10 Women in STEM & STEAM We Should Be Teaching Our Kids About

Representation matters in all fields of study because if you can't see it, it's hard to dream it. In honor of National STEM/STEAM Day 2021, a history teacher lists inspirational women in tech today and some barrier-breaking ladies from back in the day.

November 8 is National STEM/STEAM Day, a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. The day gives parents and teachers across the country the perfect opportunity to inspire kids. Here are some STEAM success stories and advice from industry-leading female founders, as well as inspiring historical figures who broke barriers in their respective fields back in the day.

teenage girl building robot at desk with multiple computer screens
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Women STEAM Barrier Breakers of Today

The siblings who leveled up their STEAM game during the pandemic: Akshaya and Abinaya Dinesh

Akshaya and Abinaya Dinesh

Akshaya and Abinaya Dinesh are Indian American sisters and Apple WWDC Scholars. From a young age, they have been breaking gender gaps in STEAM by starting non-profits to encourage more girls to get started in programming. During the pandemic, they each used their coding skills to help their respective communities. After her diagnosis of pelvic floor disorder, 16-year-old Abinaya developed Gastro at Home to help others access care from home. Meanwhile Abinaya's 21-year-old sister, Akshaya, founded Ladder, an online platform she created to help remote students get career advice at a time when they were feeling disconnected.

Their advice is to be fearless: "Don't be afraid of trying new things. One of the greatest parts of STEAM is the endless possibilities in the things you can learn. Sometimes it can take a while to find the niche you are truly passionate about. Until then, dip your feet in everything and don't ever think you are inexperienced enough not to try."

The founders who made minding your mental health easier: Naomi Hirabayashi and Marah Lidey

Naomi Hirabayashi and Marah Lidey are the founders and co-CEOS of Shine, a self-care app that makes taking care of your mental health easier, more representative, and more accessible. The two created Shine because they needed it. As a Black woman and a half-Japanese woman, they didn't see their experiences represented in mainstream wellness offerings and sought to make a change. Seeing the deep disparities in inclusive mental health tools, they have prioritized Black mental health, specifically during the pandemic, and championed diverse creators and voices in hopes to destigmatize conversations around mental health. With mentorship from Apple Entrepreneur Camp which supports underrepresented founders and developers, together they have grown Shine from a passion project into an app used by over 4 million in more than 189 countries and are setting a new example of what leadership structures can look like.

Naomi Hirabayashi

Hirabayashi's advice is to start from a place that assumes you are doing a good job: "Being a mother and co-founder are two very high pressure roles—there's a lot of narratives on all the ways society and the industry believes you should be. I wanted to actively reject that guilt and those ideals, from the beginning. And I did that by starting each day with the assumption that I was doing a good job, rooted in my own self-belief versus external validation. Of course, some days it's easier than others, and part of that self-assurance also includes leaving room for learnings, but in being more compassionate with myself, I can bring more creativity and energy to both identities, and that ultimately makes me a better mom and co-founder."

The innovator who used tech to preserve her culture: Annie Vang

Annie Vang, a daughter of Hmong immigrants, is using the power of technology to preserve her history. Until U.S. Olympic Gymnast Suni Lee's rise to fame, few were aware that the rich culture of Hmong is in danger of disappearing. Vang, who also worked with Apple Entrepreneur Camp, has developed HmongPhrases, an app that digitally translates her native dialect to help preserve it for future generations.

Annie Vang

Vang's advice is to volunteer your time: "As you are building your experience, volunteer your time to a club or organization to help build a website/app. Joining extracurricular activities helps build your leadership skills, communication skills, and growing your network."

Women STEAM Barrier Breakers in American History

The incredible accomplishments from these contemporary women in tech would not be possible without the other females who came before them. Often missing from the textbooks, it is essential to highlight the stories of history-making women in STEAM to inspire young people today. Here are few:

The first lady of physics: Chien-Shiung Wu

Born in Shanghai, China in 1912, Wu moved to the United States and became a leader in the field of physics. Among her many accomplishments, Wu did important work for the Manhattan Project as well as in experimental physics. However, her key contribution to particle physics, known as the Wu Experiment (named after her!), was ignored by the Nobel Prize committee when it awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics to two other male physicists who worked on the project with her. Despite this slight, she went on to receive many honors during her career, including being only the seventh woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1958. In 1990, she even had an asteroid named after her: 2752 Wu Chien-Shiung.

Computer coder who helped put the first man on the moon: Margaret Hamilton

Hamilton helped write the computer code for the command and lunar modules used on the Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, she was such a pioneer in the field that she created the term "software engineer" to describe the work she did. Decades since the historic landing, Hamilton was finally recognized for her crucial role in the Apollo 11 mission. On November 22, 2016, President Obama awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying Hamilton was a part of "that generation of unsung women who helped send humankind into space."

The first female Native American aerospace engineer: Mary G. Ross

Born in 1908, Ross was the great-great granddaughter of Chief John Ross, celebrated Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation (1828-1866). After earning a master's degree in 1938, she moved to California in the early 1940s where she started a job as a mathematician at Lockheed Martin, a global security and aerospace company. After working on the P-38 Lightning fighter plane and making her way up the corporate ladder at Lockheed, Ross became the only woman on the original team at Skunk Works. Ross also wrote a number of important books about math and engineering and she was one of the authors of the NASA Planetary Flight Handbook, Vol. III about space travel to Mars and Venus.

A leader in science education in Puerto Rico: Ana Roqué de Duprey

Born in Puerto Rico in 1853, Roqué started a school in her home at age 13 and then wrote a geography textbook for her students that was later adopted by the Department of Education of Puerto Rico. Inspired by her passion for astronomy and education, she founded several girls-only schools as well as a college in Puerto Rico. Roqué went on to write the Botany of the Antilles, the most comprehensive study of flora in the Caribbean at the beginning of the 20th century. On top of all this, she was also significant in the fight for the Puerto Rican woman's right to vote.

Leading figure in the American space race: Katherine Johnson

Johnson, a Black space scientist and mathematician, made enormous contributions to America's aeronautics and space programs by incorporating computing tools. At a young age she loved math and school in general—so much so that she started high school at 10 years old and then college when she was only 15 years old. After working as a teacher for many years, she got a job as a "computer" working NASA to solve math problems in her mid-thirties. Applying geometry to space travel, she played a huge role in calculating the trajectory so that NASA could send astronauts to orbit around Earth and eventually travel to the moon and back in 1969 on the Apollo 11 spacecraft.

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