a black women, space advocate, analog astronaut, engineer, and future Air Force officer. I can be good at what I do without fitting into any mold.

Secondly, I can show how collaboration and community are so important for STEM. We solve problems together. We depend on each other. We lift each other up. Having a community of supportive women in my field through the Brooke Owens Fellowship has made me better prepared for STEM. I hope girls never think they have to go through their field with a competitive, cutthroat mindset. STEM is fun, and so are the people!

 

4. As a young girl pursuing a career in STEM, what major challenges do you face?

I didn’t realize how my environment shaped my perception of STEM fields. My interest in physics in high school actually made me scared; I thought it would be too hard to become a scientist, doctor, or engineer. Even when I joined the robotics team, I was very intimidated by students who already had building and coding skills. Instead of encouraging me out of my comfort zone, the coach just did not expect much from me.

The biggest challenge was developing my own courage when I had almost no mentors or proponents to lift me up. It was my own courageous choice to pursue engineering over videography. It is still sometimes a challenge to believe in myself.

 

 

5. Who are your role models and why?

I have so many! But I want to especially highlight some of my black role models.My parents, who have a strong relationship, have taught me how to have perseverance and selflessness through struggle. We weren’t well off, but we still brought in two brothers who didn’t have family stability. I really appreciate the value of family because of them.

My cousin, a Columbia University graduate, introduced me to the collegiate world and encouraged me to aim higher than a local college. She is one of the few people in my family with a graduate degree.

Col. Ken Allison, (Ret.) worked in space operations in the Air Force and the private sector. He now supports cadet professional development and has been my mentor since I first visited Texas A&M. I want to model his energy and resilience in the Air force and beyond.

Dr. Sian Proctor, a NASA astronaut finalist and analog astronaut veteran. She helped me prepare for my first Mars analog mission! She is always trying new things and promoting STEM and space. She inspires me to enjoy the journey and don’t stress about the destination.

Naia Butler-Craig is a senior at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. She has presented at multiple conferences, published papers, worked at NASA, started her own company, and got into Georgia Tech for her PhD! She is persistent, confident, and positive. Her achievements inspire me to reach for greatness every day.

 

6. Why do you think it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age?

From my perspective, I grew up with more of an artistic background from my parents. I loved to dance, sing, and collect rocks to make sculptures! Even though I was good at math and science, I couldn’t see any reason I’d want to work in that field (until high school).

No one taught me the connection of music to sound waves, or rocks to the sediments of Mars. STEM is so important, but for young kids, it’s important to bring it to the world they are already curious about. The perception is that STEM is about being good at calculations or having a lot of knowledge, when it is really another tool to strengthen our passion in any domain!

 

 

7. What would you like to tell your peers and other young girls who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

It is never too late to start. Whether you decided to become an astronaut at 5, 18, or 40, age or experience doesn’t control your path. Your dedication does.

It’s also never too early. Be proud of your dream, be curious, and don’t listen to others who think small. If your plan changes, it is because you took the chance to decide yourself, not because others turned you away.

 

8. How do you like to relax when you are not working?

I play this instrument called the Mountain Dulcimer (also called Appalachian dulcimer). My dad is a rock-start at it, so I decided to pick up this four-stringed beauty. I love learning to play my favorite classic folk and rock songs. I’m even starting to write a bit.

We are proud of her achievements and wish her the very best in her future endeavors! Follow Makiah Eustice on Twitter @Astro_Eustice 

 

Mand Labs celebrates the intellectual power, strength and success of women who have dared to dream and achieve. We asked some of these women in STEM over email to share their words of wisdom this UN International Day of Women and Girl in Science.

 

February 11 marks the  UN International Day of Women and Girl in Science . The purpose of this day according to the UN General Assembly, is to “achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls…”

Given that February 11 is now a movement recognizing the role of women and girls in science for sustainable development and economic growth, according to the UNESCO’s Groundbreaking report, the fact remains that female STEM students in higher education across the globe account for only 35 percent and women researchers account for only 28 percent.

UNESCO figures of 2014-2016 also reveal that only around 30 percent of girl students select STEM-related subjects. Globally, the enrolment of girl students in information and communication technology is as dismal as 3 percent. The enrolment for manufacturing and construction is 8 percent and enrolment for statistics, math, engineering and natural science is as low as 5 percent.

Seemingly, the number of women in science and engineering is going up, but men continue to outnumber. Based on a research conducted by the US Chamber Foundation, the number of women graduates in the US accounted for only 6 percent compared to the 20 percent of the male graduates in core STEM.

Several studies point this dismal number to the fact that the gender gap begins as early as grade school.

Professor Yamuna Krishnan at the department of chemistry, University of Chicago, points out:

“Rooting out unconscious bias is essential to bridge the gender parity.”

 

The challenge lies in society where girls are not encouraged to pursue science and math by parents, family, teachers and friends. This influence play a pertinent role in shaping beliefs and choices, not to mention the impact it has on their identity and behavior. Most of the girls grow up believing that they are not cut out for science subjects, thus opting for humanities and arts.

Chantelle Bell, co-founder, Syrona Women & 2018 Forbes Top 50 women in Tech, says:

“The most important factor required to bridge the gender gap would be to have more inspirational women at the forefront and connect women with children at a younger age.”

 

But the big question is how do we do that? Research shows that we can start at the very core by getting well trained women teachers. It is a given that experienced and well trained teachers can make life-altering impact on students. Female teachers in turn should get professional development opportunities to catalyze their passion and talent for teaching STEM.

Similarly,  we need to include more girls and women in the STEM workforce as it is essential to build a stronger global economy with much wider perspectives and an environment that encourages acceptability and access.

Getting STEM-qualified women into top companies and attracting more women at the science, math and engineering faculty of colleges and universities by introducing effective work-life policies and implementing mentoring programs are some ways to close the gender gap.

Women might be getting more educated than ever before, however, only 25 percent represent the community in STEM fields. So, to bridge this gap and take a step forward towards the UN goal “for achieving sustainable development and fulfilling the promise of the 2030 agenda to “leave no one behind”, we at Mand Labs believe that it is not just one day we should focus on working towards empowering women and girls, but it should be a concerted effort everyday.

This UN International Day of Women and Girl in Science, some women STEM leaders, who have broken the glass ceiling and have made a mark for themselves, share inspiring messages for young girls who want to foray into the world of STEM.

 

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