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Sisterhood of STEM

Recently I’ve posted about the revolutionary power of STEM in developing countries and how to achieve its potential.

First, the girls themselves need to feel the desire to pursue STEM and receive the rewards it offers.

Then organizations such as the United Nations, schools, churches and our own Benignant de Eagle Foundation can help them.

But there’s a third step necessary to realize the dream. It’s to engage the women who already have experienced the satisfactions of STEM.

Girls need role models and mentors. If you are a career STEM woman, you might assume that just because you’re the only female in your company or school, you already stand out as a “role model.” But that’s only among your co-workers, and they’re all male.

Or, you might think that because you’ve joined a women’s group at your company, or an academic women’s organization, you’ve done your part. But again, you’ll mostly impact women who already work at your company or attend university – in other words, the women who have already chosen and studied STEM.

Alternately, you might think, “I’m not the role model type.” It’s true that your STEM experience hasn’t prepared you for mentorship. If you’re a pioneer, you’ve probably learned to “tough it out alone,” rather than seeking others for help. So now it feel unnatural to reach out and help others.

But I challenge you to re-think those assumptions. Here are a few suggestions to become a person mentor and get fulfillment from helping others.

Revisit your Facebook and LinkedIn pages. Post items about STEM, your research, other women in STEM, etc. Put the message online, and befriend any girls who might be candidates for a STEM future.

Join groups or support organizations in social media that deal with STEM or female education issues. Then write posts, white papers and comments that keep the STEM conversation in front of people. This should feel completely natural – it’s what we do as engineers, scientists and academics all the time.

Social media is particularly effective in helping girls in developing countries. If you connect with them and post photos of your work, it can have a powerful effect. You may have planted the seeds of a girl’s dream.

Finally, when you talk to people either online or in real conversation, share your STEM experience. For example, if you tell people your profession and they seem surprised, tell them why you selected your career and what you hope to accomplish with it.

If the listeners are girls, you’re already mentoring them. If they are parents, teachers or spouses, they might be in a position to affect a girl’s decision in the future.

I know the power a role model can have. Even though no one in my family was involved in STEM, the women showed tremendous resilience in dealing with poverty, abandonment and other hardships. They taught me how to thrive, not just survive, despite the headwinds. You can read about it in my upcoming autobiography.

You may not have such dramatic experiences, but whatever you have, you need to share it. Take the first steps and join the Sisterhood of STEM empowerment.

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