10 American Women Making History in STEM Right Now
For Women’s History Month, we thought we’d take a look at some of the talented ladies presently making history. With so many influential women in STEM, it was hard to narrow it down to just ten. This list is a snapshot of all the amazing contributions American women are making to science today.
Cameron Kashani is often referred to as the “Godmother of Silicon Beach.” This American Iranian tech superstar has worked globally with more than seven hundred start-ups and founded three companies herself. The most recent of these start-ups is COACCEL, a unique, three-month program for entrepreneurs, executives, and politicians hoping to become more powerful, mindful leaders. In 2010, she co-founded Los Angeles’s first coworking space, which produced start-up giants such as Uber LA and Instacart. On top of all that, she is also an expert speaker for the U.S. State Department and a single mother with twin boys.
"While I work with men and women, I am specifically passionate about working with women because I believe that if women embrace their own deeply rooted power, we can collectively shift the energy in business and ultimately create a harmonious environment for us all,” she writes on her website. She adds: “Btw all I’ve ever done is fail. Which means all I do is grow.”
In 2002, Gwynne Shotwell was four years into working for a small rocket company in California. Then while visiting an old coworker who had just joined a start-up called SpaceX, she walked past the desk of CEO Elon Musk. A mechanical engineer with a background in economics, she told Musk that it looked like he needed a new business developer. “It just popped out,” she says, further confessing, “It was bad. I was very rude.” But it was her assertiveness that caught Musk’s eye and prompted him to call her later that same day, recruiting her to be his vice-president of business development. She is now president of SpaceX, leading sales, marketing, production, launch operations, legal affairs, and finance and answers only to Musk.
In a 2011 convocation speech at Northwestern University, her alma mater, Shotwell talked about how chance affected her career: “Dealing with random is hard for engineers,” she said. “We want to find answers and create certainty.” But she encouraged students to embrace chance and seize the opportunities presented to them, even if they seem far-fetched. Embracing this uncertainty and “just going for it” is how she got ahead.
As a social psychologist at Stanford University, Jennifer Eberhardt studies the relationship between racism and crime, especially the “extent to which racial imagery and judgments suffuse our culture and society, and in particular shape actions and outcomes within the domain of criminal justice.” Eberhardt’s work suggests that “the problems associated with race are ones we have created, and they are also ones we can solve.” Harnessing the innovative spirit of nearby Silicon Valley, she is currently working to “combine social psychological insights with technology to improve outcomes in the criminal justice context and elsewhere.”
Lynn Ann Conway is a computer scientist, electrical engineer, inventor, trans woman, and activist for the transgender community. She pioneered a number of innovations in the field of computer science, including the Mead & Conway revolution in VLSI design and generalized dynamic instruction handling. After being hired by IBM in 1964 to help build one of the first supercomputers, she faced severe workplace discrimination and was ultimately dismissed by the company after they learned of her attempted gender transition in 1968.
Since then, Conway has been an outspoken activist and role model for trans women in the sciences, especially with regard to equal employment and employment protection. In 2013 she successfully lobbied the Board of Directors of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) for transgender inclusion in the IEEE’s Code of Ethics. With 425,000 members in 160 nations, the code affects the world’s largest professional engineering society. She was named one of Time’s “21 Transgender People Who Influenced American Culture” in 2014.
Carolyn Porco is a planetary scientist responsible for some of the most important imaging work on Earth and the solar system, including the Cassini mission around Saturn, the Voyager mission to the outer solar system, and the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. She has coauthored more than 125 scientific papers and has become a frequent commentator on science, astronomy, planetary exploration, and the intersection of science and religion. She served as the consultant for Jodi Foster’s character in the 1997 film Contact. Porco has received recognition through numerous awards and titles, including the Carl Sagan Medal and Time’s 25 Most Influential People in Space.
Set to graduate from MIT in June 2018 with an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering, 22-year-old Tiera Guinn is already working as a rocket structural design and analysis engineer at Boeing, specifically within NASA’s Space Launch System program.
From her bio: “She has a strong interest in helping upcoming generations to realize and achieve their dreams. Tiera enjoys speaking to youth to not only encourage them to become more involved in STEM, but to reach their goals in any field they wish to pursue.”
Laura Weidman Powers is the co-founder and CEO of Code2040, a nonprofit organization that creates pathways to educational, professional, and entrepreneurial success in technology for underrepresented minorities with a specific focus on Black and Latinx technologists. Code2040 aims to close the achievement, skills, and wealth gaps in the United States. Its goal is to ensure that by the year 2040—the start of the decade when people of color are expected to make up the majority the U.S. population—people of color are proportionally represented in the U.S. innovation economy as technologists, investors, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs.
In the 1990s, Dr. Ellen Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman to go to space. After earning an undergraduate degree in physics from San Diego State, she considered becoming a businesswoman or pursuing classical music. Instead, she ended up at Stanford studying engineering. Inspired by Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, Ochoa went on to log more than 978 hours away from Earth. She has garnered numerous awards for her leadership and work as a physicist, astronomer, and engineer and now serves as deputy director of the Johnson Space Center.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, nearly one million Americans undergo bone-related surgery each year. This means there’s an urgently high demand for innovations in tissue engineering. As such, Nina Tandon is co-founder and CEO of EpiBone, the world’s first company to grow living human bones for skeletal reconstruction. EpiBone could dramatically change the surgery and recovery process for people suffering from bone loss, injury, or congenital defects. A TED Senior Fellow and Adjunct Professor of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University, Tandon specializes in electrical signaling in the context of tissue engineering. She previously worked in Italy as a Fulbright Scholar, developing an electronic nose to “smell” lung cancer. Fast Company named her one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business.
Our final entry is a tribute to the late mathematician and Fields Medal winner, Maryam Mirzahani. Born in Tehran and educated at Harvard, she became the first female and the first Iranian to win the prestigious award. Over the course of her career, Mirzakhani made important contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces. In July 2017, Mirzakhani died of breast cancer at the age of forty, just three years after winning the Fields Medal. It was a tragedy to lose such a talented and influential female figure in STEM at the height of her career and at such a young age. She remains a lasting inspiration for female mathematicians worldwide.