By Jothi Ramaswamy, founder and CEO of ThinkSTEAM.
“33 boys. Zero girls.”
Four words. That’s all it took to transform my 13 year old perspective on society. I was talking with my brother over dinner when he iterated this gender ratio in his undergraduate C++ coding class. I was beyond shocked. Those words were all the motivation I needed to spark a STEM revolution in my own community. That’s why I founded ThinkSTEAM is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit aiming to bridge the gender gap in STEM fields. This year for Women’s History Month, I am excited to share my journey to becoming a youth leader supporting girls in STEM fields.
Until that dinner, I was surrounded by a bubble in which I was able to believe that all girls were encouraged and had opportunities to build a passion for STEM. These four words stabbed a needle into my bubble, exposing me to the harsh reality of the gender gap in STEM. Many girls are discouraged from entering STEM and are not exposed to its benefits, because of the stereotype that STEM is only for men. I had to change this.
Not only do STEM careers represent some of the fastest growing fields out there, but they are also some of the most lucrative. When I was seven years old my father passed away, and I feared that my life would take a 360-degree turn. Witnessing my mom bravely overcome this obstacle and single-handedly raise my brother and I using her graduate degree in engineering made me realize that everything will be okay. I realized that STEM isn’t just a group of work fields, but it also represents the ability for everyone — women included — to support themselves no matter what happens in life.
But a simple dinner conversation almost three years ago changed everything, and inspired me to effect the gender gap in STEM learning. “33 boys. Zero girls.”
I had to foster an interest among girls for STEM, somehow. Many girls already love the arts and creativity, so what if I teach girls about STEM by integrating the arts, something they already love? After all, I first became interested in computer science was because I loved how I can create colorful websites with simple HTML code. I had to encourage girls not to think STEM, but to instead think STEAM. Thus, ThinkSTEAM was born.
I founded ThinkSTEAM to bridge the gender gap in STEM, primarily through technology workshops for girls and connecting them to STEAM professionals from organizations like Facebook, Google, IBM, PepsiCo, etc. ThinkSTEAM has reached more than 600 girls in eight states, through 36 workshops, teaching activities including programming hats to light up colors, coding in several languages, and challenging girls to use code to create a platform raising awareness of a social issue of their choice. Many of our girls are not often exposed to STEAM, but are so inspired to continue experimenting with STEAM after attending our workshops that they return to our next events! The feeling I get from sparking such an interest for STEM in girls is beyond words.
I don’t just want American girls to engage in STEM, but hope to inspire girls internationally. The third annual ThinkBIG Challenge does this through a global contest, which tasks girls ages 8-14 to create a video on why we should bridge the gender gap in STEM. This year, Challenge Winners are honored with amazing prizes, including iPad Pros and media recognition.
My mom has been my role model for my entire life and has always encouraged me to follow my passion, especially when it comes to ThinkSTEAM. Not only that, but she inspires me to be a role model to other young girls who desire to enter STEM. We need to come together and pave the path for the next generation of females to catalyze breakthroughs in STEM. For Women’s History Month and every month that follows, let’s all do our part and empower our sisters and daughters to be the female STEM leaders of tomorrow.
Jothi is a mentee in the Three Dot Dash program, a global initiative of We Are Family Foundation. Three Dot Dash selects 30 teen change-makers out of hundreds of applications/nominations from around the world — founders of nonprofits, inventors of innovative technology, and more. In addition to their drive and ambition, these young people also share a mission of making a positive impact on our planet. Three Dot Dash brings these teens to NYC for a weeklong summit to amplify their work, complete with workshops led by established professionals, peace-building sessions, a day receiving invaluable media training from Ketchum PR, and more.
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