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Female STEM Superheroes Inspire the Next Generation

Published October 07, 2019

Female STEM Superheroes Inspire the Next Generation

Think of a famous scientist. Who comes to mind? Charles Darwin? Marie Curie? Albert Einstein? Did you think of a female other than Curie? Women have been significant contributors to science for centuries but seldom have received credit.  To celebrate the work of these unsung heroes of STEM, the New York Academy of Sciences partnered with Johnson & Johnson to share their stories in the Champions of Science® -- Superheroes of STEM Essay Contest.

1000 Girls, 1000 Futures participants were invited to choose a female scientist from the last 50 years who has inspired them. Five finalists stood out from 50 essays, and the winner, Salma Alrowaie, 16 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was announced on July 26, 2019, at the Fourth Annual Global STEM Alliance Summit.

The winner and some of the finalists told us in their own words why the scientist they picked has inspired them.

Salma Alrowaie, 16 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

“I didn't want to write about someone that was well known. I wanted to write about a woman who has faced many hardships but was able to shine through them. That is why Rita Levi-Montalcini’s story stood out. Rita struggled with racial discrimination and sexism because she was a female Jewish scientist living during WWII. What blew my mind was how passionate she was about science and how she didn't let anyone or anything get in the way of her studies. She persevered and paved the way for better treatments, and also provided education to less fortunate people. Levi-Montalcini is not only an inspiration but also a role model.

My mindset and the way I view the world has changed completely. It got me thinking to myself, ‘Since she achieved great things under terrible conditions, what can I achieve under good ones?’ The possibilities seem endless! My research gave me hope that I can leave a positive mark on the world with hard work and dedication.”

Sriya Lingampalli, 17 from Irvine, California

“I chose to share Lynn Conway's forgotten story as her discoveries have been under-recognized. Her achievements are so widespread that technology created today still derives from her work. Sharing her story can inspire people to believe in themselves and their capabilities.

Conway’s decision to leave her prestigious job to pursue a life she felt comfortable with has inspired me to not be afraid to take risks.”

Iarina Vancea, 18 from Baia Mare, Romania

“My superhero, Ana Aslan, was a passionate scientist and a true leader. She dedicated her work to helping people regardless of their stature or wealth. I chose her because she inspired and motivated me. She's made me proud to be Romanian. She taught me that passion and hard work can turn into great results.”

Alexa Loste, 17 from Manila, Philippines

“My biology teacher, who is a role model herself, recommended the autobiographical memoir Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. She is a paleobiologist who developed innovative isotopic techniques to explain our understanding of the climates of the past. Even more remarkable than her academic accomplishments, her ability to communicate the journey she undertook, the tribulations she overcame, and her self-discovery. Jahren’s openness goes a long way to spur on young girls like me to persevere.

I'm inspired to view learning in general and the natural sciences through a new lens. I now recognize the hurdles that I have faced as opportunities for me to stretch my creativity and growth.”

J&J created a video celebrating these young women and the scientists they wrote about. To hear their stories directly, you can watch the video here.

Are you a young woman interested in pursuing a career in STEM like these high schoolers? Sign up to be notified of mentoring opportunities.