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STEM Pinay of the Month

A Deep Dive into Marine Biology with Jean Utzurrum

Writing, doing field work, and sometimes teaching people how to swim—marine biologists do it all. Hear from Jean, one of our most passionate Filipina marine biologists.


Jean at the Visayas SEA camp talking about sharks and showing their published field guide.

Although already well-accomplished in the field of marine biology, Jean would describe her journey in STEM as never-ending. Having completed her bachelor’s and currently undergoing graduate studies, she initially never considered becoming a scientist. For various reasons, Jean felt limited to a life in academia or working for an environmental NGO after completing her bachelor’s degree. In graduate school, she saw a world beyond science where research leads to policies and action. It was then she realized that the sciences are far from fruitless.

While passionate in her pursuit of science, Jean admits to occasionally having to meet halfway between career and practicality. “There have been many times when I’ve had to re-prioritize research goals to favor jobs that pay more. Sometimes when I’m in between jobs I’ll even do some freelance as a swim instructor and writer. It’s during these between days that I’ll find myself reevaluating a career in STEM.” Although surrounded by supportive friends and family who are nothing but encouraging, the reality of having to make a living is something she also considers.

However, Jean has definitely made some notable strides in her field. She found her niche in the study of elasmobranchs, or sharks and rays as known by many. This eventually gave her the opportunity to work with the Silliman University’s Marine Laboratory Museum and their extensive collection of chondrichthyan, or cartilaginous fish, specimens, and become the co-author of the field guide. Recently this year, she was also invited to virtually participate in regional IUCN Red List Assessment Workshops for 126 species of sharks and rays in Southeast Asia.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with and be mentored by fellow women in STEM throughout my career, and to have lived in a university town like Dumaguete City with world-renowned Filipino women scientists as role models (Dr. Hilconida Calumpong, Dr. Louella Dolar, and my aunt, Dr. Ruth Utzurrum among others).

Jean considers herself lucky because opportunities like these are hard to come by in the sciences. Beyond gender, there are other factors such as lack of opportunities, as mentioned by Jean. “Gender has not been a hindering factor, to say the least. In my case, the lack of long-term employment opportunities in the field of marine biology has been the main factor.” On a more serious note, she does acknowledge the gender gap in STEM. While it might not be as extreme a case here in the Philippines, it is still the reality of today’s time. “Sexism and harassment have not hindered my pursuit of STEM. But it exists. It happens. It can be very tiring, stressful, and traumatizing to deal with.” Nevertheless, she finds hope in initiatives to make safer spaces for women to blossom in the field.

Because of this, she is optimistic about the future of women in the sciences. “Visible, loud, and accepted.” This is how she envisions women in STEM. “You can be anything you work to achieve. It’s okay to have days when you doubt yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions —keep being inquisitive and curious!”

Jean Utzurrum is a marine biologist who is finishing her master’s degree in Siliman University where she also completed her undergraduate studies. While she currently works freelance, her previous field research experiences include coral reef restoration, coral reef and mesophotic fishes, and fisheries. She has volunteered with Reef Check Philippines and the World Wildlife Fund and also served as an elasmobranch specialist for the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines.

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STEM Pinay of the Month

Healing Together: Erika Modina’s Journey with Public Health

A young public health professional, Erika Modina offers insight into her one-of-a-kind STEM journey!


 National Health Research Forum for Action last 2018.

“I want to shatter the notion that you have to fit a certain criterion to pursue a career here, that you can wear head-to-toe pink and still be taken seriously.

These are the words of Erika Modina, a public health professional from the Philippines.

Growing up, she initially wanted to become a doctor because of her proficiency in science, but more so because she did not realize she had other options as well. While she once considered either working for the government or managing a children’s hospital, she was enlightened to pursue public health research after she graduated from college with a degree in BS Health Sciences. Eventually, she saw to it to enhance her skills and knowledge needed in the field, particularly through further studies. She has since studied in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the University of London and is completing her Masters of Science in Public Health in the said university.

Despite being well-accomplished, Erika has still had her fair share of difficulties. Having completed her bachelor’s degree in 2016, she is a relatively fresh face in the industry, which sometimes leads people to believe that she is too young or lacks experience. The fields of public health and medicine are still quite traditional in the Philippines, which gives her quite the amount of naysayers who doubt her skills. However, like the headstrong woman that she is, she chose to prevail and simply let her work speak for herself.

Erika participated as a panelist in Startup PH’s Women’s Initiative last 2019.

Erika finds motivation in knowing the stories of others. Instead of self-help books, she looks to memoirs to appreciate what others have been through which, in turn, makes her excited for her own story to unfold. She encourages women to never hide their accomplishments. Given the current health crisis, her advice is to also use this time to make conversation with other people. “This is the perfect time to reach out to other women you look up to or people you want to work with. Take this time to find your tribe and surround yourself with people who make you kinder and better, not just in your career but in all aspects of your life.”

Prince Mahidol Award Conference in Bangkok, Thailand last 2020.

If one person belittles you, look around—ten more people will be cheering you on.

Her advice to young Pinays? “If one person belittles you, look around–ten more people will be cheering you on.” Each person’s STEM journey is unique. For Erika, it is a journey “towards health equity, lined with peonies, [with] ‘What Dreams Are Made Of’ by Hilary Duff blasting in the background.”

Erika Modina is currently the president of EpiMetrics, Inc., a health research institution geared towards the achievement of health equity through rigorous and creative conception, execution, translation, and communication of health systems and policy research.  She is also the Chief Health Officer of Day3 Innovations and a part-time lecturer at Ateneo de Manila University.

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STEM Pinay of the Month

Defying Deviations: Exceeding the Norm with Angelina Aquino

A Pinay in the field of electronics engineering, Angelina talks about her ups and downs as a woman in STEM.


Angelina Aquino has had an admiration for math and the sciences since her childhood. As a young girl, Angelina would join math competitions, and it helped that her parents were both engineering graduates who were supportive of this passion of hers. “[My parents] fostered my curiosity about the world, explained new concepts well, and encouraged me to read books and watch documentaries,” says Angelina. Later on, she found herself in a community of like-minded people, particularly during the math competitions at which she would occasionally place and during her years at a science high school. It was then that she found her love for programming.


Angelina back in high school during a frog dissection during her Biology class. According to her, she was very much excited to dissect but obviously, the frog was not.

Although she initially thought she would pursue medicine, through her interactions with her teachers, she later realized that another field was more suited for someone as logical and critical-minded as herself. “I soon realized that I couldn’t imagine myself working in a field without problem-solving, where you encounter questions and are able to break them down into logical, step-by-step solutions.” Eventually, this led her to pursue studies, both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, in engineering.

Day 1 of the LT4All conference, with former DepEd USec. Dina Ocampo (center) and Prof. Rhandley Cajote (right).

Her current focus is called natural language processing, or NLP for short. Although people may not realize it, this is something they use daily. To put it simply, NLP makes use of language data, whether it be written or spoken, and this is often used to develop apps such as Siri or Alexa, Google Translate, search engines, spam filters, chatbots, speech recognizers–you name it! An interdisciplinary field, NLP pools together the fields of electrical engineering, computer science, linguistics, and many others.

Angelina in ISMAC 2019 with her father, who to her is “arguably the single greatest influence in my pursuit of STEM to date.”

Angelina hopes for this spirit of collaboration for the local science community since she believes this is how new knowledge is formed. “When you come across a question that hasn’t been answered before and you start finding new answers–now that’s science!” Because of this, there should be more opportunities for women in STEM. While she mentions that the gender gap in the Philippines is relatively smaller compared to other countries, nonetheless, it is a reality that must be overturned for the better. Throughout her years in engineering, she has often heard that this is a man’s field, yet she still persevered and succeeded despite society’s archaic views on the matter.

In the future, I envision women to be and feel as welcome in STEM as in any other discipline.

She has nothing but hope for Pinays in the sciences. “In the future, I envision women to be and feel as welcome in STEM as in any other discipline.” Her advice to young girls is to live curiously and keep asking questions. “Don’t let anyone ever think that you don’t have a place in this field. Like this year’s Nobel Prize laureates in Chemistry, Emanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, you can be trailblazers in your own way.”

Angelina Aquino is currently a Teaching Associate under the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute at University of the Philippines. In her spare time, she enjoys singing and listening to choral music, as well as playing video games.

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STEM Pinay of the Month

Overcoming Uncertainties: Quantum Physics with Dr. Jacqui Romero

Making waves in quantum physics, Dr. Jacqui Romero shares her journey, from her youth to her vision of the future of women in STEM.


Ever since her childhood, Dr. Jacqui Romero’s interest in STEM was nurtured by an ever-supporting family. “They have nurtured my interest in mathematics and science from a very young age. I remember my father driving me to weekend MTAP lessons!” Eventually, she took a particular interest in physics. Her passion for the discipline started during her high school years in Philippine Science High School. Physics was her favorite subject, and she would even read beyond what the curriculum would require. In particular, quantum computing was her gateway into the more daunting field of quantum physics.


This feat did not come without difficulty. Dr. Romero mentions two most challenging parts to her journey: getting into the field and landing a job. “I found it hard to get into a research program abroad for a PhD [because] there [was] just a lack of awareness of [programs] then.” Because of this, she became more vocal about the programs in the field of Physics. She then landed a scholarship to do her PhD, which she accomplished all while pregnant with her first child. While earning her doctorate, she also contributed to 11 publications, 5 of which were led by her. 

Eventually, after completing her post-graduate degree, Dr. Romero encountered her second challenge: the job hunt. She came to realize that entering the field is one thing, but landing a position is another. Due to the scarcity of jobs in the academe, it is quite difficult for each expert in the field to be afforded a position. She mentions, “it is really sad that we have a lot of talented people and not a lot of jobs in the universities.” Her way around it was to put herself out there, gaining media attention from her work on slowing down the speed of light in free space and winning fellowships and awards that put the spotlight on her. To name a few of her accomplishments, Dr. Romero has once been selected as one out of fifteen L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science (FWIS) International Rising Talents. In 2016, she was also awarded a fellowship by the Australian Research Council, then received a fellowship from the Westpac Foundation afterwards. As Dr. Romero proudly exclaims, “I made sure that I cannot be ignored!”

Be good! Whatever it is you choose to do, be very good at it to the point that you cannot be dismissed. Also, always remember to have fun!

When asked about the future of women in STEM, Dr. Romero hopes that the Philippine government would invest more on research and development. While it is great to have scholarships for science, what follows after a science degree is still unclear without opportunities for research. “It often happens that one finishes a PhD and then pursues a career in administration[.] That is good, but that is really not what a PhD is for. As abstract as it sounds, we need to generate new knowledge so we can solve more problems. Some of these problems will be unique to the Philippines, and we would need Filipinos who have the expertise and passion to solve them.” Hopeful, she mentions that the Philippines has a wider pool of talented young women based on the number of female students who, as she would observe, would attend Physics conferences each year. It is then a matter of making the most out of this culture through policies and systemic changes.

Dr. Romero’s advice to young Pinays looking to venture into STEM is “Be good! Whatever it is you choose to do, be very good at it to the point that you cannot be dismissed. Also, always remember to have fun!”

Dr. Jacquiline Romero is a quantum physicist currently working for the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems at the University of Queensland, Australia. She is also a loving wife and a mother to three children.

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STEM Pinay of the Month

Let Me Count the Ways: Math in Action with Dr. Ninette De Las Peñas

Math is the language of the universe. From education to mat weaving, it is also how Dr. De Las Peñas came to understand the world.

Most people see math as daunting and complex, a universe of its own irrelevant to the everyday and familiar. However, for Dr. Ninette De Las Peñas, numbers are sometimes the best portals to other worlds, especially from our own selves to the greater world around us.

Growing up, Dr. De Las Peñas has always been fond of math. “I [have] loved math since I was a kid and was always intrigued by what I could discover through numbers.” From deciding to be a mathematician as early as her high school days until today, she has had a thriving career in her chosen field. Over the years, she has won several research awards, written over 60 journal articles in mathematics and mathematics education, and mentored over 40 thesis students.


Photo taken during a lecture in Ateneo de Manila University back in 2017.

Currently the Associate Dean for Research and Creative Work of the Loyola Schools, Ateneo de Manila University, her most recent project is leading a research team that developed mobile apps for math education. Known as Mathplus, the project aims to instill critical thinking skills in children grades 1 to 11 while also aiding in transitioning to online and blended learning amid the current health crisis.

Aside from being an educator, Dr. De Las Peñas has also used the language of mathematics to communicate other topics of interest as she is best known for her work on woven mat patterns. Alongside two co-authors, she talks about the symmetry of mats from Philippine indigenous groups using the language of mathematics in their work called “Weaving Mat(h)s”. The paper was also presented in 2014 in collaboration with mat weaver Janeth Hanapi, showcasing a live demonstration of the weaving process. For their work, the authors received a grant from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

Dr. De Las Peñas trying the tinalak weaving during a research trip.

This is a huge leap from the state of the academe during Dr. De Las Peñas’ early professional days. She recalls, “I realized that there were only a few mathematicians from the mathematical community in the Philippines that were published in prestigious and indexed math and science journals,” thus her will to develop a culture of publishing as an educator. She also mentions a lack of opportunities to do further research and participate in conferences abroad, among other

In spite of the larger forces that can hinder a STEM Pinay’s career, Dr. De Las Peñas still thinks that encouragement and role models for young girls can go a long way, particularly from family and media. She cites Nancy Drew as an example, describing the titular character as “very scientific in the way she found clues to solve her mysteries,” as well as assertive and headstrong.

Do not give up on your dreams. Do not be afraid to assert yourself. If men can do it, we can too!

Dr. De Las Peñas being awarded the 2018 National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines (NAST Phl) Outstanding Scientific Paper Award for her paper entitled “Mathematical and Anthropological Analysis of Northern Luzon Funerary Textile.”

She believes that things will only go upwards for women in STEM. “They think differently and have more confidence. There are more opportunities now for women to succeed.” As words of wisdom for young girls aspiring to do the same, Dr. De Las Peñas says, “Do not give up on your dreams. Do not be afraid to assert yourself. If men can do it, we can too!”

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STEM Pinay of the Month

You Had Me at ‘Molecular Biology’: How Ea Fell In Love with Science

As we celebrate every girl’s skills, capabilities, and dreams, we continue to bridge the STEM gender gap and provide platforms that could inform, inspire, and motivate young girls to pursue STEM. The lack of female role models, prevailing gender stereotypes, and the underrepresentation of women professionals in STEM discourage young Pinays to pursue the STEM track.

With only ¼ of our national scientists as females, and a declining number of female STEM graduates in the country, we put to spotlight notable Pinays and their breakthroughs in the field of STEM. 


For our first Pinay of the Month, we feature Ea Tulin, a first year PhD student in Applied Biological Chemistry at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology. Her research is focused on investigating glycan formation in the central nervous system. She is also a faculty of the Department of Biotechnology in the Visayas State University.

Ea in the laboratory of Applied Biological Chemistry.

Growing up in Leyte province, Ea did not have many opportunities to be exposed to other Filipino scientists and programs. At a young age, she understood the reality that the media and private companies would invest more and prioritize Manila-based programs. It was only with her parents’ influence and support from high school and elementary teachers that she grew to love science. This also cultivated her fascination with medical research, biology, diseases, and the brain. 

From falling in love with the word “molecular biology” to eventually pursuing biological chemistry in her doctoral degree, Ea shares with us her journey in STEM.

What made you decide to pursue science in particular?

Both my parents are scientists. My dad is a biochemist while my mom is a soil scientist. My first experiment was making antibacterial soap with my dad using flowers near my school for an elementary science fair. We won first place. It was definitely a way for me and my dad to bond and my mom was also very supportive, so it wasn’t hard to fall in love with the field. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always loved working in the lab and doing research. This, along with growing up with the influence of my parents within the (Visayas State) University are the reasons why I decided to pursue STEM.

Her first conference in Japan at the 37th Annual Meeting of the Japanese society of carbohydrate research.

Why do you think that confidence in STEM is important for our Pinays?

Confidence is important to give us a head start and visibility. I believe a lot of Filipino women are confident, yet they still seem to burn out. I think confidence combined with focus, grit, and kindness, are important and will help us move forward as Pinays in STEM. Collaboration is key, and in a field where everyone is smart, we stand-out by having a good attitude.

“Confidence combined with focus, grit, and kindness, are important and will help us move forward as Pinays in STEM

How can we get Pinay students interested in STEM while at home?

Social media is a good way to attract Pinay students! There are many pages that feature women from all over the world doing STEM: Pinoy Scientists (for Filipinos in STEM), Women Doing Science, Women Transforming Science, 1MWIS (1 million women in STEM), and similarly pages of women scientists talking about their lab lives online. Instagram was a great avenue for me to meet all these women (virtually) while at home!

How do you envision the future of women in STEM in the Philippines?

There is a lot of untapped potential in the Philippines and this can be harnessed with proper support from the government, collaboration between universities, and a joint effort between private companies and universities. This is the goal. With movements that push women to be empowered in STEM and Philippines being one of the highest in Asia when it comes to gender equality, I believe women in STEM will continue to rise in number, assume higher institutional positions, and be a key contributor to the realization of this goal.


“If you feel like STEM is something you would like to pursue, go for it! Find a role model or be your own.”

– Ea Tulin

Diversity broadens the pool of knowledge and expertise in STEM and other related fields. Past generations have worked towards creating platforms and increasing visibility for more women in STEM, and even until today, we strive to break barriers to encourage more young Pinays to pursue STEM tracks and careers. 

Tune in as we continue to build a community of STEM Pinays. Next month, we feature STEM Pinays in the fields of mathematics, technology, astrophysics, and marine sciences.

Follow Ea on Instagram!