This International Day of the Girl, meet the (girl) gang making their mark in STEM
Updated: Aug 10, 2022
Today, October 11, gather your tribe and celebrate the International Day of the Girl. With young Pinays being taught that STEM is ‘for boys’ or worse, girls are ‘less smart’ than their male counterparts as early as 10 years old, we need the next generation of girls to own their voices now more than ever.
With this year’s theme of “My Voice, Our Equal Future”, a change of narrative has never been more vital—and it starts with shining the spotlight on homegrown girls turned STEM Women. We caught up with 6 Pinays carving their own path—and their message to girls today and for every day.
Chiara Ledesma, The Tech Wiz
Chiara (@chiaraled) is a Machine Learning Researcher at Thinking Machines. She graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in Computer Science, where she was one of the 73 chosen students for the Google Women in Tech scholarship and beat out 25,000 applicants across South East Asia.
STEM SPARK: Chiara’s STEM turning point was from talking to a fellow STEM girl during a retreat. A Vietnamese grad student shared with Chiara her passion for machine learning after finishing just one online course. Numerous sources of inspiration had come to her since then, but simply discussing plans with a fellow STEM girl served as the biggest push forward.
How do you envision the future of women in STEM in the Philippines? When I was in high school, no one in my batch was including technology courses in their career discernment. We had very little opportunities to get exposed and to develop relevant skills, so in the future I hope that STEM-related courses will get as much attention as other courses without it seeming too intimidating. What is your message for our young Pinays in STEM? Don’t let yourself believe that you have to be naturally gifted at math or science to excel at STEM. Nobody is born knowing how to multiply matrices. It won’t be a smooth ride, but you’ll find that a bumpy one has much more learning to offer.
Audrey Pe, The Teen CEO
Audrey (@audreyisabelpe) is the CEO and Founder of the nonprofit organization WiTech (Women in Tech) which she started at only 15. The initiative has since impacted over 1,200 young Filipinos through the first women in tech conference back in 2018, tech literacy programs in public schools, a career roadshow on closing the gender gap, blog stories on women in tech role models, and more.
STEM SPARK: Audrey got fascinated with tech when her elementary Computer teacher strayed from the syllabus and taught them simple coding. This was the first time that she learned that websites were made of lines of code—as just a slight tweak from the country’s typical curriculum could leave a massive impact in a STEM girl’s journey.
How do you envision the future of women in STEM in the Philippines? I am motivated by a future where all youth, especially in developing countries like the Philippines, have access to technology and can use it to help solve problems within their own communities. Now more than ever, we are seeing how the digital divide limits students’ access to educate in light of school closures. The inability for many schools to not transition online due to not having access to the internet is a barrier for many students reaching their full academic potential. I work towards a future where tech isn’t a barrier, but instead a tool to help contribute to one’s society and achieve an education that everyone has a right to. What is your message for our young Pinays in STEM? At WiTech, we believe that helping eliminate gender inequality and tech inaccessibility work hand-in-hand. To us, equality in the tech industry isn’t just 50/50 representation but also ensuring that those in tech represent more than just the upper class. We believe that diversity should come in the form of increased opportunities for all gender and socioeconomic strands so that tech turns into a right instead of a privilege.
Bee Leung, The Forecaster
Bee is sitting in the cockpit of the NASA P3 plane right before they took off; she was the flight scientist for a flight over Metro Manila to sample the atmospheric conditions. This picture was taken during CAMP2Ex, a NASA-sponsored field campaign held in Clark last August-October 2019.
Bee (@thegobidesert) is pursuing her Master’s degree in Atmospheric Sciences at Colorado State University. Her course uses computer models, field campaigns, and satellites to better understand how clouds are formed. Bee plans to bring her studies to the local scale by discovering how pollution and human-made changes affect the Philippines’ humid environment.
STEM SPARK: Bee’s love for STEM blossomed when she started focusing on improving the lives of the marginalized sector through her work. She first executed projects measuring the exposure of jeepney drivers to air pollution and quantifying how Filipino farmers will become more vulnerable to heat stroke.
How do you envision the future of women in STEM in the Philippines? I think a lot of it comes down to the details of how we run our organizations and research labs: making sure that people can have enough time to care for their families and other people in their lives, that the workplace and the laboratory are safe places with accommodations for people’s differing needs, that work is being distributed equally and equitably, that everyone is getting the chance to share their ideas and learn from one another.
And of course, I hope that by looking out for one another as we build that kind of positive scientific community, I also hope that Filipina scientists (and all scientists, really) can remember to look out for others and let our compassion fuel the work that we do.
What is your message for our young Pinays in STEM? I hope you know that you belong here as much as anyone else! Honestly, that’s still something that I have to tell myself too, so it’s okay to feel insecure or like an impostor. I don’t know if that feeling ever goes away, but based on conversations with mentors and other scientists over the years, I don’t think it does, and that’s okay. If you want to go into STEM and you love what you do, then go for it! Science is for everyone.
Hillary Diane Andales, The Space Explorer
Hillary (hillaron.com) started on the map after she won the Breakthrough Junior Challenge in 2017. She soon founded the regional science camp Science Innovations Bootcamp. Now at 21, Hillary studies physics (with minors in astronomy and philosophy) at MIT and regularly holds talks as a science communicator. She has a personal mission to make students ‘excited – instead of intimidated’ of STEM.
STEM SPARK: Hillary’s started out when she was just 5 years old after reading an astronomy book that was as tall as she was and completely ‘blew her mind.’ Hillary became even more fascinated with space through the years: jumping from her dream of becoming an astronomer to a now-budding astrophysicist.
How do you envision the future of women in STEM in the Philippines? I envision a future where women scientists can just be scientists — period. I hope for a future without a gender gap, a future where it’s no longer news when a woman wins a Nobel Prize. For the Philippines specifically, I just hope that the government provides enough support (more research funding, less delay due to bureaucracy, better leadership, and so on) for our Filipino scientists.
What is your message for our young Pinays in STEM? For young Pinays in STEM, keep dreaming big! Do not let anything limit your dreams. Use the internet and social media to find inspiration, and then take those as fuel for your dreams. Also, as I always say, do not be afraid of failure. When you fail, you don’t really fail. You only learn.
Anne Brigitte Lim, Solar Energy Extraordinaire
Brigitte is a solar energy engineer who completed her masters from Arizona State University. She won the UN’s 2017 Geneva Challenge competition for her team’s Solar N3E invention that aimed to boost employment in the country by training workers in the solar energy field.
She’s currently working with the UN on the project “DREAMS” (Development for Renewable Energy Application Mainstreaming and Market Sustainability.) Due to the pandemic, Brigitte is also taking online classes for her Master’s program in Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. STEM SPARK: Bridgette gained further interest in the renewable energy industry when she realized that almost everything in society, from food production to vehicle power, relies on a stable and longstanding energy supply.
How do you envision the future of women in STEM in the Philippines? Right now, most jobs in STEM in the country pay very little, so I would like women in STEM not only to show authorities and the public what they can do to solve societies’ problems (to make life more convenient), but I would also like women in STEM to advocate for more government support in funding innovation, and for public and private institutions to give better pay and benefits.
What is your message for our young Pinays in STEM? If you are passionate about STEM but don’t find the right opportunities to pursue STEM in the Philippines, don’t give up on your passion. There are opportunities everywhere in the world, find it and go for it, because STEM has a way of benefitting all of humanity, no matter where you do it.
Tara Abrina, The Little Mermaid
Tara (@taraabrina) is an environmental economic researcher and founder of the Kapit Sisid project for marine conservation. After graduating from University of the Philippines’ with a Master’s in Development Economics, Tara now works with UP CIDS in studying marine conservation and development trajectory of the country’s coastal communities.
STEM SPARK: As a diver, Tara first fell in love with the ocean. She then dived into STEM after discovering that marine conservation is more about engaging and encouraging people than it is about ‘counting fish’.
How do you envision the future of women in STEM in the Philippines? I know there’s still much to be done for feminism in our society, but in terms of rankings, we have consistently been in the World Economic Forum’s top ten list of most gender-equal countries in the world for the past decade. If only the same support system privileged to me were available to every young woman in every STEM field out there, I’d say we’d most likely be the most gender-equal STEM sector in the world.
What is your message for our young Pinays in STEM? The Philippines is and always has been a rich, diverse, and multicultural country. To limit our view of what we consider as science discredits much of our peers and ninúno. Fishers who read tides and currents, women who adjust their marketing strategies according to the suki visiting them that day, and indigenous engineering practices—these are all STEM. Even art and design for me is an important aspect of STEM, for example with data visualization or functional aesthetics, and the reason why STEAM to include the arts is a widely accepted and evolved version of STEM.
There are always going to be questions and problems, and many of them can be answered with methods that we apply from STEAM. Learn from everyone and everything, and then use what you learn to always, always serve the people.
From 15-year old founders to long-time environmental advocates, these girls prove that we don’t need a separate holiday to empower ourselves—we just have to be consistent in empowering our girls.
The UN predicts that there are now over 1.1 billion girls all over the world. If given the right kind of access and support—that’s 1.1 billion new ways to change the world.
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