One Woman’s Mission To Build A Community In STEM

 

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Several weeks ago, I wrote about my experience as a young woman pursuing a career in advertising who also has an interest in STEM (and its status as a male dominated field). Personally, I was never told not to explore science or math as a career, but the media I consumed from youth onward tended to portray men in those roles. My parents gave me female-oriented magazines to read that focused on careers in fashion, social issues, art, and health, but very little on careers in science. On my campus, I’ve heard tons of stories from female peers who felt they were not encouraged to pursue STEM fields like their male counterparts and face a less welcoming environment in the classroom and the workplace. Other students I’ve talked to have had great professors and mentors, made friends in their classes, and have access to awesome resources, but still wish for a larger community of women exploring these subjects.

At the end of the article, I articulated my desire to connect with women who were not only making great strides in the STEM field, but also had the desire to reach out and lead young women to realize their potential in a field they might otherwise overlook. When I met Dr. Anna Powers as a result, I knew I had to share her story.

When Dr. Anna Powers, an NYU researcher, lecturer, scholar and entrepreneur, noticed that some female students had never been encouraged to explore STEM by a mentor or role model she quickly identified a correlation between lack of encouragement or guidance and performance in the subjects.

“There are very few women in these fields to begin with, so there is no community,” Powers says. “Not having the proper support can turn women away from the field and, thus, many young women feel that science is not for them.”

While Powers herself was always interested in STEM subjects, she noticed during her many years of teaching that while some young women were perfectly capable of excelling in these subjects, the society around them did not motivate or encourage them to explore. Then, their potential was left untapped.

As a direct result, Powers established her organization, Powers Education. Through this company, she pairs young women with tutors and role models to help them explore subjects like technology and math as well as unlock the potential they had not yet realized.

One student, for example, came to Powers with a “D” in a science course. The student had struggled to understand the subject and had almost resigned herself to failure as she felt she was more naturally gifted with language arts, a college major typically dominated by women. Powers took her into office hours sessions and explained that science, too, is a language and that her brain was perfectly capable of learning it. By the end of the semester, the student passed the course with an “A” and saw science in an entirely different light. For her, and many students, she simply needed a mentor to show her that her difficulty with science is not unsurmountable, she only needed to find inspiration in the pursuit of new knowledge – and that inspiration can open tons of doors.

“I could have gone into another field, had I not met a role model who encouraged me to get a PhD,” Powers says. “I have always been really good at science, but in order to pursue it, one needs to feel inspired.”

When Powers went to college, she took a course that combined math and physics, where her professor noticed her aptitude and encouraged her to pursue a career in STEM. For the first time in her life, she realized that science was a beautiful, ever-changing thing that she could spend the rest of her existence discovering. Being a goal oriented person, Powers decided that she would not only dedicate her life to science, but she also wanted to change the world. For her, that meant doing exactly what her professor had done for her. She wanted to bring more women on board to experience everything that STEM has to offer.

Currently, Powers Education is focused not only on teaching but also on building a community of women in STEM by inspiring women to participate. The video campaign, emPower, captures the stories of young women in STEM, their struggles and how the community in Powers Education helps them find belonging.

 

 

In the future, Powers wants Powers Education to be global. She still has work to do in the US and tons of girls can benefit from building a relationship with one of her tutors and receiving a deeper education, but some countries have even wider gaps to fill. In fact, in some countries, girls are discouraged from going to school in general, let alone exploring STEM.

“I want Powers Education to be the go-to resource and support for all educational and career related materials for women in STEM,” Powers says. “I believe it is essential to the world because women are essential to the world”

Want to learn more about Powers Education and ways you can participate?

Visit powerseducation.com/empower

The Truth About Women And STEM

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None of my closest friends are going into the STEM fields. Not a single one. Instead, we are all pursuing things like advertising, women’s studies, theater, and music. Honestly, I’m pretty torn about how that makes me feel.

This subject came to mind earlier today as I was reading an article about high paying, low stress jobs. The Occupational Information Network came out with a list of jobs in which the professionals were experiencing below average stress levels. When you look through the list, you’ll find that most of the higher paying jobs that also come with low stress are in STEM.

After reading this, I thought about my career of choice, advertising, and my general temperament. I kind of enjoy stress. I like being busy and dipping my hands in multiple projects at once. I like it when no two days of the week are the same, and pulling an all-nighter to work on a creative project is a guilty pleasure. Most of my female friends operate in the same mindset.

Our choices to go into non-STEM fields that will likely result in working way past 5 pm on the regular does not seem like a coincidence. As young girls, we grew up being told that building things was for boys and communicating/socializing was for girls. As we grew older, we were told that computer club was for boys and chorus was for girls. It’s no wonder that our choices in college majors panned out the way they did. Chances are, at some point the all-nighters will get old. We’ll tire of pumping our bodies with caffeine and working on weekends for a less than 6 figure salary. We might even grow to envy some of our male friends who are clocking out at a reasonable hour in silicon valley.

Part of me feels disappointed that none of my female friends chose STEM careers because it reminds me that we are part of a depressing statistic. All of my friends are feminists, and we spend plenty of time lamenting the lack of women in engineering or math, but none of us are changing that picture ourselves. On the one hand, I feel hypocritical, but on the other hand, I’m studying what I love — and I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Does that mean that one day, I’ll be making less than my male friends from college and also be twice as stressed? Maybe.

Of course, women who are going into the STEM field face a whole other set of challenges. A career as a computer hardware engineer may be lucrative and low-stress overall, but women in the field can face less welcoming environments that lead to anxiety, depression, and general frustration. Many women in STEM careers report experiencing a micro-aggression, receiving negative reactions from peers and family members for choosing a traditionally masculine field, or feeling excluded by the culture in their workplace. Surely this is not true for every woman in STEM, but it seems to be a common thread among many of the young women I have spoken to who are currently pursuing a degree in these fields.

As a young woman who isn’t pursuing a degree in STEM, I feel all I can do is learn from the awesome women who are . This is why I carefully follow women like Anne-Marie Imafidon, founder of the Stemettes.  I love the degree I’ve chosen and I don’t intend on changing my career path, but I also feel it is my duty to think critically about why I chose a career in a rapidly feminizing field. I also feel it is my duty to make sure my children know that they can choose any field they want — and hopefully not feel any guilt related to their choice whether it’s in STEM or something else. I know what I’m getting into by choosing a career in advertising. It means I’m not going to get offered a 65k per year job right out of college and it means I’m going to experience a little more stress. Right now, I wouldn’t change it for the world — but I also might start learning how to code, simply for the sake of exploration.

 

Learning To Look Past The Branding Of Social Movements

Feminism-advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal, to those of men.

A couple of years ago, Huffington Post did a poll that showed that the majority of its readers agree with the above definition of feminism but a minority would be willing to label themselves a feminist.

For years, people have been trying to figure out what causes this phenomenon, and as an advertising major, I would chalk it up to two things: social media and branding.

We all know what social media is, but what is a brand? A brand contains the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and ideas that come to mind when we think of a person, company, product, or in this case, a movement. We might not usually think of social movements in the context of branding, but the link has always been there. When you think of a racist person, you probably imagine a very specific person with certain clothes, a certain age, and a certain religious background. When you think of the people who supported Dr. Martin Luther King you imagine a certain type of person with a certain type of disposition. When you think of someone who supported Malcolm X, you probably imagine a totally different type of person. All of these associations you make in your mind, pertain to the branding of each social movement.

On social media, the brand associated with feminism is a mixed bag of negativity and clashing opinions.

If you search Instagram you’ll find that feminism is associated with Beyonce’s song “Flawless” which doesn’t have remotely feminist lyrics, but instead refers to women with degrading names and frames the female experience around mainly beauty, sex, and marriage (There’s nothing wrong with these things but if you’re going to position a song as feminist it might be best to venture into some other spheres like work and intelligence as well).

If you search the word feminism on Twitter, you’ll be met with all sorts of conflicting ideals.

Some women seem to believe that male feminists take away from female feminists.

Others aim to push back on the idea that all women have to constantly support each other regardless of the content.

Another set reject the idea that feminism need always be nice or polite.

If you go to YouTube, you’ll find a haven for those who disagree with feminism. If you simply search the word feminist, you’ll find videos that mostly exist to portray feminist women in the most negative possible way.

**The above video was posted last month by a YouTube account called Rekt Feminist Videos.  The woman’s poem is described as a “Fail” in the thumbnail, but upon closer inspection you’ll find that the reasoning behind why the content provider considers the video a failure pertains to the woman’s appearance — no other reason is given.

So what does all of this social media content do to the feminist brand and the millennial’s cognitive disconnect when it comes to feminism and possibly other social movements?

1.) Feminists are branded as a group of people who aren’t really sure what ideal feminism should be.

2.) Feminists are branded as a group of people who are ugly, whiny, stupid, crazy … the list goes on.

When you’re a millennial who gets the majority of their content and information about the world around you from social media, it becomes extremely easy to assume the above ideas to be true. Just like with any brand, once an image becomes set in the public consciousness, it becomes difficult to change. The difference between a company and a social movement is, a social movement doesn’t have a CEO or COO. There’s no person sitting at a mahogany desk somewhere, deciding what feminism should look like. Or what Black Lives Matter should look like. Or any other movement. The result is that people are going to publicly disagree with each other, and then the whole brand looks shaky, invalid, and difficult to trust.

If you were in the market for a new cellphone, but Apple’s latest model looked like nothing like its predecessors, you wouldn’t be as quick to buy it. Until the moment a brand becomes outdated, a brand needs consistency in order to gain the trust of the consumer. In this sense, social movements need consistency in order to persuade those outside the movement.  With the advent of social media making it increasingly easy for a social movement’s brand to become discombobulated, the millennial has trouble getting behind the label.

I’m a feminist. I’m not afraid of that label at all. Yet, at the same time, I know for a fact that I don’t agree with every feminist woman out there, and that’s perfectly okay. In the same vein, I believe that black lives matter, and all races should be treated equally, but I personally don’t agree with the idea of looting and destroying property as a form of protest. Still, I wouldn’t ever say I disagree that black lives matter just because I disagree with the members of the movement who have looted or destroyed property. I’ve learned to be comfortable disagreeing with people within movements I support and I’ve also learned to be open to letting people I disagree with make their case and possibly change my mind.

This whole concept really is elegantly simple. If you want to approach social movements in a way that is both intellectually and emotionally intelligent, you have to take a step away from the social media and away from the brand. Do some research and find out what the most agreed upon meaning of the movement is and decide whether you support that. If you’ve been wondering whether you’re a feminist or not, the answer is: If you believe women should be socially, economically, and politically equal to men and that parity has yet to be reached, then yes, you’re a feminist. Even if the brand you see or some of the ideas are incongruent with your personal ideals, no social movement is ever going to be composed of people who %100 agree with each other. It’s just impossible when a movement is that large, culturally complex, and spread out. And that’s just fine.