When I think of famous women in STEM, Marie Curie immediately comes to mind, but I can’t think of too many after that. For a girl to succeed in STEM fields, she needs support and she needs role models.
These six women are currently working in STEM fields ranging from outer-space to the science lab and even into the White House.
“Environmental challenges have the power to deny equality of opportunity and hold back the progress of communities.”– Lisa P. Jackson
- Lisa P. Jackson is a chemical engineer who has devoted her life to protecting the environment as both a woman in STEM and politics. She worked at the EPA for sixteen years before joining the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and worked on land management rights. She became the Commissioner of Environmental Protection for New Jersey and focused on making sure generally ignored and disenfranchised communities had access to pollutant free air. And she reached out to multicultural communities to educate, inform and involve them in her environmental efforts. She was the head of the EPA from 2009–2012, and in 2013 joined Apple Inc. as environmental director. Lisa has always said, “Environmentalism isn’t a spectator sport. You actually have to stand up and demand that we be vigilant in protecting our air and water.”
- Mae C. Jemison literally broke the glass ceiling as the first African–American woman to travel to space. From a young age, Mae was interested in science, and while her parents were supportive, not everyone else was: “In kindergarten, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told her a scientist,” Jemison says. “She said, ‘Don’t you mean a nurse?’ Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a nurse, but that’s not what I wanted to be.” She was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s attitude, audacity, and bravery. Mae continued to surpass expectations as the first African American woman in space. After her mission on the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 1992, Mae retired to study the social sciences’ interaction with the natural sciences. She taught at a number of universities, started an international science camp for young people to solve pressing global issues, and is currently the president of the 100 Year Starship. Mae has said about her experience in space: “Once I got into space, I was feeling very comfortable in the universe. I felt like I had a right to be anywhere in this universe, that I belonged here as much as any speck of stardust, any comet, any planet”
“I love to use technology to help people have better lives and to reduce our impact on the planet.”– Megan Smith
- Megan J. Smith has taken the tech world by a storm and continues to pave the way for young girls to follow. When she was at MIT she built and raced a solar car 2000 miles across the Australian outback in the first cross-continental solar car race, and for next thirty years she would continue breaking new ground in the tech world. She worked at a variety of startups globally before joining Google in 2003. At Google, Megan notably led Google’s acquisitions of companies that would become Google Earth, Google Maps and Picasa. In 2012 Megan started “Women Techmakers” at Google, an initiative to empower and support women in tech. President Obama appointed her as Chief Technology Officer of the U.S., Megan is the first woman to hold that position and she examines the uses of technology, innovation, and policy to advance the nation. Megan co-founded the Malala Fund, and has been a longtime supporter of women and girls in STEM and has said, “Second graders learn to read: that’s a perfect time to make them code.”
- When Kimberly Bryant was in college to pursue electrical engineering she noticed that people did not look like her, “I recall, as I pursued my studies, feeling culturally isolated: few of my classmates looked like me. While we shared similar aspirations and many good times, there’s much to be said for making any challenging journey with people of the same cultural background.” After working in electrical engineering and biotech for twenty years, Kimberly had established herself in the industry as a black woman in STEM. But when Kimberly’s daughter took in interest in computer science, she found that black girls were still underrepresented in STEM fields. Kimberly founded Black Girls Code to teach black girls computer programming, coding and website/robot/mobile application-building courses through school activities, day-long programs, and summer programs. Kimberly hopes that Black Girls Code “grows to train 1 million girls by 2050 and become the ‘girl scouts’ of technology.”
- While living in Hong Kong as a young girl, Flossie Wong-Staal took an interest in science. Encouraged by her teachers, Flossie moved to the U.S. at age 18 to continue her science education at UCLA; she went on to not only earn her B.S. in biotech, but also earn a Ph.D. in molecular biology. In her subsequent research Flossie studied retroviruses, and her and her team identified HIV as the cause of AIDS. She went on to be the first person to clone HIV and identify the functions of the gene. Flossie’s research in genetic mapping and HIV were elemental to developing HIV tests. She continued to research stem cells and began teaching at UCSD as Professor Emerita. She has been names one of the fifty most extraordinary women in science, and in 2007 named #32 of the top 100 living geniuses.
“I think that science is for everyone. It belongs to the people, and it has to be available to everyone, because we are all natural explorers” – Wanda Diaz Merced.
- Wanda Diaz Merced and her sister grew up in Gurabo, Puerto Rico dreaming of flying in the Space Shuttle. She took an early interest in science and math, and went on to pursue physics and astronomy. Due to an extended illness, at a young age, Wanda lost her sight completely, and she felt excommunicated from the field. Rather than letting her disability hold her back, Wanda discovered “sonification” and translated huge sets of data into sound and mapped the scientific data by pitch. She has since made breakthroughs in the astronomic community by finding patterns in the stars that otherwise would not have been uncovered. Wanda has said: “I have to study, study, study. I am very determined. If I can do it (science), anyone can. No excuses.