On the morning of January 27, 2020, our AP Computer Science Principles teacher abruptly announced that we would be walking up three flights of stairs to another classroom filled with middle-school students. Complaining and dragging our barely-awake bodies up to the third floor, we were caught by surprise by two unfamiliar faces in the room.
As we scrambled to find a seat, the two guests started their presentation about the meaning behind STEM and how the younger generation could make a positive impact on the increase of women in the workforce. Madeline Holtz and Leilani Trautman, the two girls lecturing, were students from a prestigious university called Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Both were majoring in STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, fields as women. Surprisingly, Leilani revealed that she was only 16 years old when she started studying at MIT. Surprised chatters filled the room as GALA girls stared up in awe.
“While people would often comment that I was much younger, I was just as effective in doing my job and doing well in classes as any of my other, much older, coworkers or classmates.”
“Sometimes things can be harder for younger people, especially as a young woman in STEM, but I believe with perseverance and a willingness to make your own opportunities, age restrictions can be overcome.”
As women pursuing careers in STEM, both students were fortunate to not have personally experienced any noticeable instances of discrimination. However, Madeline noticed a distinct lack of female representation among her professors at MIT, and Leilani adds that “STEM (especially aerospace/engineering) is still dominated by men and there is absolutely more work to be done to increase the diversity in the STEM workforce.”
Throughout their presentation, Madeline and Leilani provided us important tips to be successful women in the STEM field: finding your niche, putting yourself in real challenges, receiving a high-quality education, finding something that genuinely interests you, working hard, and advocating for yourself.
In order to pursue a STEM career, Madeline explained the significance of receiving high-quality education, as one can acquire the necessary skills to succeed in their career. Though “there is no need to attend a ‘prestigious’ school to get a good education, a motivated student can succeed no matter where they go to college.”
Students should not partake in activities for the “sole purpose of getting into college—starting right now, do things you care about, that are interesting and meaningful to you.”
She adds, “Success is the feeling of having made a positive impact on the world or been a positive influence on someone’s life.”
Leilani hopes to encourage young women and help them realize that success is not to those naturally gifted or talented by saying, “While being naturally good at math or science can go a long way, the most important parts of being able to achieve my goals of attending MIT and working for NASA has been a lot of hard work and determination in my schoolwork.”
To sum up the presentation, Leilani concluded that it is important to grow from experiences and move on and find or create opportunities. One should make their ideas heard and their work accredited.
It was inspiring for me to watch two young leaders engaging with their community and serving as role models and mentors for the next generations. Their purpose is to cultivate a sense of empowerment in students to make the world a better place using the principles of science. During and after the presentation, when they provided their personal contact information, I felt their sincerity in guiding us towards a successful future in STEM. Their hour-long slideshow might have been a launching pad for future leaders in that very same room.
Joanne Chae, Grade 10
Girls Academic Leadership Academy