If you support a woman in STEM, then she can change the world. That’s the message of the digital asset library of photos and videos led by the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) called the “IF/THEN Collection.”
The platform is a component of Lyda Hill Philanthropies’ IF/THEN initiative, which is an extension of their commitment to fund game-changing advancements in science and nature. With a mindset that “science is the answer,” they’re empowering innovators and inspiring the next generation of women in STEM.
“STEM is involved in everything we do,” says Nicole Small, CEO of Lyda Hill Philanthropies. “We want to show kids and little girls everywhere that women are leading fascinating, interesting careers that sometimes you might not necessarily associate with STEM.”
Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil, a postdoctoral researcher, who has a Ph.D. degree in astrophysics, is featured in the IF/THEN Collection.
Growing up in Turkey, she was accustomed to people telling her “no.” In middle school, she chose Einstein as a role model. While her family supported her, she had to ignore discouraging voices from both society and male-dominated STEM fields.
“As a Muslim woman, I was constantly discouraged by society to pursue my dream in science, simply because of my identity, and in each of these challenges, I reminded myself that I don’t want to blend in,” she says. “I want to stand out.”
When she was 22, Mutlu-Pakdil, came to the United States to study. During her Ph.D. research, she discovered a two-ringed galaxy which is now named after her, Burçin’s Galaxy.
She’s committed to helping women feel accepted and appreciated in science.
“The main goal is to activate a cultural shift among young girls by providing them with a role model from my background,” she says. “I didn’t have that opportunity, and I am really passionate about changing this, and providing the young next generation role models that they can identify with.”
Heather Chandler, a video game development consultant is another STEM professional featured in the IF/THEN Collection. Her 25-year career includes three years as a senior producer on Fortnite, the most-played video game on the palnet. She’s also led teams at Epic Games, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Activision.
Growing up, Chandler played video games for fun. She never thought it could be a career. In high school, she loved physics, chemistry, and biology, and won an award in physics. While she was interested in exploring physics as a college major, she was the only girl in class.
The IF/THEN® Initiative, a national effort sponsored by Lyda Hill Philanthropies® to inspire young girls to pursue STEM careers while creating a culture shift in how the world perceives women in STEM.
She studied film and later decided to use her creative skills in the gaming industry.
“Playing games is fun but making them is better,” says Chandler, noting the gaming industry is open to people with lots of skills, not just computer programming.
A big STEM misconception is that all scientists wear lab coats. Women in STEM work in engineering, aviation, sports, creative arts, and more.
Chandler says the pandemic is a great example of how STEM skills are used.
“All of these people rallied together as scientists to do research, to find a cure in a vaccine,” she says. “Those people are not necessarily scientists wearing lab coats. They’re out in the field, doing things and talking to people, and testing out hypotheses.”
The concept of IF/THEN — “If she can see it, then she can be it” — helps young women envision themselves in STEM careers.
The Collection features 125 female STEM innovators selected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Lyda Hill Philanthropies® to be AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors, all serving as high-profile role models for girls.
“Every little girl deserves to be able to see something and someone that looks like them, that’s passionate about something that they are,” says Small. “It gives them hope and possibility which we need in this world.”
Chandler agrees: “Visibility is so crucial because if you don’t have people who start doing it, it’s never going to widen out the field of vision.”
Educators are sharing the IF/THEN Collection of images and videos of women in STEM careers with their students at https://www.ifthencollection.org/search.