Women and especially women of color make up a small percentage of workers in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) jobs but in honor of Women’s History Month they’re getting the spotlight through a truly unique exhibit. The #IfThenSheCan exhibit is the largest collection of statues of women ever assembled together, to be installed on and around the National Mall. In true STEM fashion, the 120 statues are 3D-printed and modeled after contemporary STEM innovators and role models. Brazil native and Pharmaceutical Engineer Paula Garcia Todd is among the Latinas in STEM featured and her statement says she hopes “to introduce young women to the magic that happens when the impossible is met with innovative solutions.”
The display is an extension of the mission of IF/THEN, an initiative headed by Lyda Hill Philanthropies that’s meant to inspire young girls to pursue careers in STEM. They partnered with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to select and manage the AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors program and they were the basis for the statues.
Latinas held 10 percent of science and engineering jobs in 2019, as reported by the National Science Foundation, an increase of 8 percent from 2015. One of the women honored in the exhibit, Beatris Alejandra Mendez Gandica, is working directly to change that through Nuevo Foundation, an non-profit she founded that works with children of color to expose them to career options in STEM. She was born in San Cristobal, Venezuela and s a security engineer working as a Program Manager at Microsoft.
“I am sharing this because it is crazy to think that someone like myself can be modeled as a statue to inspire young girls and kids in general that STEM is for anyone not just for a few. If you know me, you know how passionate I am when it comes to teaching kids how to code and showing them that anything is possible,” Mendez Gandica wrote in a post on LinkedIn. “To me, it is an honor to be part of this amazing group of ladies and be able to represent Microsoft, Latinas in Tech, Azure Data, my country, and my family.”
Another changemaker is microbiologist Dr. Greetchen Díaz, the Director of the Science Education Program and Community Partnerships of Ciencia Puerto Rico. She founded CienciaPR’s “Borinqueña”, a bilingual blog for Latinas in Science and Technology as well as coordinating “Semillas de Triunfo” (Seeds of Success), the first STEM Ambassador Program for middle school girls in Puerto Rico.
Among the other Latinas included in exhibit are Polymer/ Cosmetic Chemist Roselin Rosario-Meléndez, and Afro-Latina Particle Physicist Dr. Jessica Nicole Esquivel, and physicist and TV host Deborah Berebichez, the first Mexican woman to get a PhD from Stanford.
Select statues will spread out to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum along the National Mall through March 27.