Although women have participated in science, technology, engineering, and math for as long as the subjects have existed, only in recent years has it become normalized. We are still a long way off from full representation in STEM, but have made great strides, and in order to recognize this progress, here are a few of the greatest milestones for women in STEM throughout history.
4th Century - Hypatia of Alexandria, a prominent mathematician, heads her city’s school of philosophy, the first woman in such a position
18th Century - the Enlightenment brings new opportunities for women in science, including professorships, recognition, and the ability to work independently
23 January 1849 - Elizabeth Blackwell is the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States
December 1903 - Marie Curie is recognized with the Nobel Prize in Physics for work on radiation, and is the first woman to receive a Nobel in any category
1939-45 - Women take on new STEM positions during World War II, including Grace Hopper and Rachel Carson, and many continue with them after the war is over
1972 - Title IX guarantees education without sex discrimination
2017 - For the first time, women make up the majority of first-year medical students, with mathematics and physical sciences being on track to follow suit
These are just a few of the incredible gains women have fought for throughout history in order to participate in STEM fields, and there is no doubt that this will continue. However, it is imperative to this progress that we continue to support and encourage more women to pursue their dreams in STEM and set a precedent for future generations.
In 2020, Gitanjali Rao became the first ever winner of Time’s Kid of the Year award. At only fifteen years of age, she won on the basis of her “astonishing
work using technology to tackle issues ranging from contaminated drinking water to opioid addiction and cyberbullying,” according to Time’s Magazine.
This included Kindly, both an app and a chrome extension that uses AI to
prevent cyberbullying before it happens. “You type in a word or phrase, and it’s able to pick it up if it’s bullying, and it gives you the option to edit it or send it
the way it is,” Rao explained in the same Time’s article. Another one of her
impressive accomplishments was her innovation sessions. Rao organizes
lessons, labs, and contests to help foster young minds with innovative ideas.
“The students that I work with, they just don’t know where to start,” Rao said.
“If you give them that spark that they can then build off…that means one more person in this world wants to come up with ideas to solve problems.”
Now, three years later, Rao is as motivated and extraordinary as she was at fifteen. She is a current freshman at MIT, where she hopes to major in biological engineering and minor in entrepreneurship and innovation. She was also honored at the White House’s first Girls Leading Change celebration this past October “for her work promoting science and innovation among youth, locally and globally, and inspiring them with several inventions,” according to MIT News. “My dream is to work on developing solutions to some of the most complex problems in our communities, and possibly someday run a biotech company,” she told MIT News.
In addition to all her work with innovation and invention, Rao has written two books—“A Young Inventor’s Guide to STEM: 5 Steps to Problem Solving for Students, Educators, and Parents,” and “A Young Innovators Guide to Planning For Success,” the latter of which will come out in June 2024.
Rao is an inspiration to young minds in STEM, and proof that there are people fighting hard to change and improve the world we live in today. No matter what age, she is a testament to the fact that you can make a difference for our future.