Female empowerment. Two words that have been a part of many people’s lives, plays a major role in society and is a topic of conversation for many MVHS students. It was the topic of conversation on November 18, when the MVHS Robotics Team (MVRT) held the Diversity in STEM conference in the Student Union, which focused on promoting equality in STEM fields. Women from Space Systems Loral (SSL), an organization involved with conducting research about space shared their experiences as workers in the STEM field. One speaker, Nao Murakami, presented and shared her experiences with the lack of diversity in her profession.
“I went from undergraduate, and then I did two graduate schools,” Murakami said. “And as I went through it, I [realized]that the number of women keeps going down. I went [from having a few]other women in my class that I could hang out with, to no one.”
As Murakami experiences, not having other females to talk to and interact with can make it harder for women to prosper in STEM fields. Due to this, Murakami said that it is important to raise awareness and talk about the lack of diversity to solve the problem.
“Once I was at a certain point where I really wanted a female mentor, and it was not available to me. That’s when it really hit me,” Murakami said. I was like ‘wow’, this is [a problem that is prevalent], and [it is]something we should be working to change.”
Murakami says the first step for stimulating change is raising awareness about the issue, which is why she participates in events like MVRT’s symposium. To further the cause, Murakami actively participates as a chair member of SSL’s STEM outreach group.
“STEM outreach, especially women in STEM, is something I feel really passionate about,” Murakami said. “Growing up, I really felt like I was being subjected to gender stereotypes […] and I became more aware that [gender bias]is still happening everywhere and I felt like we should really start … having conversations about it.”
Sophomore Niel Paul, a member of MVRT, looked forward to the event as he believed that the topic was very significant in representing the courage that women have and how they fight to earn respect in STEM.
“It was pretty interesting and I am glad that a lot of people showed up because we want to spread this kind of stuff around because many women are not in STEM,” Paul said. “We just want to show our appreciation for women, and get more people involved.”
According to Paul, the support his club received from MVHS students indicates how the students are dedicated and want to listen to something that is important for society.
Paul also explained that MVRT’s experience in STEM research helped the club bring forth more speakers who had unique stories about their own experiences in the workforce and how they were able to get over the challenges of being a women in STEM. He recalls his experience with MVRT’s officer interviews, and how the club’s main focus was to address the main issue of gender equality.
“Back last year, when we had officer interviews, the [club presidents]asked me about gender equality,” Paul said. “I didn’t really think about it that much and now it opened my mind in order to get more women involved in STEM.”
Similar to Paul, for sophomore Varsha Subramanyam the event was an exposure for her to learn more about herself and the challenges that she might face in the future. Her main focus in this presentation was based on the impacts that women have in work industries and the conditions that they face.
“It was really interesting how they got people who worked in our Silicon Valley environment […] there was one woman who not only talked about being a women but also of being a different race,” Subramanyam said. “I am Indian and [that]certainly does have an impact when they talk about it through the work industry.”
Subramanyam said that people must stay motivated and work towards achieving a goal that they have in their mind, and not to let stereotypes discourage them from pursuing their passions.
“Definitely being level-headed [to achieve your goals],” Subramanyam said. “If you go on a rampage [about]how [you]are old and you need to be heard [it won’t do anything], but if you keep doing what you were doing then people will recognize you.”
With MVRT leading the way, students are learning about ways through which they can influence society, no matter who they are. According to Paul, promoting gender equality in STEM is a step closer to having a world where every profession is open to every person.
“One of the speakers said only 20 percent of women are involved in astronomy and STEM in general,” Paul said. “That is a problem and we would want more people to be involved.”