One Year Later: On the Eve of WiSci 2017, 2016 Attendees Reflect on Life Since the Camp
Last year, ASM joined several partners below the equator in Peru for WiSci 2016 (Women in Science ) STEAM Camp, a private-public initiative of the U.S. Department of State, Intel, Google, United Nations Foundation Girl Up, and others. The aim of the camp was empower young women interested in pursuing careers in the the STEAM field, through STEAM activities such as microscopy and programming.
With WiSci 2017 soon to be under way in Malawi, WiSci 2016 attendee Leslie Anasu Espinoza Campomanes (on right in photo), currently a 1st-year university student in Peru, and WiSci 2016 counselor Paola Moreno-Roman (on left in photo), currently a 4th-year doctoral student in the United States, reflect on how this initiative impacted their lives.
How has attending WiSci affected your life?
PAOLA: The people I met at WiSci—counselors, campers, visitors, workshop leaders, staff, etc. —left a deep impression in me, inspired me with their life stories, and taught me many important lessons that I will always carry with me.
My life story is very similar to the life stories of many of the girls who attended WiSci 2016: we have supportive families that, although they love us, are unable to guide us on the next steps needed to reach our academic goals and, at times, discourage us from pursuing goals they deem unattainable for people from our backgrounds. WiSci reminded me of the importance of mentors and reinforced my commitment to build a more diverse and inclusive society. It also reinforced my mission to use science as a vehicle for children and teenagers, particularly those from nontraditional STEAM [ Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Design, Mathematics] backgrounds, to develop critical thinking, self-esteem, and other skills.
LESLIE: I’ve gained excellent friends from different countries, whom I admire for the great achievements they are making and the great personalities they have. WiSci boosted my abilities in science and technology. I ran experiments and projects that I had never seen before. From this I realized that there are no limits to research or doing science.
In simple words, WiSci changed my life radically, allowing the dreamer I carry inside never to disappear because I found that there are people who are committed to talent, equality, justice, education and opportunities.
What was your greatest take-away from the experience?
PAOLA: My greatest take-aways are that love and support do really go a long way, and that positive role models are crucial in tackling gender equality
LESLIE: For me, the whole camp was the best experience. WiSci is simply the best thing that has happened to me. WiSci acts as the base of my STEAM knowledge. It fueled my desire to continue projecting myself to the future.
What have you been up to since WiSci ended one year ago?
PAOLA: I’m continuing my Doctoral studies in Cellular and Molecular Biology at Stanford University. Since WiSci, I was awarded the European Molecular Biology Organization Short-Tem Fellowship, which allowed me to establish research collaborations with a research group in Lausanne, Switzerland, and to travel there for a month to carry out some experiments.
I have also continued my work as an advocate for gender equality and diversity in STEAM both in Peru and the US. I led and was part of a two-month mentoring initiative between Peruvian scientists living abroad and Peruvian girls as part of the Mini-Academy of Science and Technology (MaCTec-Peru) program.
LESLIE: As soon as WiSci camp finished, I put forward my final project of WiSci STEAM: "Tecladaille" (A keyboard adapted to smartphones for blind people) at my school's science fair. I founded the first Girl Up club in Peru, at my school, Innova Schools, called ALEUP Girl Up. Through the club, I taught lessons in science, especially biology and genetics to my classmates. I also led conversations about the politics of my country for scientific and social campaigns form women to empower them.
Thanks to the projects we have done, we were nominated as a top club in Latin America. I was selected as one of 4 girls worldwide to be part of Girl Up’s Team Strong and am on my way to Washington, DC, for their Leadership Summit to be a speaker and interviewer of representatives and celebrities.
What did you learn about STEAM programs that you didn’t know before?
PAOLA: The behind-the-scenes things that go on at STEAM camps: logistics, planning, pre-program workshops, bonding activities, etc. All that knowledge and skills I gained will be crucial in making one of my long-term goals a reality: organize a STEAM camp in Peru for Peruvian girls from different regions.
Another very important lesson was the importance of emotional support throughout the program, not only for the campers but for everyone—staff, counselors, teachers, etc. It is important to focus on the science and development of a variety of skills; nonetheless, making sure that everyone’s mental health is at an optimal state must be a priority as well.
LESLIE: In my school we usually studied theoretical rather than applied applications of genetics and biology, so the hands-on approach to learning at WiSci amazed me. ASM’s lesson on building a home microscope was the best thing for me. In school we had only one, so I was so happy to have one of my own at home.
WiSci’s advanced programming classes via Google have piqued my curiosity in today's apps. So far I have created several. I never took engineering, mechatronics, and electricity classes before WiSci, and now thanks to Intel I’ve built a remote-control car, windmill with renewable energy, an electrocardiogram monitor, and an electric piano that I program via Bluetooth
Are experiences like WiSci valuable to young girls?
PAOLA: Yes. Not only to young girls but to everyone involved in the project.
LESLIE: Definitely yes. We continue to live in a world of gender inequality and education opportunities for girls. The gender gap continues to prevent us from achieving the progress we long for.
Women must be empowered because they are the future. I am very sure that, through this, the solution will be generated to all the social and economic problems of the present time. I say this because an informed and educated girl is totally capable of avoiding risks and generating impacts that transcend human groups.
Many girls have great aspirations in science and technology, but because of different situations and limits know little about it. There is nothing better than to learn by practicing, especially with advice from experts in the field.
Where do you think the next WiSci STEAM camp should be located?
PAOLA: I would love it if it takes place in another Latin-American country, such as El Salvador, Nicaragua or Guatemala
LESLIE: Through being part of the Girl Up community, I learned that the following camp will be in Malawi. I am very excited that the WiSci is in these types of communities that most need it because that is where the real leaders are born.
I would like to see WiSci STEAM camps continue to be located in African countries, but also in Latin American countries that are developing. When we learn new things, the next step is to replicate the message to our communities. I think that the network of STEAM would grow and develop; more girls would join these movements and could even reach unknown places.
What is next for you? College? Study abroad?
PAOLA: When I finish my Ph.D. studies, I plan on keep doing research and will most likely do a research postdoc. I also will keep on working to building build a more diverse professoriate, a more inclusive society, and to provide support to underserved communities—particularly girls and teenagers—so they can thrive.
LESLIE: I’m currently in one of the best medical colleges in my country. Within the university, I have joined the Scientific Society of Medical Students (SOCIEM), where we carry out prevention campaigns and treatment of congenital and popular diseases. I am also part of the Research Center of Traditional Medicine and Pharmacology; we are researching the composition of Andean medicinal plants, their interaction with drugs, and their counterproductive and favorable effects on health. We’ve just finished making a muña extract and are currently analyzing the phytochemical effect of caffeine in urine samples. One of the things I have always dreamed of and still hold in my plans is to study abroad in the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom.
I would also like to spread the Girl Up clubs throughout my country and partner with institutions that have the same visions for gender equality, and publish the research I have been doing.
To get a closer look at ASM’s involvement in WiSci , see our video My First Microscope: ASM Opens Microbial World to Young Latin Americans. For a deeper understanding of the hurdles it takes to create a STEAM career as a woman in Latin America, read WISCI 2016 Beyond The Microscope: Challenges of Being a Female Scientist in Latin America by ASM Young Ambassador to Uruguay Paola Scavone.
Stay tuned for more updates from ASM during WiSci 2017 in Malawi!