National Chemistry Week: An Interview with Ingredion’s Mabel Chacko

JerseySTEM recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mabel Chacko, project leader at Ingredion Incorporated during National Chemistry Week to learn more about what Mabel does to help improve people’s lives through chemistry.

Editor’s note: Ingredion is a sponsor of JerseySTEM helping to ensure underserved youth in New Jersey have access to STEM education. 

JerseySTEM: Tell us about your background and what you do at Ingredion.

Mabel: I studied biology and chemistry in college and now I’m a project leader at Ingredion specializing in food science.  The area of food science is so exciting for me, the aspect of working with different foods each day – ice cream, salad dressings, yogurt – the variety of things I could get into is really cool.

JerseySTEM: What excites you about the work that you do at Ingredion?   

Mabel: I get the opportunity to work with customers on a variety of accounts. My main area of focus is in starch-based texturizers and I work with customers to recommend products and find solutions to meet their needs. There are times when we need to create new products and when we do this, I work with our research and development teams to figure out combinations of ingredients to use that will create different textures and different outcomes. Think about salad dressing, for example. In order to get the right consistency and texture, we need to add the right kind and amount of starch and also to make sure they are stable over time and maintain a high quality product. I also work with my colleagues to modify foods to make them OK to swallow for people with a health condition called dysphagia (pronounced: dis-phaa-gi-a) where it takes a lot of time and effort to swallow food. Instant starches come in handy when trying to make ingredients and foods that people with dysphagia can swallow. 

JerseySTEM: Why is STEM important to you?  

Mabel: STEM is in everything we do, everyone uses an aspect of STEM each day. It’s a stepping stone to help us advance further from where we are now as a society and improving life for humankind. When I was a kid, it wasn’t such a big focus but now the tide has turned. I have kids and I’m so happy to see them exposed to this way of thinking in school and see how STEM helps build critical skills. STEM creates opportunities to ask questions like what if, could you do this??  I truly love that part of STEM!

JerseySTEM: How does what you do at Ingredion help you give back to your community?

Mabel: I am so excited by the opportunities that Ingredion exposes me to everyday. Knowing that the possibilities are endless is very motivating. I also really appreciate the opportunity to share what I’ve learned about food science through volunteer work at  schools and daycares and take the time to talk to children about careers in food science. Bringing experiments and demonstrations into classrooms and watching children get to learn in a hands-on way is really neat. Kids are typically excited about predicting how experiments will work and using different ingredients to make starches turn into powder and mixing liquids in to see the end result. Experiments like these helped as a parent during the pandemic to keep my kids engaged and interested in learning. I really enjoy seeing things through the eyes of a child and for the opportunity to help shape the way they approach different aspects of life. 


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It’s Time to Get Serious About Encouraging Women and Black Girls to Pursue STEM

It’s Time to Get Serious About Encouraging Women and Black Girls to Pursue STEM 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” 

Right now,  many young middle school Black girls are unaware of  the contributions of Black women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Lacking this knowledge and, as a result,  the role models that might inspire curiosity,  young Black girls are often not encouraged and do not pursue STEM electives in school or, subsequently,  STEM careers. 

It’s important that this changes. The U.S.’s evolving workforce needs include millions of STEM professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, African American women represented only 3 percent of the computing workforce and 1 percent of the engineering workforce.

On January 15, America celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King worked to ensure that every student would have equal access to educational opportunities. JerseySTEM honors his commitment by working to close the representation gap in STEM through after-school education programs.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we wanted to look at a few of the important  contributions Black women have made to advancements in STEM that affect how we live and work today – exceptional role models for any young woman considering where they want to go in their education and future career.

  • Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson became known to many of us with the release of the movie Hidden Figures. These women all contributed to both making space travel a reality. 
  • Bessie Blount was a physical therapist from New Jersey who invented a device that helped soldiers who had lost arms in WWII feed themselves. Further, working in hospitals led Blount to observe a relationship between physical health and handwriting. She published a paper on “medical graphology,” which jump-started handwriting analysis and forensics. (Source: “13 Black Women in STEM You Should Know!” GoldieBlox, updated February 2023)
  • Nola Hylton played an integral role in the development of MRI technology for the detection and diagnosis of breast cancer. She has been a co-leader of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Women’s Health International Group, where she identified and addressed barriers to clinical dissemination of breast MRI. (Source: “13 Black Women in STEM You Should Know!”)

How can you help JerseySTEM on its mission to bring STEM education to middle school girls in underrepresented communities in New Jersey? 

  • Become a sponsor: Make a monetary or in-kind gift in support of our programming and operations. 
  • Donate: We welcome donations of any size to help offset program costs like transportation for volunteers. 
  • If you’re a college student, become a program instructor.

Learn more at, or contact Nabil Mouline at for more information.

About JerseySTEM 

JerseySTEM is a grassroots 501(c) nonprofit organization bringing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to middle school girls in underrepresented communities in New Jersey. We develop and deliver innovative, hands-on, and online after-school projects and inquiry-based learning opportunities that develop teamwork, 21st-century problem-solving skills, and self-esteem. Learn more about our mission and goals by visiting

Celebrating the achievements to STEM from the Hispanic community

The field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics has witnessed remarkable contributions from individuals around the world, with the Hispanic community playing a crucial role in shaping advancements across various disciplines. From space exploration to groundbreaking scientific discoveries, the Hispanic community has consistently demonstrated their dedication and innovation.

In September we celebrate  Hispanic Heritage Month. JerseySTEM highlights some of the most notable STEM contributions from the Hispanic community. 

France A. Córdova

Her STEM journey began at an early age, marked by her curiosity and passion for space exploration. Córdova’s achievements culminated in her becoming the youngest Chief Scientist of NASA in 1993, and the first Hispanic woman in the role, a testament to her dedication and intellect. Her contributions have significantly influenced space research, fostering a new generation of scientists and engineers.

She made history as the first Hispanic woman to venture into space, serving as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993. Beyond her role as an astronaut, Ochoa’s background as an engineer and inventor has further solidified her place in STEM history. 

Ellen Ochoa
Luis Alvarez

A brilliant physicist, he made significant strides in the fields of particle physics and nuclear science. Among his many notable achievements is the Nobel Prize in Physics he was awarded in 1968. The American Journal of Physics called Alvarez “one of the most brilliant and productive experimental physicists of the twentieth century.” Alvarez’s contributions continue to be studied and acknowledged as pivotal to our understanding of nuclear physics.

A Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner in 1995, his groundbreaking research revealed the detrimental effects of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on the ozone layer, leading to a global awakening on environmental issues. Molina’s commitment to raising awareness about climate change and advocating for sustainable practices has made a lasting impact on both scientific and policy spheres.

Mario Molina
Carlos Juan Finlay

His discovery that mosquitoes transmit yellow fever marked a pivotal moment in the understanding of disease transmission. His research laid the foundation for subsequent breakthroughs in epidemiology and public health, saving countless lives and reshaping medical practices. In 1962, the Cuban government established the “Finlay Medical History Museum” in honor of his contributions. 

The Hispanic community has enriched the world of STEM with a diverse array of contributions that span space exploration, physics, environmental science, public health, and many more fields. But their representation in the STEM workforce is far behind.

Northstar Donates Advanced Educational Resources to JerseySTEM

For Immediate Release 

Courtney Ronaldo


Newark, N.J. and Florham Park, N.J. – August 1, 2023 – Northstar New Jersey and JerseySTEM recently partnered to ensure students at the 13th Avenue School in Newark, New Jersey are able to access critical classroom equipment including, microscopes, slides, molecular model kits, induction cooktops and more. As part of its After School Advantage program, Northstar donated $18,000 worth of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) equipment to JerseySTEM. This technology will enable students to have hands-on experience with chemistry, computer programming, biology and engineering.

“JerseySTEM is thrilled to partner with Northstar New Jersey and accept its donation of critical equipment that will enable us to bring coding and chemistry programs to students in underserved communities.”

– Dennis Boyd, Member, Corporate Development Taskforce, JerseySTEM

“This partnership is an excellent example of how non-profit organizations, such as ours, can combine forces in support of reaching more young students and furthering STEM goals in New Jersey. We thank the entire Northstar New Jersey team and look forward to delivering access to STEM education in underserved communities through our work together.”

“We are pleased to partner with JerseySTEM for this donation, and we support its goal of providing training to help middle school students in underrepresented communities across New Jersey, preparing them for the future. We look forward to continuing our philanthropic efforts in New Jersey for many years.”

Adam Perlow, Northstar New Jersey Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

“Northstar’s After School Advantage donation to JerseySTEM is exciting for us as we continue demonstrating our dedication to providing New Jersey’s youth with resources and opportunities to further their education and development,” said Adam Perlow, Northstar New Jersey Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.

Northstar’s donation and support will help JerseySTEM identify needs in the community and transform the lives of students at the 13th Avenue School with a focus on STEM education.

About JerseySTEM

JerseySTEM is a non-profit organization seeking to ignite interest in STEM subjects among the underserved youth of New Jersey. Projects that JerseySTEM facilitates include after-school programs, led by college students studying STEM subjects and mentoring programs between corporate sponsor employees and those college students. Visit us at To sponsor a JerseySTEM program, go to our Corporate Sponsorship Opportunities page. 

JerseySTEM’s Dennis Boyd (Center Left) accepts a “Foldscope” microscope from Tim Rolwood, Northstar New Jersey (Center Right), as part of an $18,000 equipment donation. Also in the photo are Dr. Maraima Grimes, I Have a Dream Foundation, NJ, and Michael Tierney, JerseySTEM.

About Northstar’s ASA Program

Northstar’s ASA program, which began in 2013 in cooperation with IGT, provides educational opportunities to local children by donating new computers, printers, software, furniture, and volunteer hours to non-profit organizations that sponsor after-school programs statewide. The program aims to narrow the “digital divide” between affluent individuals and minorities, low-income households, and single parent families, to grant more children access to computers and other educational opportunities. 

As a global leader in gaming, IGT is committed to building sustainable communities where the Company conducts business worldwide. After School Advantage (ASA), IGT’s flagship community initiative, ensures students have access to participate in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) educational opportunities in digital learning centers, while developing the knowledge and skills for the jobs of tomorrow. For each ASA technology lab, IGT donates new computers, printers, software, furniture, and curricula to qualifying public schools and non-profit agencies  Since the launch of the ASA program on April 14, 1999, IGT has installed computer centers in the District of Columbia, Antigua, Barbados, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, Rhode Island, Texas, Oregon, Georgia, California, Kentucky, Ohio, Arizona, New Jersey, Michigan, Kansas, Wisconsin, New York, Colorado, Missouri, Louisiana, Illinois, New Mexico, Virginia, Idaho, Florida, Tennessee, Nevada, Washington, Indiana, North Carolina, South Dakota, Mississippi and the United Kingdom. For more information about IGT’s ASA program, please visit

Female Engineers From CDM Smith and City of Newark Inspire Students at Robert Treat Academy STEMTalks

When it comes to careers, STEM fields have long been considered a boys’ club. But thanks to organizations like JerseySTEM, that’s beginning to change.

Engineers Christine Ballard and Carolyn Loudermilk from CDM Smith and Skylar Reed from the City of Newark, New Jersey, visited the Robert Treat Academy campuses in Newark April 18 and 19 and met with the middle school students who recently participated in JerseySTEM’s eight-week spring program held onsite.

CDM Smith, which is a global engineering and construction company, funded the program. Their generous $6,640 grant was generated from a T-shirt design contest they sponsored for their 2022 summer interns. The contest winner, Megha Sawhney, a civil engineering student from Purdue University, requested the proceeds from the T-shirt sales to the company employees go to JerseySTEM.

“I chose the organization,” she said, “because they recognize the gender gap in the STEM field and are making efforts to close it.”

At the STEMTalks on the Stephen N. Adubato campus and the Jackie Robinson campus on April 18 and 19 respectively, Lauriene Tschang, a corporate program partnership manager from JerseySTEM, emceed and introduced Ballard, Principal Engineer-Client Service Leader, Loudermilk, Project Engineer, and Reed, Environmental Engineer, to the students. 

All three shared their career journeys and discussed the two ongoing projects they are working on together to deliver upgraded drinking water infrastructure to the residents of Newark. They also fielded questions ranging from “What did you have to learn in school to get to where you are today?” to “What did they like best about their jobs?”. Afterwards, the engineers watched and provided useful feedback on the final projects the students recently completed. On both days, several groups showcased the apps they created in Shark Tank-like presentations. 

“The students showed us what they learned during the eight weeks of coding and answered questions the engineers asked,” said Tschang. “Overall, it was a meaningful event for everyone involved.”

“We are grateful to work with CDM Smith and JerseySTEM to advance our students’ interest and exposure to STEM-related studies,” said Marcelino Trillo, principal at the Adubato campus. “They have provided us with critical resources, including access to their exceptional engineers who have engaged our students with fun and collaborative programs.” CDM Smith was pleased to participate in the events. “Early exposure to STEM topics gives young students more career options to consider as they progress through high school and college,” said Ballard.

“JerseySTEM and their STEMTalks enlighten students on how technology contributes to a better world. I’m delighted we had this opportunity to collaborate.”

At first glance, it might seem like these women are breaking barriers by becoming engineers. But when you look closer at their careers, you’ll see that they’ve been breaking barriers for a long time—and they’re just getting started!

Donations and support from sponsors like CDM Smith help JerseySTEM transform the lives of middle school girls in underrepresented communities. We look forward to hosting more transformative programs like these in the future. Thank you for your support!

Meet Sriya – JerseySTEM Program Instructor

One would think that middle school kids in a Friday after-school activity would be somewhat tired after a long week. But if you stop by the MySTEM Club classroom at Robert Treat Academy in Newark between 3:30-5:30pm each week, you’ll hear and see an infectious energy. From the opening icebreaker that usually involves talk about fashion to the final minutes spent in joyful dancing to “Cotton-Eyed Joe”, Sriya Jidugu’s class is far from ordinary. But that’s not surprising once you get to know Sriya.  

Born in India’s southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh, Sriya came to live in New Jersey with her family when she was young. Her youth was spent in suburban communities not far from the urban NJIT Newark campus, a place she says “feels like home.” What she likes most about NJIT is that it’s a small community where becoming a well-rounded person is a priority. If she had attended a different university she wonders if she would be as confident and out-going as she is now.

As a member of the NJIT Honors program, she is required to complete fifteen hours of on-campus service as well as fifteen service hours within the greater Newark community. This brought Syria and her many talents to JerseySTEM, but she has been applying her talent and enthusiasm to various programs since high school as a peer mentor to underclassmen and summer tutor for special needs kids.

Sriya is a bundle of energy. She is running for election as the NJIT student senate biochemistry representative, dances with the student Ehsaas dance team, and mentors local high schoolers about STEM career paths as part of the Lyra club. So how does she find the time and motivation to be such an inspiring Program Instructor for JerseySTEM?  “I just like to make people happy,” is how she explains it. And that she does, as evident by the hugs she receives every Friday from the girls who race to her MySTEM Club classroom. “Working with the younger kids is especially rewarding,” she beams.   

Due to her academic standing at NJIT, Sriya gets to be a part of a research team studying medical practices in 19th century Turkey. While not an assigned part of her course load, it is her favorite area of research. Maybe that’s why she plans to attend med school to study neuroscience after receiving her undergraduate degree.   

Although it doesn’t seem like there are any hours unaccounted for in her week, Sriya fits in some occasional down-time. When not in class, studying, dancing, or volunteering, she can be found challenging friends in crocheting competitions or perfecting her stove-top cooking skills.  Her specialty— jalapeno mac-n-cheese! It seems appropriate for someone with such a zest for life. 

Learn more about volunteering with JerseySTEM at

Increasing Female Representation in STEM Careers Starts with Exposure

JerseySTEM partners with schools and community organizations throughout New Jersey to create STEM-oriented opportunities for girls in underserved communities.

According to an article from, many girls aren’t taking STEM courses because they’re often not exposed to STEM in school and/or are encouraged to pursue other careers.

The article focuses on California where only 30 percent of high school students who take computer science courses are female. Yet, females make up 49 percent of the student population.

EdSource believes the California education system can close the exposure gap by doing the following:

  • Expose girls to STEM studies early in their education, no later than eighth or ninth grade
  • Invite STEM industry professionals to high school classrooms as guest speakers
  • Involve girls in cross-curricular projects that examine how the different STEM components come together
  • Administer aptitude tests to girls to show them they have the intelligence and skills to pursue STEM careers

JerseySTEM’s contribution to exposing girls to STEM education and career possibilities will continue to make a critical difference in how they view future STEM opportunities.

Dishant Modi – JerseySTEM Volunteer Success Story

Volunteering for JerseySTEM can sometimes lead to an exciting career opportunity. That’s what happened for Dishant Modi, 26, who is originally from Gujarat, a state along the western coast of India.

After receiving his Master’s Degree in Data Analytics from Northeastern University in Boston, Dishant worked as a business intelligence developer consultant. He eventually answered a JerseySTEM LinkedIn posting seeking a volunteer with his technical expertise. Dishant soon became a data analyst intern at JerseySTEM, joining the team the Balu Vemburaj, an agile coach/project manager at JerseySTEM, supervises.

From mid-February through mid-August 2022, Dishant collaborated with the team on Jira software on which they managed their projects. He leveraged data from multiple domains and sources to build dashboards and reported on volunteer activity, plus participated in weekly virtual team meetings to discuss and plan other analytical projects.

It turns out that Balu, who is also a senior director at Akamai Technologies, Inc., needed someone with similar skills for his team at his company. He offered Dishant a job as a data analyst in late August 2022.

“I believe it’s important to volunteer and contribute to society by helping people not privileged as you are,” says Dishant. Being a volunteer at JerseySTEM allowed him to demonstrate his abilities, which led to his job offer. “There are many similarities between the volunteer work I did for JerseySTEM and my new job,” says Dishant.

JerseySTEM Celebrates Pride Month

June is Pride Month, observed in the United States since 1970. At JerseySTEM, we see this as the ideal time to celebrate the historic contributions made to STEM (science, technology engineering and mathematics) by people of the LGBTQ+ community.

As far back as antiquity, LGBTQ+ thinkers have been solving nature’s riddles and challenging scientific thought with mighty feats of engineering. During the Renaissance, Italy’s polymath Leonardo da Vinci, painter of The Mona Lisa, gifted humanity with scientific forethought. His artistic talents are rarely in dispute, “but he also drew sketches of helicopters and other flying machines hundreds of years before the Wright Brothers built the world’s first airplane.” And, according to the National Air and Space Museum, his sketches helped build the foundations for aviation research and realization.

Another important LGBTQ+ STEM icon was Alan Turing – a British mathematician who made major contributions to cryptanalysis, logic, and more; which fed into later developments in computer, cognitive and artificial intelligence (AI) sciences.

Other incredible contributions by members of the LGBTQ+ community have been made by:

  • Sally Ride – astronaut and the first American woman to fly in space
  • Lily and Lana Wachowski – transgender filmmakers who have created science fiction masterworks like The Matrix, Sense8 and V for Vendetta.
  • George Washington Carver – chemist and botanist who developed plants that have helped poor farmers
  • Robert D. Macpherson and Mark Goresky – mathematicians and fathers of a new theory, intersection homology
  • Sara Josephine Baker – American physician and pioneer of public health

The list goes on and on. Whether it’s chemistry, math, health, aviation or good old-fashioned imagination, members of the LGBTQ+ community have bestowed important and lasting gifts upon the world of STEM.

Please join JerseySTEM in honoring Pride Month this and every day not just June!

The Reality of STEM Contributions from Women

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!