Inspiring 21st Century Women in STEM History

3 Women Who Made History in STEM Careers


At Emagination STEM camps, we pride ourselves on our growing ratio of male-to-female campers; however, a recent Pew Research Center study from 2018 shows a decline in interest for STEM-related subjects among teen female students. The problem it seems is that kids typically have only a general idea of where STEM subjects can take them. President, CEO and executive director of AeroStar Consulting, Tammera L. Holmes, was quoted to say, “Kids don’t understand how technology can be applied to careers outside of computers, coding and maybe robotics… Kids need to see more role models and pathways to science- and tech-related careers.”


Women making history in STEM careers
Image courtesy of Karl Magnuson via Unsplash

Historically for girls, the path to STEM careers has been met with various roadblocks which are beginning to get proverbially bulldozed in the 21st century. Unfortunately, there still remains a male/female pay-gap; however, the trailblazers in this article are proving that women employees and leaders have equal value to their male colleagues. Let us get you acquainted…


"Science really is critical thinking. It’s assessing something… I think the major thing you have to do in education is to allow students and people to understand that it connects to their world.” — Dr. Mae Jemison
Headshot of Dr. Radia Perlman

DR. RADIA PERLMAN

Known as the “Mother of the Internet,” Radia Perlman developed the Spanning Tree Protocol, known as STP or IS-IS. Her research helped develop systems related to network connections, and earned her a place in the Internet Hall of Fame. Her work expanded the Ethernet to manage large amounts of data and improve the efficiency of bandwidth, and later became IEEE standard 802.1D, last revised in 2004.

Dr. Perlman’s elegant solution to improving network connections was initially met by doubters among her engineering colleagues. In an interview for The Atlantic she stated, “My designs were so deceptively simple that it was easy for people to assume I just had easy problems, whereas others, who made super-complicated designs (that were technically unsound and never worked) and were able to talk about them in ways that nobody understood, were considered geniuses.”


Radia Perlman proves that there is no single path to success in STEM. Although the daughter of a radar tech and computer programmer, she was initially on a path to pursue music until a grade school teacher’s assistant introduced her to programming. Her aptitude for reading musical notes proved to be a fantastic foundation for learning computer languages and concepts. The National Inventors Hall of Fame says that, “She was able to master the technical aspects of program design in the same way that she learned to combine a scale of notes into a composition.”


“The kind of diversity that I think really matters isn’t skin shade and body shape, but different ways of thinking.” — Radia Perlman

A simple prodding from an attentive adult early in life led to a lifelong interest and revealed genius. Radia went on to earn a BS, MS, and PdD from MIT, has won numerous awards, holds over 100 patents, and has published multiple textbooks on network protocols. She is currently employed as a DELL EMC Fellow.



Headshot of Dr. Mae Jemison

DR. MAE JEMISON

If you compare the number of kids who list “Astronaut” as their ideal for what they want to be when they grow up versus the number who actually achieve this dream, the percentage is probably so infinitesimal that it would most likely act as a deterrent for most teens. Now add the perceived roadblocks for a woman of color, and recalculate the likelihood of achieving a spot in NASA’s astronaut training program.


Dr. Mae Jemison is recognized as the first black woman to travel to space — and this is no small feat. Astronaut trainees are picked from the highest echelons once every 4 to 5 years. Of the thousands of applicants for NASA’s training program, less than 15 are selected. In 1992, Jemison tackled these incredible odds, reached for the stars, and traveled 127 times around the Earth on the space shuttle Endeavor.


An early pursuit of STEM subjects and a career path in medicine enabled Mae to make this historic leap. For Jemison, STEM subjects have always been an interesting way to decode the world rather than rote memorization reserved for the classroom. “It’s all interwoven. Science really is critical thinking. It’s assessing something… I think the major thing you have to do in education is to allow students and people to understand that it connects to their world.”


Like Emagination Tech Camps, Mae Jemison now advocates for STEM education that is fun and relevant. Her STEM education led to multiple Lifetime Achievement awards, honorary degrees, television appearances, and even her own LEGO character!


“As a little girl. I always knew it was nonsense when the U.S. didn't have women astronauts. In fact, it really pissed me off… I was actually the first woman of color in the entire world to go into space. That makes no sense whatsoever. So how do we make it less noteworthy? Well, we have to make it normal, don't we? Let's make it so that we use people for their talents and skill sets.” — Mae Jemison


Headshot - Marissa Meyer

MARISSA MAYER

There’s not too many people on the planet today who don't know what Yahoo! is, but the public may not be aware of the search giant’s first female CEO, Marissa Mayer. This software engineer and businesswoman began her meteoric rise within the search industry at Google, in software engineering.


Mayer studied symbolic systems and computer science with an emphasis on artificial intelligence at Stanford University. She was courted by several tech companies upon graduation, but made the wise choice to accept a position at the 19-employee-run company, Google, in 1999. She soon wowed the male-dominated world of Silicon Valley as Google’s first female software engineer, and proved her true worth as she helped the company rocket into international success via her roles in product management, design, and leadership.


“I took a computer-science course to fill a prerequisite at Stanford, and I realized that every day was a new problem and every day you got to think about how to solve something new, how to reason through something new, how to develop an algorithm to solve for something you hadn't worked on before. It was something that I just found really intellectually interesting.” — Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer was the designer behind Google’s search interface, and is credited as the driving force behind increasing the number of daily searches on the site from a few hundred thousand to one billion within 5 years. She also contributed to a number of search-related patents, as well as the launch of 4 other household products that many of us use daily: Gmail, Google Chrome, Google Maps, and Google Earth. Recent data reveals that Google Search now serves up content to nearly 2 trillion searchers around the globe per year, Gmail has over 1.8 billion active users, and Google Maps is now the number 1 travel app used around the world with 106 million downloads in 2021 alone.


After blazing a trail at Google, Yahoo! Inc. hired Mayer to be their first female CEO. In 2012 Yahoo! was Google’s largest competitor, but struggled to show a profit. Marissa worked to improve the company’s profitability, and led the team to redesign the search engine’s interface until it was sold to Verizon Communications 5 years later.


Marissa left Yahoo! to launch Sunshine (formerly Lumi), a consumer apps start-up, and now serves on the boards of several nonprofits and corporate enterprises, including Walmart and the Forum of Young Global Leaders. Her aesthetic, attention to detail, and business savvy has made an indelible mark on the history of desktop and mobile applications, search capabilities, and the role of the internet in all our lives — not to mention blazing a trail for female software engineers, designers, and corporate leaders in the United States within the 21st century. She continues to raise awareness about STEM education across gender lines, and wants girls to know that they should explore coding, embrace their femininity, and strive for excellence in engineering and technology.


Silicon Valley continues to be a male-dominated realm, with only 15-17% of positions filled by women. In an article for Newsweek, Marissa Mayer shared that the co-founders of Google did a lot of research about corporate organizations. During her interview process they told her: “We know that organizations work better when there is gender balance. So it's important to us that we have a strong group of women, especially technical women, in the company."



We Want to Know! Tell us about the women who have influenced your passion for STEM subjects. What obstacles have you overcome to pursue your passion for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics?


Register now for Summer 2022 with Emagination Tech Camps to sign up for Coding Camp. Visit emaginationtechcamps.com/tech-courses to learn more.


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