Courtesy of Anabella Maria Galang

Cornell's chapter of The Steminist Movement poses in Willard Straight Hall. The group is working with local middle school girls to increase their awareness of STEM careers.

November 12, 2023

Cornell’s Steminist Movement Inspires Local Middle School Girls to Pursue STEM Careers

Print More

While reading the Elephant in the Valley report, Anabella Maria Galang ’23 first learned about the wide gender disparities in certain STEM fields, which bothered her as a young woman longing to study medicine. With the knowledge that around 27 percent of STEM professions are filled by women, Galang founded The Steminist Movement in 2018 to tackle this disparity.

Galang started the non-profit while at home in Southwest Florida, hosting different STEM activities in local public libraries for middle school girls. Today it has grown into a Cornell chapter that creates programming for girls to foster interest in various STEM topics.

Growing up in Southwest Florida in the proximity of retirement communities and memory homes, Galang found at an early age that she was interested in how science and medicine could become interventions at different stages for those dealing with chronic illnesses. Later on, one of her high school projects studied why there exists a greater gender disparity within some STEM fields over others, and she began to seek out solutions to empower girls in STEM overall.

Galang studied biological sciences at Cornell with a focus in genetics and genomic development. With her involvement within the scientific community, she further saw the potential for empowering women and girls to excel in these fields. 

“I wanted to create a buffet of distinctly different but socially relevant STEM topics. So, [The Steminist Movement] was intended to be very application-based, and I wanted to make [our lessons] available to middle school girls because studies show that that’s the period of time in which the gender gap really starts to originate,” Galang said. 

The Steminist Movement operates by hosting various workshops, such as introduction to coding or introduction to regenerative medicine and stem cell biology, in addition to different speaker events. 

The first workshop run by The Steminist Movement back in 2018 was named “Why Haven’t We Cured Cancer Yet,” as Galang always had an interest in cancer research. The event was a joint effort between Galang and Robert Weinberg, a professor of cancer research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“[Weinberg] worked with me to develop that curriculum and distill the content down to make it cognitively accessible to middle schoolers,” Galang said. “It’s the classic science communication dilemma where he was pulling me in one direction and I was pulling in the other in order to reconcile the nuances of cancer biology.” 

In an effort to create programming that introduces girls to various STEM topics, The Steminist Movement recruits teaching fellows — college and high school students trained in teaching STEM topics — who are passionate about speaking to middle schoolers about the field. These fellows create hands-on activities, assignments and discussions to work out together with the participating student. Nikki Hart ’23, who previously was a head teaching fellow, explained that her involvement in the Cornell project team Autonomous Underwater Vehicle drove her to lead a program on underwater robotics. 

Hart attempted to connect concepts to current projects from Cornell research labs and larger companies and posed analytical questions to the middle schoolers, such as which sensors they thought were necessary on their underwater robots.

“I asked myself, ‘What are ways that this topic could be made engaging for middle school students who may have never heard of it before?’” Hart said. “I then made engaging activities where the students would feel empowered to start thinking about how to design these underwater vehicles without needing prior experience.”

According to Hart and Galang, teaching a middle schooler about STEM topics requires adapting their teaching approaches to accommodate young learners as college students themselves. Both Hart and Galang said one of their biggest takeaways from teaching within The Steminist Movement was learning how to simplify and clarify a topic and extract the most intriguing aspect in order to captivate a younger audience.

The organization not only centers around specific STEM topics, but also creates a safe space for expressing a wide range of perspectives spanning across all of STEM, Hart said.

“Including real experiences and real representation is incredibly important,” Hart said. “Students [seeing] people who look like them succeeding very far down the line can really empower them to put themselves in the role of scientists or engineers and envision themselves in those careers.”

While there certainly have been improvements in recent years to balance gender gaps in STEM fields, Galang said that “the gender gap is changing form.” Now, the priority is not only about welcoming women into STEM fields, but also supporting them once they are there so that more women can reach leadership roles capable of making policy changes, such as hiring practices or maternity leave, which can benefit the next generation of women in STEM. 

Today, The Steminist Movement has also gone through many changes, such as adding a new chapter at Northeastern University. After the pandemic, in which all events moved online, the Cornell chapter is once again hosting events with local Ithaca middle schoolers. 

This year, the organization led middle schoolers around the Cornell Botanic Gardens to discuss sustainability and agriculture. The organization also provided the girls with the opportunity to tour the Fuertes Observatory so they could learn about astronomy. The organization is preparing for its annual science fair at Cornell which will be a day of in-person gathering and rotating stations with hands-on activities where the middle schoolers can present their topics.

Abra Geiger ’26, one of the outreach directors of the Cornell chapter, said that the organization is aiming to target more girls who may not be currently aware that they are interested in STEM topics. Since activities are voluntary, participating students may already have a certain degree of interest in STEM subjects. That is why the organization’s newest initiative is creating STEM kits to distribute to local libraries in hopes of accessing a larger audience.

“We recently applied for a grant to fund this project, and what it entails is we would make 300 STEM kits each in decorated mason jars that incorporate two STEM activities [each],” Geiger said. “One [activity] would be growing a bean sprout from [a] seed and watching it grow roots and leaves. The other [activity] is to make catapults out of popsicle sticks. In this way, we can span a variety of fields within STEM.”

These STEM kits align with the initial goal of The Steminist Movement to be application-based. The best way to make and keep young girls engaged in STEM is by showing them the impact of these fields and their potential to solve current problems, according to Galang. The current environment presents various problems that can only be solved in an equally representative workforce.

Galang said that the need for a representative workforce has been heightened with the advancement of technology.

“We live in the advent of so many technologies arising. Take the boom in AI as a microcosm of technology as a whole. You see exacerbation of stereotypes, and you see biases in data sets,” Galang said. “All of these very potentially harmful patterns are being exacerbated in an echo chamber type of way. That’s why, more than ever, we need a diverse workforce when it comes to STEM as a whole.”

Catherine Zhu ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].

Correction, Nov. 14, 2:32 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated that a high school course first made Galang interested in launching her organization. That is not accurate and the article has been corrected.