Girl power comes to STEM education

According to recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 47 percent of the total U.S. workforce, but are much less represented in particular science and engineering occupations. They comprise 39 percent of chemists and material scientists, 28 percent of environmental scientists and geoscientists, 16 percent of chemical engineers, and just 12 percent of civil engineers.*

Where are all the women? They are coming on strong—and starting to make their mark in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Meet some of them here.

Yes, girls do math and science

Focused first on being an artist, Lilly Li became interested in technology when she joined a computer science club for women at UCLA.

“I didn’t know much coding or anything related to computers back then,” Lilly says. “But after meeting with so many other girls that were interested in computer science, I was motivated to take an introduction course for fun—and have been hooked ever since!”

Calhacks 2015 was Lilly’s first hackathon. She also participated in the 2016 AT&T Hackathon as a team visionary, proposing a hack to protect women from harassment and attacks on college campuses.

“I really enjoyed working in such a collaborative environment,” she says. “Everyone was very friendly and excited to discuss ideas with each other.”

Equally passionate about art and technology, Lilly believes that both afford her the chance to create something that can impact others in positive, personal ways. “I’m particularly drawn to technology when I can see what a great difference it makes to people and events in the real world,” she says.

Ever since high school, she admits that she has tended to shy away from computer science specifically because she thought she wasn’t smart enough and couldn’t compete with the boys. “In fact, everyone I knew that took computer science in high school was male, so I was under the impression that I didn’t belong there as a girl,” she admits.

To encourage more women to explore STEM opportunities, Lilly would like to see more women teaching math and science at high school and university levels. “It’s time to plant into the minds of young girls that female scientists exist!” she says. “Don’t force girls to think that they are boldly going where no girl has gone before when they pursue something that they are interested in.”

CyberCode Twins take to the hackathon highway

Known as the “CyberCode Twins,” America and Penelope Lopez are Latina twin sisters who were born and raised in East Los Angeles. Today they are traveling the world participating in tech competitions and hackathons where they’ve won numerous awards and recognition.

They took home the top prize in the Women in Tech Challenge at the 2015 AT&T Developer Summit and Hackathon with their Body Cam Hack, a prototype camera with face-tracking technology infused with real-time GPS tracking that can be worn by law-enforcement officers to record their actions in the field. Among a long list of other hackathons and technology events, they also participated as one of the top five global finalists in the Smart Homes and Buildings category in the recent Mobile World Congress 2016 4YFN Global Mobile Innovators Tournament. At the event, America and Penelope presented their Beacon of Hope smart dispensary designed to help victims of human trafficking signal local authorities.

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The twins’ interest in technology – particularly coding – was partially nurtured outside the classroom, as they began to participate in community meet-ups.

“It’s where other developers could see we are serious about coding,” America says. “It was a very collaborative environment. We picked up tips and feedback in a very real-world way, much faster than in a classroom.”

Both America and Penelope agree that women still sometimes have to work harder than their male counterparts to prove themselves.

“As a minority and as women, we do sometimes have to go that extra mile,” Penelope commented. “But doors are flinging open and we want to make sure they stay open for others to share in the opportunities in not just engineering but computer science, too.”

America adds, “It’s important to keep other women in the community inspired and motivated.”

They also agree that moving toward salary transparency will help women go farther faster in STEM professions.

When not focused on changing the world for the better through technology, the CyberCodeTwins can be found @cybercodetwins, on their website – or taking to the real highways of California on their very cool motorcycle.

To learn how our company is equipping young people with the skills needed to succeed in STEM careers through AT&T Aspire, click here.

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*Source: Women Still Underrepresented in STEM Fields; U.S. News & World Report; October 21, 2015

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