(May 27, 2022) Many girls and women are held back by biases, social norms and expectations influencing the quality of the education they receive, leading to an under-representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and consequently in STEM careers. According to the recent UNESCO report Cracking the Code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM, only 35 percent of STEM students in higher education globally are women, and differences are observed within STEM disciplines.
Although, slowly but surely, things are changing. Many young girls are at the helm in STEM as deft decision makers and as harbingers of change. Global Indian takes a look at these young marvels, who are working tirelessly to solve several global issues.
Priyanka Srivastava, NASA scientist
Indian-American Priyanka Srivastava is among the nine Indians who successfully made NASA’s Perseverance Rover land on Mars. Although born in the US, Priyanka grew up in the lanes of Lucknow, completing her pre-university education at Mount Carmel School and BTech in electronics and communication from Punjab University. Later, she enrolled at the University of Michigan in the United States for higher education.
Taking inspiration from her idol Kalpana Chawla, Priyanka was keen to become an astronaut. Despite financial struggles, her family was the wind beneath her wings who encouraged her to pursue her dreams passionately. It was during this time that she met Sunita Williams at an event and confessed how she (Williams) was nothing short of a Guru to her.
The passion translated into an internship with the Denver branch of NASA, and later she was selected to work in NASA JPL, California. Those four years of NASA gave her the exposure to work on three flight missions. Currently, she is working for the Europa Clipper mission in the capacity of a Project Verification and Validation (V&V) engineer.
“I have been extremely lucky to be part of great teams. All my group supervisors have been women. In the Europa mission, for example, there is a 60-40 ratio between men and women. The lead chief engineer in the project is a woman. NASA is also making an effort to bridge the pay gap between men and women,” The Week quoted Priyanka Srivastava as saying.
- Follow Priyanka Srivastava on LinkedIn
Arunima Sen, innovator and designer
A young Arunima Sen was often in awe of her parents who spent hours discussing and working on various projects for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). She was eager to know about the science they were discussing, especially physics. That’s how she developed an interest in the subject and started working on innovative solutions for global problems. When she was in grade 10, she was also selected for a programme The Junior Academy conducted by The New York Academy of Sciences.
This passion for innovation has led to many solutions. From measuring micro-nutrients in a person’s body using strands of hair to developing a method to save energy in high-rise buildings, the 20-year-old has found a solution to every problem in most developing countries. A climate activist, Arunima has been on important youth-focused panels, led conversations on climate justice and conveyed the importance of climate action.
The young girl is the recipient of several international and national awards — including the Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar, MPower Financing Women in STEM Grand Award, the Distinguished Student Award from the New York Academy of Sciences — and has been named a 2020 Global Teen Leader of the We Are Family Foundation and one of The Mars Generation’s 24 under 24 Innovators in STEM and Space.
During an interaction with the press, Arunima had said, “I am currently being mentored by professionals from Sidewalk Labs — an urban innovation company working to make cities more sustainable and affordable for all. Since the pandemic had brought many discussions and assignments to a halt, my friend and I are working to resume it soon.”
- Follow Arunima Sen on LinkedIn
Rhea Jethvani, Edison Scholar
A student of Oxford Academy in California, Rhea Jethvani knew she wanted to pursue a career in STEM since she was a baby. The youngster, who led a team in creating IOTAnet – a centralised security management platform for the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs’ Apps for Digital Peace competition, plans to dedicate herself to cybersecurity safety to protect her community and spread awareness on this danger.
The co-founder of her school’s first Hackathon Learnathon, where she held a workshop on basics of cryptography highlighting the importance of password encryption, Rhea plans to major in computer science. She is one of the 2022 Edison Scholars, a scholarship that’s given to 30 students to pursue STEM. During a press interaction after the scholarship was announced, Rhea said, “My pursuit of applying cybersecurity skills to help build a more resistant society is just beginning and I’m excited to protect my community from the evolving danger.”
- Follow Rhea Jethvani on LinkedIn
Sahithi Pingali, eco-entrepreneur
A Stanford University student, Sahithi Pingali is an expert in sustainability, business, and computer science. The 19-year-old Bengaluru eco-warrior crowdsourced funds to study the 10 polluted lakes in her home city, when she was just 15. Despite writing several emails to the professors at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru for her project, the young environmentalist was not discouraged when she told that she “wasn’t old enough for such lab work.” Instead, it strengthened her fervour to do more.
In four years, the coding enthusiast created the app WaterInsights and a testing kit to collect data from the sulfurous lakes. The project took her to Los Angeles in 2017, as one of the top finalists at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), at which MIT named the eponymous planet 34014, Pingali.
The teen innovator’s journey has been recorded in the documentary Inventing Tomorrow, wherein she is featured alongside three international ISEF finalists who presented cutting-edge solutions to tackle water, air and soil pollution.