10 Women in STEM that Make You Want to Change the World

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When you picture a scientist, what comes to mind? Someone in a lab coat huddled over a beaker, maybe. They sport huge goggles, and oh yeah, it’s a man. Did you know that while women make up half of the national workforce, as of 2011 they only made up 26 percent of the science workforce, according to National Geographic? Sure, this is a huge jump from the seven percent of the STEM workforce in 1970, but this number did not grow more than three percent from 1990 to 2011.


And it’s glaringly obvious. “In academia (not just STEM), we see a lot of all male panels (see #allmalepanel) and that men are chosen to be the keynote speakers, expert panel members and leaders of academic departments, schools and universities in far greater number than women,” said Syracuse Information Science professor Caroline Haythornthwaite. In fact, according to Haythornthwaite, fewer women become professors. And of course there’s that wage gap. The takeaway? Lots of young aspiring women scientists lack a strong role model.

Not anymore. Check out 10 inspirational women in STEM doing amazing work.

1. Brittany Wenger

After a cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer, Wenger created Cloud4Cancer, a breast cancer detection app. With over a series of 7.6 million trials, her app has achieved more than 99 percent accuracy when it comes to detecting malignant masses, according to Duke. She went on to win the grand prize at the 2012 Global Google Science Fair for her work. How note-worthy is that? Wegner, Class of 2017 computer science major at Duke University, has achieved all of this and more while being extremely involved on campus through intramural soccer and other clubs. She serves as proof that an academic and extracurricular life can exist for a student, and that you can be an inspirational STEM trailblazer at the same time.

2. Jenna Carpenter

The Dean for the School of Engineering at Campbell University in North Carolina passionately advocates for women in the STEM field. She encourages development and diversity for women to study engineering. Even given all of her personal accomplishments, she is the most proud of her students. After teaching for 30 years, Carpenter feels most rewarded when her young students and mentees graduate and find success.

According to Dr. Carpenter, we need diversity if we want innovation and creativity. “Research clearly shows that without question and by adding women to the mix, all the things that we do in STEM is better because we have more diversity points, opinions, skill sets [and] perspectives,” she said. The takeaway? The next time you think you have nothing to bring to a group project in your chem class, think again. If you see something wrong, go forth like Carpenter and speak out about it.

3. Dr. Karen Panetta

Amongst an extensive list of accomplishments and awards, Dr. Karen Panetta is the Dean of Graduate Education for the School of Engineering at Tufts University and a professor of electrical and computer engineering. She is also the founder of Nerd Girls. You may have heard of it—the group encourages young girls to pursue a STEM education and career while celebrating those who do. Panetta founded it in an effort to empower her female students and to challenge the stereotypes surrounding women in the STEM fields. This group of women constantly works towards this cause through workshops for younger girls and working on engineering projects. This movement has even stemmed different media platforms, including its own TV show with young passionate girls as its guests. #Goals, am I right?

4. Claire Robertson

This post-doctoral scientist is a biomedical engineer working at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, focusing on eventually reducing breast cancer mortality. Oh, and she’s a large proponent of women entering the STEM field, believing that science is just like a team sport. “If our scientists represent only half of the population, how on earth are we going to solve these problems?” asked Robertson. “The other half of this is justice: STEM is a fantastic career and if we’re not preparing all persons for these careers we’re not functioning as a just society.” That being said, she first wanted to ask why it was important for anyone to be in the STEM field, not just women. Her response is simple. “The answer is that STEM drives our economy, offers us new technologies, new cures for disease and a deeper understanding of the world around us,” said Robertson. She sees STEM as a challenging yet stimulating profession that never gets boring.

5. Mae Jemison

Though very successful, you probably know Dr. Jemison as the first woman of color to go into space aboard a joint space shuttle mission with the Japanese space agency. What a trailblazer. Aside from her six years as a NASA astronaut, she is also an engineer and a social scientist. She has served as a Medical Officer for the Area Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and Liberia and has founded two technology companies and a non-profit. What can’t Dr. Jemison do? If she doesn’t inspire you to explore the world through a STEM perspective, then no one will.

6. Sarah Richardson

Also at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Richardson studies synthetic biology at the Joint BioEnergy Institute. Her job? She works with bacteria to make it more accessible as biofuel and medicine. Beyond that, she works largely with other women in STEM and holds conferences at the White House to publicly and politically address the gender gap in STEM. “She notes the suffering careers of her and her fellow female colleagues, mentioning that male collogues signing onto their work will always yield higher grants and more publication than just the women alone,” said Syracuse sophomore Rachel Calabrese. We agree with Calabrese that this is inspirational times 10.

7. Julie Meyer

Currently at the University of Florida as a post-doctoral scientist in marine biology, Meyer observes how microbes interact. She sees the importance of corals in everyday life and she fights to research how exactly these microbes affect their health. She was also named one of L’Oréal’s USA Women for Science in 2015 for her accomplishments. Did we mention that Meyer is also the mother of a young girl, works closely to mentor girls and produces a documentary film on women in coral reef research? And they say women can’t do whatever they set their minds to…

8. Ming Yi

Forget all those stereotypes about women being nothing but nurses. As a post-doctoral scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, Ming Yi focuses in condensed matter physics. She’s worked on high temperature superconductors,  examining them with various experimental tools, even on materials that had just been newly discovered. “I must say I have truly enjoyed observing the marvelous teamwork of the electrons at the microscopic level in these intriguing materials, sometimes creating surprisingly fantastic new phenomena that had not been observed before,” said Yi. Talk about making a difference. “I believe that the progress of science would be remarkably refreshing when we have a diverse community where exotic and different ideas and approaches could interact and inspire. The world needs science, and science needs women,” said Yi.

9. Janet Iwasa

Currently a research assistant professor at the University of Utah, Iwasa has won many awards and was named a TED2017 Senior Fellow. You may recognize her from her TED Talk from 2014, where she discussed a new open-source animation that aids for scientists with their research and teaching. Her 3D animations bring a widespread understanding on science to a large audience. They allow scientists to see how molecules move and interact in a real way, rather than just 2D. Okay, that’s pretty cool. Don’t you wish you had that in high school bio? Beyond that, Iwasa has been published more times than you can count. Pretty amazing, right?

10. Dr. Kristen Marhaver

Women in STEM are clearly #rockstars, and Dr. Marhaver is no exception. She is a coral reef biologist at the CARMABI Foundation. She studies ecology and the behavior and reproduction of reef corals. Plus, she specializes in helping threatened coral species to survive early life stages through combining classic scientific methods with new technologies. Dr. Marhaver advocates for stronger and smarter ocean conservation, using her work to do all she can to help the corals. She’s a TED Senior Fellow, a WINGS Fellow and a World Economic Forum Young Scientist. Also, you may recognize her from her two Ted talks. Her work is particularly inspiring as she was the first to grow and cultivate young, endangered Caribbean Pillar Coral.

Allison is a sophomore Magazine Journalism major at Syracuse University. She is from Dallas, Texas and is an avid feminist, traveler and coffee lover.

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