The Importance of Female Role Models in STEM

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

By Sofy Navarro, 49ers STEAM Education

Earlier this month, my 49ers colleagues and I were nine out of 80 women mentors who participated in the Silicon Valley Young Women’s Leadership Summit at the Juniper Networks Dome. Girls from Santa Clara, Franklin McKinley, and many other school districts, were gathered at this event for the explicit purpose of showing them that women are capable, equal and thriving in the STEM workforce. The summit specifically focused on strong, multicultural women of varying backgrounds who all have two very important things in common; perseverance and the belief that young women in the room (and around the world) will change the world through STEM. 

The 49ers commitment to STEAM education is proven not only through its participation in this event but every single day. As the 49ers STEAM Education manager, our department has the pleasure of welcoming and teaching K-8 students STEAM through the game of football at Levi’s® Stadium Monday through Friday. As a sponsor of the event, 49ers women from across different departments received the unique opportunity to dig in and get to know the girls who were attending on a deeper level. By experiencing the summit side by side, we were able to share our takeaways from each speaker and have discussions about biomedical engineering, our love/hate for math, and the chemistry behind our favorite recipes.  As a unit, my table went through the growing pains of a true STEM team and doubted our math skills as we tried to figure out the combination to a lock, and came to find out we were right all along!

Whether it be an individual mentor or an organization-wide initiative, we must continue to find avenues to tap into our youth and show them that there is not only one fork in the road but, rather, a whole labyrinth of careers in STEM they could pursue.  It is our duty to expose girls to all the possibilities science, technology, engineering and math can take them, and prove to them they deserve equal representation in these fields. The speakers did just that. Nico Sell, Founder and Chair of 533DZ and r00tz, inspired the room to become hacker superheroes and hack for good.  The girls saw their mothers, aunts and themselves in Ali Guaneros Luna, NASA Aerospace and Systems Engineer, when she spoke of her native home, Mexico, and how she started her career after having a family. Finally, Nicky Goodson, Director of Product Verification and Packaging at Intuitive Surgical, demonstrated how engineering has the magic to save lives in the operating room.  Most importantly, they taught the girls that not all career paths are linear or are the same, and exposed them to jobs that they might not have heard of or previously believed to correlate with STEM.

Experiences like this are as personal to me as they are to the nearly 300 girls who participated that day. I see myself in them as much as they look to see themselves in me, their mentors, and the speakers who presented.  I did not grow up learning about STEM and its vastness, but I did feel the power of being loved and empowered by educators, mentors, and peers in and outside of my family. Through different clubs and organizations at my middle school and high school like Puente and Forensics (Speech and Debate), I was taught that I had a voice and I could make a difference. This sense of belonging and confidence is something that every young woman is entitled to, and it is why I believe events like the Silicon Valley Young Women’s Leadership Summit and others like it, are pivotal in shaping our youth today.

(Photos provided by Jamila McIntosh)

Sofy Navarro is the 49ers STEAM Education Program manager, coordinating programming visits for more than 60,000 K-8 participants annually. She’s been with the organization since November 2014, and has presented at the California STEAM Symposium in 2016 and 2017, Silicon Valley Young Women’s Leadership Summit and Big Picture Learning’s Big Bang to share with educators the intersection of STEAM and sports, and how it can be leveraged to incite learning.

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