Recently, there have been talks about how to address the lack of women in STEM, so when I heard about an opportunity to mentor young women about career choices, I jumped at the opportunity. My goal was to pique young women’s interest in STEM early on before they start in college. I also wanted to make a pitch for building a strong foundation in math and science and thus having the flexibility to switch fields.
First to note, The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, in the New York Public School system is designed for girls who are interested in succeeding academically and getting a head start in leadership. The classrooms that I was assigned to speak are for 11th graders, the age where American high schoolers take the SAT test and start in earnest with the college application process.
As mentors, in front the students, we talk about what we do in our jobs, how we spend a typical day at work, and what career path and decisions that had led us here, and what college and college majors have prepared us. The mentors’ field range from healthcare to finance to fashion to journalism to technology. I was very particular about what I wanted to do, which is to make a compelling argument about the importance of building a strong foundation of science and technology, and to pique young women’s interest in pursuing career opportunities in STEM.
During moments of self-introduction and Q&A’s, I’ve given away some non-traditional advice, including how to actively manage interview process, college application process, and networking opportunities, and some advice on risk-taking.
Unbeknownst to myself, my eyes were about to be wide opened. The moment, Lorena, another mentor in the room asked the students that how many are a first generation in their family to attend a college, and many hands went up, I felt my heart skipped a beat. Lorena also was a first generation in her family to attend university. I realized that the students here are very different from those students with whom I attended high school. I was touched that they found the initiative in themselves to attend such an excellent school, to apply to colleges, and to explore career opportunities.
After speaking with students in classrooms, the women scattered into the gym into career booths, where students could actively come over to ask questions. I sat at the booth labelled Science & Technology. There were young women who came over to ask questions, knowing specifically what is that they wanted to do and have well-defined goals. That brought us smiles. It was very encouraging to see young women who knew what they wanted, and are serious and prepared to take steps to reach those goals. Yet, we also note, the Science & Tech booth is not always as filled as some of the other booth. The question is why? That is a complicate question and probably deserves another post.
After the session is over, I found emails from the students that I spoke who said what I said made them feel more confident about college and career decisions, especially seeing that I changed my career over and over. I’m so honored to speak and to pique their interest in STEM. And I am deeply inspired and humbled by their own ability to change their life.