From left to right: Chien-Shiung Wu: nuclear physicist, Ada Lovelace: mathematician, Marie Curie: chemist and physicist, Susan La Flesche Picotte, first Native American Woman to earn an MD, Katherine Johnson: mathematician, Maria Mitchell: astronomer, Naia Butler-Craig: aerospace engineer, Ladies of Landsat, MUSE Mentorship, GeoLatinas
Written by Erin Twamley, STEM Superhero, and WeRepSTEM
It’s Women’s HERstory month, and we keep seeing a lot of social media posts celebrating and sharing black and white images of women. It gets us thinking … where are the women OF and IN color?
History, our Herstory, is alive. We make history every day. Explorers and inventors are making discoveries that help us understand our world — happening right now. We are living history right now — COVID-19, a global pandemic — history in the making. History is not something stagnant or just to be read about in textbooks.
Herstory is important. During the month of March, we celebrate women, trailblazers, from civil rights to the accomplishments of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Hundreds of images of Marie Curie are floating around on Facebook. Dr. Curie was born in 1867 and for many people, she is still one of the top female scientists remembered.
Dr. Marie Curie is a STEM Superhero we should all celebrate: she was, after all, the first woman to win a Nobel prize (she actually is the only person to win a Nobel Prize twice), and she made the groundbreaking discovery of two elements: polonium and radium. Today, we use radium for some cancer treatments. There is no doubt that Dr. Curie inspired a generation of young girls to take up physics and chemistry, and they may not have entered STEM fields without her.
STEM trailblazers like Dr. Curie to Katherine Johnson and recently Ellen Ochoa, have changed the world and this should be remembered and celebrated. But we need to push the narrative forward by sharing the important work that STEM Superheroes are doing in our world right now!
If children are led to believe that scientists must look a certain way, they may be less likely to pursue STEM studies — let’s look at the data. By the time kids reach the first grade, girls are already less likely than boys to associate their gender with intellectual ability, despite research showing that children of all genders are equally equipped to excel in STEM subjects. There are gender and racial gaps in the pursuit of STEM education fields that lead to a staggering gap in the number of women in STEM career fields. (See latest studies on mothers in STEM leaving their fields).
Our images and stories of women in STEM are not telling the whole story.
- Who is leading trials for vaccines against COVID-19?
- What fields in STEM are attracting and retaining women?
- Where are girls being exposed to STEM outside of the classroom?
- Why do women in the Arab world now earn more science degrees on a percentage basis than women in the United States?
- How can we support mothers in STEM?
All of these questions can help us imagine and create a place for women in STEM. In reality, a woman in STEM can look like ANYONE, including you. What do we do? We take action and expose children to a diverse range of modern women in STEM so we can have a lasting impact.
This is our call to action, even in times of crisis. WeRepSTEM and STEM Superheroes have teamed up to share with you awesome CURRENT STEM Superheroes you should follow and learn about on Twitter.
We cannot keep seeing the same 10 black and white images of trailblazing women from the past because there are far more with images and stories in color that you should know about.
About the authors
ErinEDU, LLC is an education consulting organization founded by CEO Erin Twamley, working to create a new generation of STEM Superheroes. As a STEM author and educator, Twamley’s publications include Everyday Superheroes: Women in STEM Careers. Her efforts focus on sharing the diverse faces of STEM and creating excitement about STEM careers. Visit www.erinedu.org to learn more about her books and STEM encounters.
We Rep STEM was created by Cheryl Santa Maria, a writer and digital journalist who uses her platform to rally around important causes — endangered species and conservation, science communication, and diversity and inclusion. We Rep STEM was founded on the belief that hard-working individuals can be anything they want but are in a much better position to succeed if they are exposed to notable figures in their chosen field, know about the struggles they may have faced, and understand that they are not alone in their triumphs and failures.