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Supporting and Celebrating Women in STEM

Break Innovation Barriers by Breaking Equality Ones

Women being underrepresented in the STEM fields is a modern, global issue. As a result, progress towards sustainable development as outlined by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is hindered – in this case, predominantly progress tracked by the indicators of SDG 2: “Gender Equality”. While women make up roughly 51% of the global population, women remain marginalized in fields as vast as STEM, meaning global advancement for solutions of the SDGs suffers. ecoSPEARS’ company culture is deeply rooted in equality and diversity and we believe that, in order to break the barriers associated with innovation, we must also break those associated with equality and diversity. Today we are celebrating Women in Science by interviewing just some of the amazing females on the ecoSPEARS team! 

“To rise to the challenges of the 21st century, we need to harness our full potential. That requires dismantling gender stereotypes. On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let’s pledge to end the gender imbalance in science.” – UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Get Comfortable with Feeling Uncomfortable 

Katheryn Woller, a Mechanical Engineer at ecoSPEARS, told us her interest in the STEM field all began with fixing a broken toilet while she was still only in the 7th grade. This led Katheryn to realize her passion for problem-solving, coupled with her ability to tackle and explain her solution to complex mathematical problems. Katheryn currently studies Mechanical Engineering at the University of Central Florida and joined ecoSPEARS in 2019 with hopes of gaining some real-world experience in the environmental engineering industry. 

“Gaining confidence was an initial struggle for me,” says Katheryn, “but by pushing myself to ask questions and being present gave me a voice.” By introducing STEM education early on and letting young girls try and fail, Katheryn says we can help them build the confidence they will need to succeed in real-world, hands-on scenarios. Being able to try, test, and fail at building solutions for problems at an early age will help establish problem-solving skills that are needed in the STEM field. 

“Through exposure in early education, girls at a young age can find an interest in the STEM field. Emphasis on science and technology classes is super important for them, too, and highlights how innovations in STEM can change the world,” said Raiza Quiñones, an Analytical Chemistry Intern at ecoSPEARS.

Massively Underrepresented

Highlighting successful women in STEM will help young girls build a connection. Seeing someone that looks similar to them in a STEM-related field helps these young females create a personal relationship and connection to a field of study, inspiring them in turn with new role models. Currently, women are massively underrepresented in STEM fields due to long-lasting cultural norms. Through community events, competitions, company, and school initiatives, we can showcase women in STEM and give young females a resource to connect with STEM mentors. 

Here at ecoSPEARS, we are extremely lucky to have a group of inspiring and passionate women on our team working to build a better future. Women in STEM are deeply rooted in the history of ecoSPEARS, as our NASA-developed green technology was originally invented by Dr. Jackie Quinn to remove toxins like PCBs from the environment in 2012. One day, during her lunch break at NASA-KSC, Dr. Quinn saw a news broadcast about marine pollution centered on microplastics and their increasing levels being found in marine life. Dr. Quinn, knowing that chlorinated compounds tend to be hydrophobic and latch onto organic matter such as plastics, was struck with inspiration for a new invention. Grabbing a handful of plastic straws from the cafeteria, she took them back to her laboratory at NASA-KSC and placed those straws into a solution of PCB-contaminated sediments. Her goal? Track the efficacy of the straws’ polyethylene plastic matrix with absorbing hydrophobic contaminants like PCBs. Together with Drs. Phillip Maloney and Dr. Bobby Devor, the three later pitched their invention – which would evolve to become known as the Sorbent Polymer Extraction And Remediation System (SPEARS) – to NASA technology officials with remarks that the technology could be used as a cost-effective alternative method to extract PCBs from contaminated sediments at NASA centers throughout the continental United States.

Thank you for taking the time to read our blog. If you know any women in STEM-related careers or academia, be sure to thank and congratulate them this week for daring to be themselves. And as always, readers, we’ll see you next time!