What do you do when you see a need to bring together young women in STEM (including yourself)? You create your own initiative, and provide networking, outreach and education opportunities to individuals in your community, and beyond. Meet Mylene Tu, engineering student at the University of Waterloo, and founder of FEM in STEM.
Tell us about FEM in STEM. Who does it aim to reach, and what does it aim to do?
FEM in STEM is a social impact initiative that empowers young females to get involved and take steps forward within science, technology, engineering, and math. It aims to help bridge the gender gap by bridging high school girls across Ontario. Founded in April of 2018, our web-based platform offers a hub of resources for young girls to gain a better transparency of the opportunities around them and encourages skill-development and support through our Facebook community and workshops. FEM in STEM is based around 3 core fundamentals:
FIND. This section of our site allows high school females to find out about different networking events (e.x. What a conference, hackathon, meetup, panel, etc, is) as well as find different ways to get involved and grow their interests through hands-on involvement. We do this by providing visibility of the various high school outreach programs, STEM-related clubs, and scholarships offered by Ontario universities.
EXPLORE. On this page of our site, young girls can expect to read inspiring facts and descriptions of amazing initiatives and women in STEM globaally. We showcase facts and statistics by continent so that girls can explore the world of STEM and think bigger. Many girls shy away from STEM due to the gender gap, but we believe that by shining a light on it and showing girls the statistics, they may find motivation to be the change.
MOTIVATE. The final fundamental focuses on building a foundation for networking early on. We foster a community of support and relatability through our Facebook community and LinkedIn group. We aim to link young girls who are experiencing the same questions, doubts, or ambitions concerning STEM across Ontario. Occasionally, we hold workshops/networking events for these girls to put a face to the connections they make online.
What was the inspiration for starting this initiative? How did your own experiences as a woman in STEM lead you to it?
The inspiration behind FEM in STEM sparks from the roadblocks and failures I faced in first-year. I graduated out of high school being highly involved and strong academically but when I entered university I had the perception that in order to succeed I needed to cut out extra-curricular activities and focus on school. This ended up being the exact opposite, I experienced failures for the first time and quickly re-involved myself in the community. I attended many networking events, conferences, hackathons, and went to events based on topics I had little exposure to. Getting out of my comfort zone allowed me to foster an interest in things I never thought I was missing out on- I always left these events feeling inspired and eager to learn more. This is something I wish to share with other young females as getting myself out there and trying new things was truly pivotal in the future outlook of my career path. It helped me confirm my decision to switch from chemical engineering to management engineering as well as meet many amazing connections. Understanding what a supportive and innovative community exists helped me realize the need for such within the demographic of younger females. Just imagine the ideas and innovations that can come from young women when they become empowered and inspired. This is why I created FEM in STEM- to evoke that ‘go-getter’ attitude and provide the transparency of opportunity necessary for self- growth within STEM.
Have there been any surprises since you launched FEM in STEM?
To me, every day has a new surprise. I never imagined myself tackling an issue in the area of women empowerment or women in STEM; I always knew I wanted to do something but I didn’t know what. I guess this goes to show how much can really change and how inspiration and passion towards something can realistically come from anywhere as long as you allow yourself to get enough exposure. Now that FEM in STEM is launched, I think one of the most impactful surprises has been the enormous amount of support offered in STEM and female empowerment. I never realized what an amazing community of support there is out there but it’s truly inspiring to see so many people focused on the same thing. I was actually quite surprised as well to have gained recognition by the Canadian Coalition to Empower Women in early June to receive an empowerment award- this really helped validate my progress with FEM in STEM and motivate further growth. Another surprise came from the great amount of opportunities actually out there within Ontario; there are so many different opportunities for growth offered by high schools and groups in various regions themselves.
What do you think is missing from the STEM space that contributes to the gender gap? What steps can be taken to bridge the gap?
I believe that there isn’t necessarily anything missing from the STEM space but rather improvements and additions that could make it that much better. Areas of STEM are truly what you make of them and how you choose to perceive them. Letting go of biases, comparison, and rather focusing on your own growth in STEM is key to breaking down barriers. As a whole, we all need more empathy and understanding- we need both males and females to become aware and active in the community in order to bridge the gap. If we add more empathy in STEM and intersect that with visibility of opportunity, the sky becomes the limit. In terms of personal growth that consequently leads to helping bridge the gap, I tell young girls to stay uncomfortable. By this I mean, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and explore new topics solo- you grow the most when overcoming situations that once pushed the boundaries of your comfort.
What's next for FEM in STEM? Where would you like to see it go, and what would you like to accomplish over the next few years? What's on your wish list for the future?
There is no definite answer for what’s next for FEM in STEM and I take pride in that fact. Every day is a new opportunity to grow this initiative and learn something new- I like keeping an open mind and not exactly knowing the future outlook of FEM in STEM as it keeps me on my feet and keeps my mind open to new ideas. After all, the idea behind this all started from a mobile app concept and since then has shifted into an encompassing social impact initiative. I do wish to see the web-based hub turn into an app one day and it would be amazing to expand the outreach to across all of Canada, North America, and even globally. In terms of the near future, you can find FEM in STEM hosting events in collaboration with other organizations and outreaching to high school district boards across Ontario. My wish for the future is to gain greater support from various school boards to the point where FEM in STEM is a well-known resource across the province. Tied in with that, I wish to see more girls attending conferences, networking events, and just utilizing these resources to help maximize potential early-on and mitigate the ‘leaky pipeline’ in STEM.