The Founder of FemInSTEM wants the world to know that the realm of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is for everybody.
“As a female in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), I constantly felt this lack of self-esteem and confidence. In workshops and research projects, my partners and mentors were always guys, and there was a clear lack of female representation.
I would always get judgemental stares from my male counterparts. I’ve even experienced ‘mansplaining’ by boys who were convinced that I wasn’t as good as them. They’d make snide comments like, ‘You sure you know this? You don’t look like you understand.’
When I tried to explain something to them, they would just cut me off and say, ‘No, you’re wrong’ or roll their eyes and ignore me. They would start explaining topics or concepts that I already understood without me asking them to do so, which was quite annoying.
My love for STEM began when I was a kid. I was always tinkering around with those mini engineering sets. I built myself a ball track, a mini bicycle, and went on YouTube to learn how to make DIY cardboard machines, like those coin sorter and candy dispenser machines.
Adding on to that, we had many workshops in school. I did Robotics and programmed games on Scratch. In Science enrichment lessons, I remember watching nature documentaries and growing edible plants like wheatgrass.
You can say that I’ve always had a curiosity for the world around me, and my passion for STEM grew as I learnt more about the world. But I found that there’s a lack of camaraderie amongst female students who are just as passionate about STEM as the boys are.
I was really inspired to do something to help close the gender gap. However, youth-led gender organisations were scarce. Most organisations are run by adults, but I wanted to find a community of like-minded individuals.
So instead of waiting for others to take action, I plucked my courage to do something I never thought I’d do. At 16, I founded my own organisation. Females in STEM (FemInSTEM) was launched to empower the next generation of girls and women with a passion in this field.
We started small. We began our journey by connecting with like-minded individuals through Instagram posts and initiatives, and reached out to communities advocating for the underprivileged.
We sought partnerships with organisations like SHINE Children and Youth Services, and participated in their Nothing Is Impossible campaign. We also partnered up with tech company ALTTech to develop a web app that aims to ignite curiosity in STEM in children.
Recently, we took our first step towards growing into a global movement. We recruited members from five continents – Asia, Europe, North America, South America and Africa – and 34 countries, including Ukraine, Nigeria and Egypt.
Our recent forum was organised by a member from Egypt. To empower women to take initiative, she spoke about her passion in Astrophysics for the very first time to members from Japan, Vietnam and Mexico.
And to help redress the dynamics and stereotypes that hinder gender equality, we roped in male allies as members and directors. In the next few years, we aspire to grow our communities to support each other regardless of gender or background.
While we may have reached many milestones, this journey was not a smooth sailing one. I had my fair share of doubts and adversity along the way. In the beginning, numerous emails sent out for collaborations were ignored, and events planned were met with little support.
As a student entrepreneur juggling work, school and CCA, everything became a struggle. There were multiple occasions where I almost gave up. Nevertheless, with the support of people around me, I persevered through adversity and began to see progress.
I share my story with the hopes of inspiring others to be courageous and take the first step in advocating for issues they are passionate about; issues that they hold close to their hearts. To reach your true potential, you must be prepared to take risks and overcome challenges.
Many of us are often afraid to step out and voice our passions, seeking comfort behind the scenes. You must first take the first step to try something new. You must dare to explore paths that no one else has taken before.
Along the way, ground yourself with a strong passion and purpose, for it will be your motivation whenever you feel like giving up. With hard work and determination, you will begin to see progress.” – Cai Ting, 17
Story submission by Cai Ting