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STEMpower

Our Sheroes: The First Pinays of STEM

Throughout history, women have long been cast in the shadows of their male counterparts—and the same can be said for our Filipina STEM pioneers. Even though we might not know them by name (yet),  they’ve undoubtedly paved the way in introducing women in spaces that were once taken up by the men.

Like any worthy superhero, we’re here to get to know their awe-inspiring origin stories—and what we can learn from our STEM founding mothers.


Fe del Mundo, PhD

You might have heard of Fe from her 107th birthday Google Doodle back in 2019. Aside from that, Fe left behind a groundbreaking legacy as the first woman student in Harvard Medical School and first Filipina awarded as a National Scientist.

Also known as ‘The Angel of Santo Tomas’, Dr. Del Mundo spent her life taking care of children, as she founded the first pediatric hospital in the country and established the Institute of Maternal and Child Health.

Dr. Angelita Castro-Kelly

Angelita was first NASA’s first woman physicist—proudly called as MOM, for Missions Operations Manager.  She worked in the bureau’s Earth Observing System (EOS) project back in the 1990’s, where she developed overall mission concepts and worked with spacecraft and ground system developers to successfully accomplish NASA missions from Earth. 

“I’m the first woman MOM, so I cracked the glass ceiling. Before me, all the MOMs were men,’ she once said. Talk about being everyone’s MOM.

Fritzie Arce-McShane, PhD

Fritzie is a systems neuroscientist and was one of the first Filipina to be granted with not one, but two National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants. She was granted almost $9 billion to enhance human life with her two projects “The neural basis of touch and proprioception in the orofacial sensorimotor cortex and The disambiguating natural aging from Alzheimer’s disease through changes in oral neuromechanics”.

An academic through and through, she now serves as a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago, where she also achieved her fellowship back in 2015.

Jenny Anne Barretto, PhD

In 2019, Jenny and two other scientists discovered the largest caldera (volcanic crater) in the world located in the Philippine Rise. With a diameter of 150 km, the newly-discovered Caldera countered USA’s 60 km Yellowstone Caldera.

Taking to her Pinoy roots, Jenny and her fellow researchers dubbed their discovery as “Apolaki Caldera” after Apolaki, the Filipino mythical god of the sun and war.

Dr. Carla Dimalanta

Carla is the country’s sole woman Exploration Geophysicist with a Doctoral Degree. Her contributions in climate change and disaster risk reduction have been implemented in the UP General Education curriculum, with all of the university’s students learning about her and her life’s work.

She was also one of the ten recipients of 2019’s Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos. She now serves as an Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs (Research) at the UP System.

Aletta Yñiguez, PhD

Aletta is a marine biologist who spearheaded the development of the first integrated biophysical models for harmful algal blooms (HAB) in the Philippines. Her research aimed to  make computer models to help local communities avoid red tide.

Aletta’s long-term goal is to introduce automated oceanography techniques and real-time models for decision-support systems to create sustainable fisheries in the Philippines. She now works at the UP Marine Science Institute to do just that.


Although their journey might sound daunting, their STEM journeys likely weren’t so different from the rest of us. Thanks to their dedication, grit, and perseverance, we likely wouldn’t be where we are now without these superheroes. And just like them, we too can achieve anything we put our minds to.

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