By Brooke Chaplan
The stereotype that girls are naturally good at the arts and humanities and that boys are innately better at math and science has been a horrible preconception that’s kept many talented young women from fulfilling their potential. Unfortunately, current statistics regarding women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related fields verify this sentiment still. Here are four women educators who are celebrated for their work in education and STEM professions and are doing their part to raise expectations for women and increase their visibility in this field.
France Córdova is an astrophysicist and former president of Purdue University and the University of California–Riverside. In March 2014, she became the first Hispanic woman to be elected as director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Córdova oversees a multi-billion dollar budget to ensure that the NSF supports research and education in science and engineering disciplines.
Dr. Lai-Sang Young has pioneered work on Dynamical Systems, a branch of modern mathematics that studies time evolutions of natural and iterative processes. A lifelong professor of Mathematics, Dr. Young has taught at numerous colleges: Michigan State University, the University of Warwick in England, Princeton, and the College de France to name a few. Dr. Young has maintained an illustrious career, having written over 50 scholarly articles, and lectured for numerous international math and science organizations. Her research is supported by the National Science Foundation, and she has earned the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and the Ruth Lynn Satter Prize for outstanding research by a female mathematician. Currently, Dr. Young is a professor at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
Elizabeth Helen Blackburn
Australian-American biological researcher, Professor Elizabeth Helen Blackburn is a professor at the University of California in San Francisco. Professor Blackburn helped discover telomerase, an enzyme that is present in bacteria that prevents erosion of DNA through replication. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for her contributions to the study of the telomere and chromosomes. Prior to her appointment at the University of California, she was appointed to the Bush Administration’s President’s Council on Bioethics for her research in cell biology.
Kathleen Adebola Okikiolu
Kathleen Okikiolu is a mathematician known for her work with elliptical differential operators. In 1997, she was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, a $500,000 award, for developing a mathematics curriculum for inner city schools. Dr. Okikiolu has been an assistant professor at Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has also been a guest speaker for the Association of Women in Mathematics and the National Association of Mathematics. She is the first African-American to receive the Sloan Research Fellowship. Currently, she is a professor at Johns Hopkins University.
While the Obama administration, NASA, and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) are among the many organizations committed to encouraging women and girls to pursue STEM related careers, it is agreed by critics and scholars that women who teach STEM subjects are the primary individuals who can turn this issue around. Supporting women STEM students and researchers will help diversify the science and math community, as well as bring a unique viewpoint to innovations. So whether your young girl is set on studying fungi and bugs or you have a daughter ready to apply for an MS in Civil Engineering, you’ll be able to point to these amazing leaders and role models and give her hope for the future.