For the final week of Women's History Month, senior Isabelle A. shares what it means to be a woman in STEM and how she feels empowered to support and advocate for inclusive change in STEM fields.
I bolted across the courtyard, chasing after scattered worksheets as months of work flew away in the wind. Despite my meticulous planning for the STEMinism Club’s first workshop, we hadn’t thought to account for the weather. As club members ran to catch the remaining runaway papers, I quickly regathered my pack of middle-schoolers.
“All right, who wants to learn how the internet works?” I asked.
The kids’ faces lit up as I explained my lesson, and I felt a surge of pride while watching them roleplay as computers. I was once again reminded of how rewarding it was to teach and inspire young people.
Since I was young, I have always been conscious of being a woman in STEM, and in many cases, the woman in STEM. I remember the dread I felt at programming summer camps as I scanned the room searching for just one other girl. I felt frustrated and trapped by this endless cycle—young women felt discouraged to study what they wanted due to a lack of female role models in those fields—compelling me to support girls, like the young me, when they felt alone.
My friends and I founded the STEMinism Club during our sophomore year at Nueva to create a space where women in STEM would be safe to take risks and pursue their interests, while sharing experiences with peers. As a club, we have developed lessons for the Nueva community and have held events to celebrate the achievements of women scientists. But as much as I aimed to inspire others—striving to be the female role model I wished I had when I was younger—I, too, have been inspired and humbled by the many people that supported the club and advocated for inclusive change.
Later in my sophomore year, as another effort toward empowerment in computer science, I applied to be the programming co-captain on the robotics team. I became fixated on the idea that I had to get the position for empowerment’s sake, that I had to be doing complex technical work and become the first female programmer to lead the subteam. However, even as I wrote my application, it became increasingly clear that I wasn’t expecting to get the position. Self-doubt aside, I still didn’t think I was the correct person for the job, as my passion lay in a different place.
At first, my new position didn’t sound nearly as cool as the head “pro gamer” co-leader of the Inclusion Subteam. I became worried and conscious of my role, thinking that as “The Girl,” I was destined to play a supporting role forever, teaching new members and arranging team activities instead of doing the cool stuff like making robots shoot balls. But I began to realize the importance of inclusion, the glue that held the team together, and created better communication and engagement—as well as made things more fun! I was proud to watch the programming team grow from three girls in a group of about 25 to a more diverse, conscious, and supportive environment, as well as continued to pursue technical work.
Through leading the robotics team’s inclusion subteam and the STEMinism Club at Nueva, I have learned that empowerment isn’t just being the one that yells loudest in the classroom, or the girl that can keep up with all the boys on the playground. STEM is nothing without the human connections and real-world purposes behind it, and there’s nothing shameful or weak about choosing outreach and education over numbers and code. Becoming a STEMinist has been a personal journey from skittish observer to club leader to advocate of young STEMinists, and yet my passion for connecting with others and hearing their voices remains unchanged. If you’re looking for engaging conversation, STEM events to contribute to, and, objectively, the best Zoom backgrounds, we’d love to have you at STEMinism Club.