By Emily Koehne – Before high school, I had no idea what the acronym “STEM” meant. It only hit my radar in the 8th grade, once I started researching high schools. There was one school on my consideration list that was starting a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program. I didn’t fully understand how much STEM was shaping our world, but the curriculum had all advanced classes, so I figured I would apply.
I ended up being accepted to that program, and received an academic scholarship. As I began taking some of the STEM courses, I was exposed to things I had never been before, such as computer programming and engineering.
The more I progressed through the STEM program, the more I began to see that being a part of it was not considered “cool.” But I couldn’t understand why girls wouldn’t want to be involved in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, the topics that provide people with the tools to change the world. The lack of girls interested in STEM, in addition to the negative connotations I saw the media making about STEM, began to frustrate me, but I remained undeterred.
I couldn’t understand why girls wouldn’t want to be involved in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, the topics that provide people with the tools to change the world.
At the end of my sophomore year, I found out about an invention-based STEM competition for girls. To enter, you had to make a video explaining your invention and answer some other questions. Based on the announcement of the competition and the submission date being only three weeks apart, I knew I probably wasn’t going to win, but I didn’t care. This competition was right up my alley and I knew it would inspire me to learn something new.
I started to brainstorm… what could I invent in such a short time period? I kept going back to my childhood, and how I was obsessed with Barbies and American Girl Dolls, and constantly played with pink toys and watched princess movies. I thought that if there was a STEM-inspired doll or princess I would have known what STEM was and would have been interested in it much sooner.
I took this idea, blended it with my love of 3-D printing, and 3-D printed my own STEM doll, which I named “STEMily” (a play off my name). In my competition submission video, I explained the importance of encouraging girls to go into STEM, why I love 3-D printing, and the applications of 3-D printing in the real world.
Although I didn’t win the competition, I loved making my submission video because it combined my two favorite things: STEM and public speaking. That was it… I had discovered my passion and wanted to do more. I wanted to start something of my own that would help me foster girls’ interest in STEM.
My initial excitement quickly turned to discouragement. I knew that many organizations doing this already existed. I did not have major amounts of money to spend. I had no idea how to start my own organization or business. I also felt like I was just a random 16-year-old girl that no one would listen to.
Once I sat with those feelings and thoughts for a bit, I came to a different conclusion – my passion for this issue far exceeded all of my fears. As a 16-year-old high school student, I had a new perspective on the issue of women in STEM that needed to be brought to light. I felt it was my responsibility to do what no one else was doing.
I want to make the world of STEM as simple and accessible for girls as it should be.
Through my observations, I decided that providing girls with role models would have the most substantial impact on encouraging them to pursue STEM. I thought that if I interviewed women in STEM, and posted the videos online for girls to watch, it could have a tremendous impact. The concept also played right into my passion for public speaking because I love talking to others and communicating with people.
There was one problem: I didn’t know any women in STEM. I had never thought about this before, and when I finally did it shocked me. Coming from a middle class background, I did not know any women I could talk to about what it’s like to be in STEM. This infuriated me because if I didn’t know anyone, then what about girls from other economic backgrounds who might not be as fortunate as me? I made it my mission to make sure these girls, all girls, had a plethora of women in STEM role models. And so, STEMilyK.org was born.
I did not know where to start, so I thought to call the only place I could think of: the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in my town, where I interviewed Park Ranger, Karen Sloat-Oslen. I then conducted my second interview with three of the zoologists and lead educators at my local zoo.
Since then, through a tremendous amount of hard work, I have interviewed incredible women such as Sylvia Acevedo, CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA; Christina Clark, Chief Data Officer, General Electric; Dianna Cowern, Youtuber The Physics Girl; Francesca Dominici, Co-Director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative; Alice Brooks, CEO, Ruminate; Danielle Feinberg, Director of Photography, Pixar Animation Studios.
I hope to make STEMilyK a resource that is available to all girls so they believe they are capable of going into STEM. I will keep fighting for them, always.