It’s likely impossible to overestimate women’s contributions to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) over the years. (Indeed, contributions from women in STEM are being made as we write this article!)
Nobody knows this better than Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, a virologist who won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.*
Barré-Sinoussi’s exceptional contribution to science is the 1983 co-discovery (along with Luc Montaigner) of a retrovirus in swollen lymph glands. Which would later be named Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the cause of AIDS. This historical discovery has led to life-saving treatment methods for AIDS sufferers.
“Certain people – men, of course – discouraged me, saying [science] was not a good career for women. That pushed me even more to persevere.”
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, virologist and Nobel Prize recipient**
Women are so embedded in the field of STEM that one woman – American biologist Judith Ramaley – is even credited with coining the “STEM” acronym. In 2001, the United States National Science Foundation (NSF) used the acronym SMET to refer to integrated knowledge across the sciences. The acronym was rearranged to STEM by Ramaley, and it has remained a standard ever since.***
If you Google “women in STEM,” you’ll uncover statistics, information, and advertisements about continuing education, stories of forgotten women scientists, and organizations explicitly dedicated to the empowerment of women in STEM professional fields. As a collective society, we know we have a deficit when it comes to encouraging and accepting the participation of women in this arena.
JerseySTEM was formed in 2013 for this very reason. A grassroots organization, JerseySTEM works to bridge the STEM enrichment gap with students, especially girls, at a stage when they dream about their future careers. We serve our home state of New Jersey on a school-by-school basis, offering after-school programs and mentoring middle school students. Engaging with them just as they are experiencing limitations in STEM exposure due to overcrowding, under-resourcing, and the antiquated notion that Barré-Sinoussi mentioned – that science is “not a good career for women.” Additionally, JerseySTEM is a conduit for New Jersey corporations with corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives to help uplift our Jersey girls!