Student-run organization aims to encourage more women to pursue STEM careers

Zinia Khattar holding a collage showcasing work by Scientella members.
(Copyright of Zinia Khattar)

Since launching in 2020, a student-run organization that wants to help more women pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has raised more than $80,000 for low-income students and enlisted the help of some of the top companies in those fields.

The organization, Scientella, aims its programming at students in middle school through college who want to pursue STEM careers.

“Our mission is to close the representation gap of women in STEM fields,” said Zinia Khattar, 15, a 10th grader at Del Norte High School and one of the student leaders of Scientella.

The percentage of women in STEM jobs has increased over the years, according to Census Bureau data, but there is still a notable disparity. In 1970, women were only about 8% of the STEM workforce. In 2019, that figure increased to 27%.

The gender disparity in STEM fields is caused in part by long-held sexist beliefs about men being better suited to those types of careers, according to research that has been conducted by organizations including the American Association of University Women. There has also been ongoing implicit bias that has limited women in the STEM workforce or discouraged them from pursuing those jobs altogether.

Schools, government officials, STEM professionals, students and activists have accelerated their efforts over the years to reverse those cultural barriers. They have also worked to address the pay gap that favors men over women in STEM.

Scientella initiatives have included one-on-one mentoring between students and STEM professionals, workshops, and part-time internships.

“Through these activities, students gain insights on STEM careers with the credibility to apply successfully for colleges and jobs,” Zinia said.

Mentors who have taken part have expertise in areas including quantum computing, biomedical engineering, bioinformatics, molecular and developmental biology and chemistry.

“The teenage years are significant in career discovery and help tremendously in building a leadership mindset,” Zinia said.

She added that one of Scientella’s goals is to expand globally. Student leaders have gotten in touch with schools in the United Kingdom. They also want to make more inroads with companies in STEM fields.

“Many people think that just reaching out to professionals is an easy job, but they are quite busy,” Zinia said. “So one actually pretty difficult thing is getting in touch with different corporations to help support our mission and advocate it further.”

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