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You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

The title of this article is a quote from Marian Wright Edelman that appeared in the 2011 documentary Miss Representation, a project created by director Jennifer Siebel to address how representation of women in media can affect our advancement to higher level positions and accomplishments. Edelman, who is the founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund made this simple, but powerful statement to illustrate how difficult it can be for women to pursue goals or higher positions when they look around the room and see no one that looks like themselves. Cultivating representation for women in STEM is critical now more than ever as we continue to try to shape a society where everyone has a chance to pursue what they want without restriction based on who they are, what they look like, or where they come from.

The following four women are all people who looked around and did not see an example of who they wanted to be, but forged ahead anyways. As members of WSS, we can ensure that we honor their achievements by knowing their names and faces, and allowing them to inspire us to never stop working towards who we want to be.

1. Dr. Ellen Ochoa

  • San Diego local who attended Grossmont High School and graduated from SDSU with a degree in physics

  • Received a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford

  • The first Latina to enter space in 1991 and completed a total of four shuttle missions in her time as an astronaut

  • First Latina director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center

  • Is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal as well as a committed advocate for STEM education who has made hundreds of presentations for schools based on emphasizing the importance of science and technology

To learn more about Dr. Ochoa and her accomplishments:

2. Dr. Aletha Maybank, MPA

  • Pediatrician that received her bachelors at Johns Hopkins, her MD at Temple University School of Medicine and her masters in public health at Columbia University

  • Became the first chief officer of health equity for the AMA as well as a vice president (2019)

  • Educates students on bettering health equity, creating public health leadership, and organizing health at the community level

  • Co-founded the "We Are Doc McStuffins” movement after being inspired by the Disney cartoon to encourage young African American girls to go into medicine (2012)

  • Doc McStuffins movement eventually led to the creation of the Artemis Medical Society

To learn more about Dr. Maybank and her accomplishments:

3. Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu (“The First Lady of Physics”)

  • Was born in 1912 in a fishing town near Shanghai and went on to attend the school her father helped create to advance girls’ education, Mingde Women’s Vocational Continuing School

  • Received bachelors in physics from Nanjing University in 1934 and graduated with PhD in physics from Berkeley in 1940

  • First woman hired as faculty in the Physics Department at Princeton

  • Played a crucial role in advancing atomic science while working as a researcher and professor at Columbia University

  • Created the Wu Experiment to prove conservation of parity did not take place during beta decay but had to watch her male colleagues receive the Nobel Prize for this work in 1957 while her contributions went unacknowledged

Dr. Wu once asked while lecturing at MIT in 1964 “whether the tiny atoms and nuclei, or the mathematical symbols, or the DNA molecules have any preference for either masculine or feminine treatment.” The answer speaks volumes.

Links to learn more about Dr. Wu and her accomplishments:

4. Hollie Norman

  • Founder and president of the Women in Science Society

  • Received bachelors in Microbiology, as well as minors in both Interdisciplinary Studies and Chemistry, from SDSU

  • Research Microbiologist and mentor at Edwards Bioinformatics Lab

  • Started WSS at SDSU to create a resource for motivation and opportunities for women pursuing work STEM after feeling underrepresented and unheard in her first three years as an undergraduate

  • After an overwhelmingly positive response, decided to make WSS into a nonprofit in order to form chapters at other colleges to increase the network of support for women in STEM

Learn more about Holly’s accomplishments, as well as other members of the WSS parent leadership team:

An example that just proves how critical representation really is, and will continue to be, can be seen through a study conducted by the National Science Academy to compare the

number of physics degrees received by white men and black women between 1973 and 2012. In almost three decades, 22,172 white men received degrees in physics, while only 66 were awarded to black women. It is up to us to work together to prevent statistics like this from existing in the future. It is up to us to support each other and ensure that everyone has the kind of representation they deserve as we become pillars of the STEM community ourselves. Black lives, dreams, and aspirations matter, and it is up to us to make sure that whether young black girls are watching a hospital show on tv or reading about chemistry in a high school classroom, they can know they have every chance to be that person in the white coat one day.

Most of our events in the coming semester will have to be online due to the pandemic, and I am sure many of us will have moments in the next few months where we lose sight of our own goals and motivation. That is when we can look to these women (and the ones around us) to see that there are always examples of the strength we need to never give up on what we really want. WSS is always here for any of you, and we are so grateful to be part of a diverse community that builds all women to see that they are capable of anything they put their mind to.

Stay safe and healthy!

Hannah :)

Link to the article that further explains the National Science Academy Study:

Links to help you start conversations:

Links for learning about efforts to get young girls involved in STEM:

P.S. Please check out our content coordinator My Hoang’s new blog - Whether you are someone that deals with ADHD yourself or are just trying to take ownership over your own nontypical learning style, her blogs have tons of great advice! :-)

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