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International Day of Women and Girls in Science

International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a day dedicated to recognizing the significant gender gap that persists in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field. Women have come a long way in gaining access to higher education, but there is still room for improvement.  We need to ensure that women are given the same opportunities as men to pursue higher education and enter traditionally male-dominated professions. By continuing to invest in women and girls, we can help to create a more equitable, prosperous, and sustainable world. We spoke to a few of our women in STEM here at COLSA, to get their outlook on what it means to be a woman in STEM. 

Elissa Miller is a Senior Data Scientist at COLSA. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics with a specialization in Astrophysics. While obtaining her degree, she faced a variety of difficult male professors, which was one of the reasons she decided to begin her career in the industry instead of continuing education to obtain graduate degrees. However, her introduction to the workforce allowed her to gain a wealth of technical experience over the last ten (10) years that eventually evolved into her career as a data scientist. Before working at COLSA, and often being one of only a few women on her team, Elissa was aware of the gender gap surrounding her. Although she felt her voice was sometimes undervalued because of her gender, she persisted with the knowledge that gender does not define anyone’s abilities or skills. When asked about International Day of Women and Girls in Science Elissa has mixed feelings. She feels it is great to have a day that brings awareness to the underrepresentation and underutilization of women in STEM but also looks forward to a day where gender goes unnoticed in the workplace. Her advice for girls wanting to enter any STEM field is “know that your intelligence, your talents, and your worth are inherent to you as an individual and are not defined by the environment you’re in.”  

Jayashri “Jaya” Kuntamukkala is a Systems Analyst for COLSA. An international student from India, Jaya majored in Instructional Technology and desired to return to India to teach; however, she ultimately decided to stay in the U.S. and enter the tech field. The fact that the tech sector is a male-dominated field did not deter her. When asked about any obstacles she has faced as a woman, she said that many have doubted her ability and felt she could not carry the weight of the job; “it was a challenge, and it made me want to do more.” Jaya says that International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a day to reflect on her achievements and to help other girls see that they can get there too. Her advice to women that want to pursue a career in STEM is “never give up. Hard work and persistence are key”.

Louise Perkins is a Technical SME in COLSA’s Information Systems functional area. Growing up, she always knew she wanted to do something that involved mathematics. Despite having little support from her parents to pursue this major because “studying math was a waste of time for a woman,” she chose to take a chance and go for it! She quickly came to love math and physics, enamored by how the world works and the interconnectivity of it all. After completing her initial degree in three (3) years, she interviewed for a job that wanted someone from a higher-ranked college, but again this did not stop her. She aced their aptitude test and was given the job, going on to install their 1st warehouse automation system. Later she received her Master’s in Computer Science and, after that, a PhD. After working numerous jobs and gaining a multitude of experience, she realized that being in a male-dominated field meant that “virtually everyone I met assumed I was not as smart, dedicated, committed, or as capable” as some of [my] male counterparts.  Once again, she did not let this stop her from reaching heights that allowed her to advance the discipline and make a difference on every project she participated in. Louise says that International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a day “to take time off from my technical work to encourage young women to stay in STEM when they enjoy the topic.  A time to share the joy and privilege I have had while making a living in the STEM field.  To pass on some of my experiences that might make their professional work a little easier”. Her advice to women wanting to enter the STEM field is “Let your passion, not your gender, define you. Learn, learn, learn [because] the details are everything in this field, and always enjoy yourself”.

Jessica Hassan is a Cyber Engineer here at COLSA. She received her Bachelor’s in Information Systems Security and her Master’s in Information Technology with a concentration in Digital Forensics. She relocated from Northern Virginia to Alabama for a position at COLSA as a Cyber Integrator working as an Organizational Information Systems Security Manager (ISSM) supporting the U.S. Army. When asked about some of the obstacles she may have faced in the industry she mentions that in both college and her professional career, “being younger than most of my counterparts in some of the higher positions I have held can have its personal challenges with ensuring people actually hear you and take you seriously.” Being a woman in a heavily male-driven field presents obstacles, such as wage gaps and gender biases. Jessica says that to overcome, you must continue “to prove yourself and set the bar higher, showing others your strengths and contribute to the team’s success.” International Day of Women and Girls in Science is significant to her because it brings awareness to women’s critical roles in stem. It also inspires our younger generation of women, showing them the many heights they can achieve. Jessica’s final advice for girls wanting to enter the STEM field is “Never give up and never let someone else determine your success or lack thereof. Continue to be successful, continue to progress the field for those after you and remember to support the other women you encounter as well. Remain confident and speak up, be heard”.

It is inspiring to hear about the work our incredible women at COLSA are doing to advance the field of STEM. They are true innovators and trailblazers in their respective industries. From developing groundbreaking technologies to inspiring the next generation of STEM leaders, these women are making a huge impact and we are so proud of them! Let’s take a moment to celebrate their inspiring accomplishments and thank them for their dedication to STEM. Here is to all the inspiring women in STEM and may we continue to strive to encourage the next generation.