Updated: Apr 2, 2021
Himanshi is an incoming freshman at Johns Hopkins University. She is the founder of STEM4Girls, an organization that aims to inspire young girls, bridge the gender gap and address the lack of female role models by conducting weekly sessions with accomplished women in STEM. Interested in science and coding, Himanshi is a part of the New York Academy of Sciences 1000 Girls 1000 futures program. She's one of the few high schoolers that study Quantum Computing under IBM. She loves to explore new topics and feels strongly about human rights. She is also the founding member of Hellenic Debate Forum, an organization that trains children with learning disabilities in debate and public speaking.
What is STEM4Girls' initiative, and what inspired you to establish the program?
STEM4Girls (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) is an International platform that gives more insight to all young girls intrigued by these fields but do not get enough exposure to them. We aim to inspire young girls, bridge the gender gap and address the lack of female role models by conducting weekly sessions with accomplished women in STEM. These speakers provide invaluable insights, elucidating how they got into the field and what interested participants should do next. With such transparency, STEM4Girls advocates for equality while providing one with the best of the resources.
According to a 2018 report by the National Girls Collaborative Project, women accounted for only 28% of the workforce in science and engineering compared to 72% men. This deeply saddened me. STEM fields have had historically low participation from women since their origin. Less than a third of female students choose to study higher education courses in math and engineering. Entrenched gender stereotypes and gender biases drive girls and women away from pursuing careers in STEM-related fields. Such gender disparities adversely affect economic growth and social progress. Gender balance in enrollment and inclusivity in both participation and achievements in STEM education remains a global challenge. I wanted to do something about this issue, so I spoke to some girls and asked them if they would be interested in attending a session with a woman in STEM to gain inspiration and understand how it's like being a woman in STEM.
Along with wanting to take initiative and impact my community, another inspiration to start this project has been my maternal grandmother, Dr. Neera Misra. She was a Gynaecologist in Unnao, a small city in Uttar Pradesh. She was very brave and fought gender stereotypes in those times. I am grateful to have had the exposure to interact with her and learn from her.
The study "Girls in STEM: Is it a Female Role-Model Thing?" states that "brilliance is stereotypically correlated with masculinity," which is a reason "girls tend to move away from some STEM disciplines, as success in a STEM career is commonly associated with a high degree of intellectual brilliance."* Is this something you have observed in your program, where young girls lack confidence when addressing scientific problems? If so, how have the weekly sessions helped them in that aspect?
It is a well-known fact that women don't comprise much of the working class; STEM fields are no exception when it comes to the low percentage of women making up the industry. Moreover, women generally have a more challenging time as compared to men when looking to get their ideas accepted or funded or even given further thought, for that matter. A lot of the time, these ideas are dismissed as complete heresy. This isn't our collective opinion as an organization, but the recapitulation of women's history in STEM fields stretched out in a sentence. An extension of this problem is seen in other realms, such as distinct pay gaps, workplace sexism, sexual harassment, and others.
The bias or argument that women simply aren't biologically wired for skills involved in STEM fields. This argument usually entails that women's brains are better at verbal recall tasks than males and so they'd be better suited in other jobs where social interaction is crucial. However, this argument is flawed as there is no actual study backing it up with concrete evidence.
Girls don't lack confidence when addressing scientific problems, but they lack confidence in which STEM field they should pursue and what lies ahead. This happens because of the lack of resources and opportunities to interact with professionals and get first-hand experience in the field before having to choose it. Our weekly sessions have helped girls worldwide decide not only what they want to do but also know what they do not wish to pursue. Our sessions so far have covered diverse STEM fields and accomplished women that tell us about their journey-how they got there and being a woman in STEM. We have received a lot of positive feedback on how our sessions have helped young girls gain clarity and inspiration to pursue STEM fields. A few have also taken the guest speaker's contact details to further engage with them and learn more about their field of expertise.
Describe the progression of STEM4Girls; what did it start as, and what has it become today?
I started STEM4Girls in April 2020. Our first session was with my friend's mother, who is an instrumentation engineer. This session had 25 girls, and all of them were from Mumbai. Ten months in, I have interviewed 25 women in STEM and covered various fields like Quantum Biology, Oncology, Pharmaceutical Industry, Mathematics, Immunology, Biophysics, Search Platforms, Biological Oceanography, Cybersecurity, Scientific Journalism, Astrophysics, Data Analysis, Ophthalmology, Theoretical Physics, Chemical Engineering, Psychiatric Counseling, Gynecology, Architecture, Dermatology, etc. We have had some very proficient people like Dame Stephanie Shirley, Alana Karen-Director of Search Platforms at Google, Clarice Aiello-Assistant Professor at Quantum Biology Tech Lab in UCLA, Dr. Laura Helmuth-Editor in chief of Scientific American, Helga Gomes-Biological Oceanographer from Columbia University, Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan-Professor at Indian Institute of Science, Paula Garcia Todd-Global Strategic Manager-Pharmaceutical Solutions at DuPont, Dr. Anees Chagpar-Professor of Surgery-Oncology at Yale University. Our participating strength ranges from 50-80. Not only have we reached out to many young minds in Mumbai, where we are based, but in different cities of India-Jaipur, Delhi, Pune, Kochi (Kerala), Kakinada (Andra Pradesh), Mysore, Hapur (Uttar Pradesh), Rajahmundry (Andhra Pradesh), Kolkata, Mohali (Punjab), Kangra (Himachal Pradesh), Chandigarh, Bhilai (Chhattisgarh), Visakhapatnam, Bhubaneswar, Darbhanga (Bihar), Churu (Rajasthan), Trivandrum and Ernakulam (Kerala). We also have had people from these countries- UAE, China, Slovakia, Singapore, Zimbabwe, Sweden, Turkey, Japan, Egypt, Mexico, USA, Philippines, Thailand, Kosovo, Kuwait, Azerbaijan, Korea, Pakistan, Canada, and Lebanon.
We also reached out to underprivileged girls, which was in collaboration with STEMBaala. We started a new series on Instagram in which we host live sessions with girls at university studying STEM majors. We have covered various colleges like-University of Pennsylvania, the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, Johns Hopkins University, UC Berkeley, and Imperial College London. We continue to grow and impact more and more young girls every day!
Congratulations on receiving a first-place award in the Harvard MUN Act2Impact initiative! How do you feel this accomplishment will contribute to the development of STEM4Girls and its outreach? What are your future goals for the organization?
Thank you! I feel that this accomplishment will help us reach out to a wider audience and adds to our credibility as a non-profit organization. As far as future goals are concerned, we are working on getting non-profit status. We plan on reaching out to 10,000 girls by the end of 2021; we have already set up a plan to have sessions with underprivileged girls, reaching out to other accomplished women for the zoom sessions and college girls for the Instagram sessions from various STEM fields. We also plan to provide practical knowledge to girls for them to understand the ergonomics of careers in STEM. We would also love to expand our team of global people to cities and countries we haven't reached out to yet. To keep up with what we do next, you can follow us on Instagram @stem.4.girls!
*Front. Psychol., 10 September 2020 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02204