2018 Women in Engineering Empowerment Essay – Fariha Tasnim

During her infamous TED Talk, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie describes how our lives are a beautiful tapestry of overlapping stories, warning of the dangers that exist when generalization of any one person or one group of people occur [1]. However, this notion of generalization, of single stories, is ubiquitous among STEM fields. Since elementary school, I recall the repetitive and monotonous narratives, labelling STEM focused arenas as paths wherein one must be a strong performer in math and science and nothing more. It was not until I reached university and began my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering that I realized the potential and the influence contained within STEM; a prosperous field with the ability to augment society through the elimination of indolence and initiation of innovation. I was one, among countless girls, subjected to the single story of STEM, yet I was one of few who continued to pursue the same path.

This is the common deficiency; the propagation of single stories among all of STEM. This is why, despite the abundant amount of organizations, programs, policies and initiatives, there still exists a lack of female representation in STEM fields. It is not the absence of structured support systems, but the inability of such systems to communicate the importance, the impact and the practical application of STEM as agents of change. Thus, a rich story, one that progresses beyond just math and science must be deliberately portrayed to girls from a young age and continued throughout their careers, to recruit, cultivate interest and retain. Imagine a girl in elementary school, now hearing rich stories of STEM where scientists are discovering Proxima B, a planet potentially containing life [2], or engineers in Iceland transforming carbon dioxide emissions into stone [3], or researchers developing a cyborg stingray [4]. The notion of rich stories serve as a catalyst in cultivating interest among future scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. Individuals inherently long to leave a legacy during their lifetime, thus sharing rich stories contained within STEM is a route to form connections between individuals and their future goals, developing a mutual understanding.

However, implementing such a system requires time as incremental change must be subjected to school curriculums, STEM related programs, organizations and legislations to emanate the strategy of storytelling. It is not a tangible change, but a cultural one and a battle to resist the preservation of status quo, along with a collective effort to recalibrate and recognize female voices. This cultural shift must be initiated and maintained to successfully implement incremental changes within pre-existing systems to adopt the notion of storytelling. In a rapidly evolving world, innovation is key to remain competitive in the global economy, thus equipping the female demographic with necessary tools will allow the aptitude and knowledge within STEM fields to foster, along with the stories of each individual