This is a post in the STEMconnector™Guest Blog Series featuring AT&T Labs.
The role women play in shaping our country's future enrollment in STEM fields is critical. Not only is there a lack of young student enrollment in STEM related fields but there is also a big gap between genders. A current study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, titled "Why Don't Women Patent?," points out that closing the gap in underutilized female talent who are in STEM professions could increase the U.S. GDP per capita by 2.7 percent. Furthermore, a report from the National Science Foundation indicates that a discrepancy in the percentage of females (30%) versus males (41%) pursuing degrees in science and engineering remains - while the number of men who attend graduate school for computer science fields is double that of women. The question is – how can we change this? At AT&T we’ve found that mentoring is the key.
Recognizing the importance of encouraging women to pursue STEM fields, three of AT&T Labs
female researchers have their sights set on reversing this trend.
Alicia Abella, executive director of technical research at AT&T Labs with 22 patent filings, believes that as a woman in STEM she can serve as a role model for young people to point to and say "if she can do it, I can do it too."
While in high school, Alicia had the option to take typing class or computer programming – she chose computer programming, based on the increasing prevalence of personal computers. Knowing that the increase of these devices meant future job security, she decided to study computer science at NYU and took an internship at AT&T Labs, where she became acquainted with fundamental research.
When it comes to encouraging students to pursue STEM education, Alicia believes that parental engagement is a critical factor. “You don’t have to be a scientist or engineer to encourage them to try it, especially for young women and girls.”
When it comes to working in STEM, Amanda says “I love knowing that I can do something new, create something no one has done before.This is both exciting and scary!” She is also encouraged by the thought that her work makes a real difference in people’s lives.
While Amanda fell in love with computer science in the 10th grade, her path did not lead directly to a career in that field. In college she began pursuing psychology, mathematics and music. “At some point in my second year of college I decided to follow what made me most myself, and that eventually led to a career in computer science.”
Leaning on her own experience, Amanda encourages young students to do what most motivates and inspires them. “Find the activities that make you most truly yourself, and do those things. These will be the thoughts that do not get out of your head, that wake you up in the night or that your mind drifts to in idle moments.”
Mary Fernandez, assistant vice president of technical research at AT&T Labs with 11 patent filings, is a graduate of the AT&T Labs Fellowship Program and is passionate about and understands the importance of seeking to inspire young women students to pursue careers in STEM fields.
Mary’s advice for future STEM students is to, “Get a mentor! Be a mentor! I have had a mentor since I went to grad school in 1989, when I received a Graduate Research Program for Women grant from AT&T Bell Labs. The grant provided me with a mentor, Brian Kernighan, who supported me throughout graduate school.”
The experience inspired Mary to serve as a mentor today. One of the ways she does this is as chair of the board member for MentorNet, an e-mentoring program which matches mentors in STEM fields and student protégés based upon common demographic attributes.
The work these women are doing is all part of AT&T’s greater goal to enable the next generation of innovators. Keep up with projects at the Labs and these ladies through the Innovation Space blog