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?