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STEMpower

STEM on Site: What it takes to be a woman on the field

STEM doesn’t just happen in the confines of your room or inside a lab! We peek through the Field Notes of these STEM women on the field —and find out what happens right where the action is!


Through these past few months, we’ve gathered notable Pinays, (friendly) girl gangs, and SHS ates that can help us pave the way for our STEM journey. This time around, we’re sharing the spotlight with the women working right where the action is. 

These longtime scientists, researchers, and everything-ists have been living the dream—and now, they’re sharing vital ‘field notes’ to us. Who knows? They could well be your mentors someday.

Gracile Roxas

Science Researcher, National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP)

Monuments of Juan Luna (artist) and Antonio Luna (chemist).

Gracile has been a longtime researcher at the NCHP, involved in the conservation of tangible heritage in the country. Through her multidisciplinary work, the NCHP is able to recognize material and come up with conservation efforts on important artifacts like documents, books, clothes, artworks and furniture in 27 museums.

She pursued STEM not because of the love for Science or Math, but actually because of Jose Rizal! Gracile was inspired by the national hero’s selfless deeds in introducing new medicinal techniques to farmers, tutoring young kids, and studying animals. Since then, cultural heritage conservation has been her calling.

Church volunteers turned conservation assistants during one of NHCP’s projects in response to the October 2013 earthquake. Bantayan Parish Museum, Cebu, November 19, 2015

Gracile’s Field Notes on becoming a multidisciplinary scientist

‘Conservation of tangible cultural heritage is multidisciplinary in nature—it cannot be classified as a purely artistic endeavor nor purely scientific because it considers the integrity of the material components a heritage object as well as its historic, artistic and cultural value. I get to work with people coming from different educational backgrounds and experiences, not only within NHCP but also in the communities we are serving.’

Doing paper chromatography of inks with participants in a public program by NHCP. Museo ni Jose Rizal Fort Santiago, Manila December 29, 2017.

Gracile’s Field Notes on her early years

‘I realized that I should go beyond that if I really want to become a good conservation science researcher. For example, if you want to study a painting, it helps if you know how to paint and are familiar with materials used by painters. If you want to document and assess the condition of a vintage terno, you would less likely miss the most important details if you are familiar with garment construction. Until now, I have been taking every opportunity to improve my artistic skills and learn new crafting techniques that might help me in research and conservation work.’

Chemical treatment of stains on a watercolor painting. National Historical Commission of the Philippines, March 21, 2014.

Aiko del Rosario

Marine Scientist,  UP MSI Physical Oceanography Laboratory

Aiko is a champ in the field of physical oceanography, as she analyzes the ever-changing physical attributes of the ocean (‘swirls and blobs’ she describes) using satellite data, oceanographic equipment, and high-frequency radars. 

She frequently visits the Cagayan coasts for field work, maintaining two radars in monitoring the ocean currents of the Luzon Strait located between Taiwan and the Philippine islands.

Aiko’s Field Notes on being confident on the job

‘I did my first fieldwork [in] February 2018. [We] had to scour the coasts of Cagayan to find a good spot for our ocean monitoring site. Rain or shine, we walked along the coasts of different barangays. I used to fear talking to people I do not know.’

‘These days, I now have a go-bag with a week’s worth of fieldwork clothes in case we need to go to the field to troubleshoot our sites. I am also already used to the locals now and I love every chance I get to talk to them about the science behind the work we do. I also now have a mental map of the place, most of it are places where we get to taste local delicacies!’

Aiko’s Field Notes on the best part of being on the field

‘Doing fieldwork means you have to think on your toes and be present most of the time. We had to make decisions and think of solutions on the spot. One time, we had to lay 500 meters of heavy electrical cable under muddy soil. We did not have a vehicle to pull all of that, so we made a “Pajero”. Basically, we used a carabao with a cart at the back to lay the cables. We also have to be weatherproof. Rain or shine. Day or night.

Sarah Oliva

Geophysicist/Seismologist

Taken last in Edmonton, Canada last September 2020 when Sarah started her postdoc remotely at University of British Columbia. She also wore this barong-style dress when she defended her doctoral dissertation back in June 2020.

Sarah is a Geophysicist who achieved her PhD at Tulane University in Louisiana. She pursued the field because it was a ‘marriage’ of her two favorite fields: Physics and the Earth.

Before she heads on site, Sarah first does most of her work in front of the computer, detecting and extracting earthquake waves using waveform analysis. When she is needed on the field, she’s in charge of installing and maintaining seismometers so they can accurately record incoming earthquakes. She’s since done fieldwork in Tanzania, Kenya, Ecuador, and Galápagos.

Sarah’s Field Notes on doing field work in a different country

‘I was a first year PhD student and new to the US. It all happened so fast and I had to learn most things on the spot in the field. I remember I did not even have the proper gear and they had to drive me over to Walmart to buy some gloves and an extra pair of non-jeans pants. We stayed in a small town and every morning we had to drive a few hours to the middle-of-nowhere where there was nothing but farmland for miles and miles.’

‘Within those few days, I met a lot of interesting people, including many chatty folks. Overall, those few days of fieldwork made quite an impact to me, in terms of learning actual hands-on fieldwork but also in getting to know a bit more of the country I was in. If it hadn’t been for that experience, succeeding fieldwork travels might have turned out different.’

Sarah’s Field Notes on her biggest inspiration

‘The largest contributing factors to my pursuit of STEM are my supportive parents and teachers throughout the years. Thanks to them, my environment growing up was conducive to curiosity-driven pursuits and science. I had volumes of illustrated science books and encyclopedias at home. For some time, my dad grilled me regularly with tedious, repetitive, math exercises until I could quickly do calculations in my head (I did not enjoy those, but I benefited greatly from them).’

‘This might sound trivial to some, but in the simplest sense, one important contributing factor to my pursuit of STEM is that nobody told me I couldn’t.’

She adds, ‘Surround yourself with supportive like-minded people. Reach out to local STEM people that inspire you, they might become your mentor and guide you through your own career. Approach us. We were once novices like you and most of us would jump at an opportunity to help you make an informed decision on whether or not to pursue our field as a career. Ask. Ask questions. Ask for help. Communicate.’

Dr. Aimee Dupo

Entomologist & professor at the Institute of Biological Science, UPLB

Dr. Aimee is an entomologist who graduated in Agriculture, majoring in Entomology, from UPLB back in 1999. She now serves as professor at UPLB, as her work in the classification of insect life earned her the 2015 NAST Outstanding Young Scientist award and the 2017 Bato Balani Many Faces of a Teacher Award.

She started her fieldwork when she served as the  University Extension Associate of the UPLB Museum of Natural History, curating samples of spiders and moths for the gallery. With fieldwork being her position’s norm,  she shares that there were quite a few days when I was not out on the field.’

Dr. Aimee’s Field Notes on the freedom of field work

‘Going on field always feels like an adventure. You would never know what you are going to discover next. All of your senses are exposed to so many stimuli but at the same time you are also worried about what would happen in case of an accident. Fieldwork tends to bring you to places where hospitals are far away.’

Entering the caves in Pangasinan. Photo courtesy of Balincaguin Conservancy.

Dr. Aimee’s Field Notes on the power of mentors

‘I had a lot of mentors and colleagues who helped create and enable [the] environment for me to pursue STEM. They pushed and encouraged me to do more because they were that supportive. There were no words like, “You can’t do that,” only, “Try and see what you can learn from it.” More importantly, there was no mention of the concept, “You’re just a girl.”

Documenting arthropods visiting Rafflesia in Mt. Makiling, Los Banos Laguna

Noreen “Kubi” Follosco

 Coastal Systems researcher, Marine Environment & Resources Foundation, UP Diliman

Orientation on climate change adaptation in Coron, Palawan last July 2019. Photo courtesy of MERF USAID Fish Right Project.

Noreen is a researcher working on the resilience of local coastal adaptation, marine protected areas, and ecosystem services in the Philippines. She mostly works as a trainer, developing resources and building capacity on climate change adaptation for coastal communities.

She studied Biology at the University of the Philippines Baguio for her undergraduate degree, and Environmental Science at the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology at the University of the Philippines Diliman for her master’s.

Noreen’s Field Notes on changing roles on site

‘When I began doing fieldwork, it was mostly for biophysical surveys. For example, I’ve joined surveys for both upland, as well as mangrove, forests. The surveys in mangroves were to better understand how they stabilize the coast, and protect coastal communities.

‘Over the years, my work transformed into communicating, and finding ways to apply science meaningfully in conservation & management. So, I found myself interacting more with local governments and communities, rather than being in the water (or the mud, as is often the case in mangroves).’

‘I always look forward to what I can learn in the field. Spending time in coastal and fisher communities is an instructive and humbling experience—I’m reminded that I actually know so little. We have much to learn from indigenous and local knowledge.’

Interviews about resilience with residents of Calawit Island, Busuanga last September 2019. Photo courtesy of Mags Quibilan.

Noreen’s Field Notes on the goal of the job

‘In my work, one of the challenges is effectively translating technical information for practical use. A key aim of our work is to transfer knowledge generated through scientific research to settings where people are directly interacting with their environment. My ultimate goal is to build capacity so effectively that the coastal communities (we’ve worked with) can self-sustain, and are empowered to continue sharing the knowledge forward themselves.’

Irene Crisologo

Climatologist/Geologist

Irene is a jill of all trades in the STEM world, as she’s hailed from the different fields of Physics, Geology, then Geoecology. While attending a workshop on weather radars, she said to herself: “This is it! This is what I want to do.” 

Since then, Irene has been in the US focusing on studying the rainfall-measuring instruments called weather radars. She researches the data that weather radars collect, and develops possibilities to reduce errors in measurement and interpretation. Her postdoctoral project involves looking at strong winter storms in the West Coast.

Irene’s Field Notes on the rush of being on site

‘Doing a masters in Geology introduced me to doing fieldworks. It was incredibly exciting, going to different places and being able to physically touch the things I’m studying in their natural location. As a young student then, the added bonus of traveling to obscure locations that I would not have otherwise reached gave a big sense of adventure.

‘On top of that, I had good company with my labmates. Doing fieldwork with other people forms bonds with them, as you see each other in various modes of being human—from the work mode in planning and coordinating, to seeing each other exhausted from walking all day and carrying rocks or water samples, to knowing what they are like when you’re all hungry and stinky after a long day of work.’

Irene’s Field Notes on fieldwork’s little learnings

No two fieldworks are the same. Even if you’re going to the same location twice, to collect the same data (whether it’s rocks, soil, water, temperature), the environment is always changing because nature is unpredictable. But all these challenges also teach you how to adapt to different situations. It teaches you how to be flexible, and to think fast and make quick decisions, and knowing the priority of the group (for example, safety).’

Dr. Deborah N. Tangunan

Paleoclimatologist/biogeochemist/marine micropaleontologist


Dr. Tangunan was one of the science slammers during the Science Slam (Seas and Oceans) Regional Competition in Northern Germany back in 2017. Photo courtesy of Florian Koch.

Dr. Deborah is an experienced Geologist with expertise in micropaleontology, biogeochemistry, and paleoclimatology. Her work literally goes way back, as she studies the tiniest of Earth’s fossils to get history’s answers on today’s climate crisis. 

Under the University of the Philippine’s National Institute of Geological Sciences, most of her fieldwork happened on land. Later on, she focused on studying marine sediment cores in places like Bohol, Sulu, the Sibuyan sea, and even the Pacific Ocean. With a geologist’s laboratory essentially being “the Earth”, Deborah has literally done her work across the border.

Deborah’s Field Notes on the country’s STEM challenges

‘Of course, there’s always the problem of limited funding allotted for research, or science in general—in the Philippines. When I went abroad for my Ph.D. and eventually for Post Docs, there were a lot of funding grants and opportunities but competition is too high. It’s difficult when you are just beginning to establish a “home” in one place and then realize that you have to move out again. Well, with a lot of opportunities for scientists here, I was never afraid to try anything.’

Deborah’s Field Notes on the thrill of exploring

‘There are a number of exciting parts to being a geologist, especially with my field of specialization: I get to travel to places I never imagine I could ever go to. I have travelled to many Philippine provinces, a number of countries, and oceans. A memorable one was the equator crossing when we were sailing in the Pacific Ocean. Research expeditions at sea for several weeks or months have allowed me to meet and work with fantastic people and scientists onboard, some of them became my mentors and collaborators in my future research endeavors.’

She adds, ‘One example is how I got my Ph.D. position in Germany. I was half-way down my MS degree program when I met this scientist whose papers I’ve been reading for a while.  Several months past and I was set that I wanted him to be my Ph.D. supervisor so I wrote an email asking him if by any chance, there will be an open Ph.D. position in his university. He gave me advice and reminded me that even if he already “wanted” me for the position, I still need to convince the other members of the panel that I deserve the position. I got the position.

You cannot work alone. Collaboration and networking are key components of doing science.


It’s not everyday that we can take a peek into the field notes of our idols, but if their notes could talk, they’d likely say that though every field of work will be difficult, following your passion requires love and passion that just comes easy.

Good luck, future STEM Women on Site!

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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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STEMpower

Miss Represented: KickSTARTing gender equality in schools

With the holidays fast approaching, the “new year, new me” mentality is getting stronger each day. Though this Christmas season being a clear change from the past, the goals we’ve kept throughout the year still remain.

One of the most vital ongoing objectives for STEM girls comes from the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to achieve gender equality and women empowerment—a long-time plan that has yet to come to fruition for worldwide girls in academia.

Despite gender gaps being an ever-present problem in and out of school, what we need is a cultural shift to get the ball rolling—a change that doesn’t just happen overnight. 

We took some notes from theconversation.com‘s 5-part ‘S.T.A.R.T.’ plan in achieving STEM media diversity and adapted the cause to start the movement on fighting gender norms in our own schools.


Support

First and foremost, we need to be active in introducing the idea of a stable support system at home. Even if we aren’t in the educational field, being supportive of the girls in our own family will instill the idea that they have control of what career they want.

Train

Being actively aware of gender bias is no easy task! More often than not, internalized misogyny has made most see girls as lesser than boys. We shouldn’t be afraid not just to call out, but more so correct when these stereotypes appear—for all genders and ages.

Advocate

After looking out for each other, we can then maximize the impact of STEM girl empowerment by learning laws and initiatives in place that empower them. One of these ongoing jurisdictions is the Magna Carta of Women (Republic Act No. 9710), which seeks to eliminate gender discrimination by protecting, fulfilling, and promoting the rights of Filipino women. Yes, we have actual laws for our progress!

Reinforce

With the schools serving as one of the first breeding grounds of creating stereotypes among genders, the European Institute of Gender Equality proposes schools to develop a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) to identify and remove gender bias in their curricula. Though this may sound like a pipe dream in the Philippines, we can reinforce our own GEPs by being proactive in school board discussions and opening the topic with those in power.

Track

Lastly, we have to remember that anyone fighting for gender equality is in it for the long haul. No matter how progressive or prepared we are, bias tends to accidentally infiltrate some forms of thinking —and that’s normal. We need to check up on ourselves and remember that though we have no choice in how we were raised, we have the power now to shift the conversation for the future.


As we enjoy the holidays to reboot, let’s not forget how the next years will go once we START the changes we want to see now.
There’s no better present than the gift of access, by giving STEM girls a future where they’re given the same opportunities and moral support as boys. So we can finally say through each year: “New year, stronger us.

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STEMpower

Best in class: Preparing SHS students for STEM

Let’s face it, school is hard enough right now. As the pandemic adds more pressure to students, it can be extra challenging to pursue one’s dream course and path. With boys still outnumbering girls in STEM courses, this doubles the legitimate threat of a lack of female representation in the future of STEM.

We paired up with some study buddies from non-profit org Kababaihan Para Sa Siyénsiyá (@siyensiya.ph) to take us through their personal STEM syllabus—and their testimonies for the students today, scientists tomorrow.


‘You don’t have to always be 100% sure’

As early as Grade 7, Bree knew she wanted to take up STEM. Aside from focusing on school, the idea that STEM can be used to better the lives of so many people keeps Bree going. Her ultimate goal is to make STEM “for the people”.

Bree in Action

‘Nothing is challenging when you’re passionate’

Denabea started her love for STEM through Mathematics. The decisiveness of computations and numbers has always been ‘satisfying’ to the young Thomasian. Now beginning to take a keen interest in Biology, Denabea plans to be a doctor in the future.

Dena in Action

‘Do not let that fear take over you’

On the cusp of her STEM journey, Feaid has taken a multitude of electives (from Agriculture to Computer Science) to prepare herself for her dream course of Agricultural Chemistry. She understands that everything happening in the world such as the African Swine Fever, Taal Volcano eruption, and COVID-19 pandemic require more people up for the challenge.

Feaid in Action

‘Always make sure you create for good’

Jammy is lucky enough to be surrounded by family who are in the STEM field.  With an inkling for Mathematics, she decided to join after-school classes and various competitions to prepare herself for high school STEM subjects. After landing an internship with a local pharmaceutical company, Jammy now wants to take up chemical engineering to improve the country’s healthcare industry and bring accessible healthcare to all Filipinos.

Jammy in Action

‘In STEM, learning does not stop’

As a Medical Laboratory student, Kyla’s first memory of STEM was back in 6th Grade when they learned about the different body systems. Skipping ahead to the future lessons, she soon filled her textbook with her own notes and highlights.  A turning point in Kyla’s journey was actually seeing a specimen slide during one of her Biology classes, where she realized that there’s more to life (and STEM) than visible to the naked eye.

Sofia in Action

‘There will be a sense of fulfilment’

As a current Physical Therapy student, Laysa has always wanted to be a doctor. Even though the end goal has always been clear, Laysa has discovered lessons about the world that’s gone beyond her expectations. If she could describe her STEM journey in one word, it would be ’electrifying’.

Laysa in Action

‘Open your eyes to reality’

Before taking up BS Biology major in Medical Biology, the STEM ‘adventures’ sparked Katrina’s interest in the field. From 8th grade science investigatory projects (SIPs) to representing her region in Marikina and Baguio during DepEd science fairs, stepping outside of her comfort zone continues to push Katrina to her goals.

Katrina in Action


Even with the differentiating curricula in each school and year level, it’s clear that learning about STEM extends well beyond the classroom walls. Though SHS only serves as a stepping stone in a woman’s STEM journey, this initial impact undoubtedly sets the tone for the Class of 2020 and beyond!

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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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STEMpower

This International Day of the Girl, meet the (girl) gang making their mark in STEM

Today, October 11, gather your tribe and celebrate the International Day of the Girl. With young Pinays being taught that STEM is ‘for boys’ or worse, girls are ‘less smart’ than their male counterparts as early as  10 years old, we need the next generation of girls to own their voices now more than ever. 


With this year’s theme of “My Voice, Our Equal Future”, a change of narrative has never been more vital—and it starts with shining the spotlight on homegrown girls turned STEM Women. We caught up with 6 Pinays carving their own path—and their message to girls today and for every day.


Chiara Ledesma, The Tech Wiz

Chiara (@chiaraled) is a Machine Learning Researcher at Thinking Machines. She graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in Computer Science, where she was one of the 73 chosen students for the Google Women in Tech scholarship and beat out 25,000 applicants across South East Asia.

STEM SPARK: Chiara’s STEM turning point was from talking to a fellow STEM girl during a retreat. A Vietnamese grad student shared with Chiara her passion for machine learning after finishing just one online course. Numerous sources of inspiration had come to her since then, but simply discussing plans with a fellow STEM girl served as the biggest push forward.

How do you envision the future of women in STEM in the Philippines?
When I was in high school, no one in my batch was including technology courses in their career discernment. We had very little opportunities to get exposed and to develop relevant skills, so in the future I hope that STEM-related courses will get as much attention as other courses without it seeming too intimidating.

What is your message for our young Pinays in STEM?
Don’t let yourself believe that you have to be naturally gifted at math or science to excel at STEM. Nobody is born knowing how to multiply matrices. It won’t be a smooth ride, but you’ll find that a bumpy one has much more learning to offer.

Audrey Pe, The Teen CEO

Audrey (@audreyisabelpe) is the CEO and Founder of the nonprofit organization WiTech (Women in Tech) which she started at only 15. The initiative has since impacted over 1,200 young Filipinos through the first women in tech conference back in 2018, tech literacy programs in public schools, a career roadshow on closing the gender gap, blog stories on women in tech role models, and more.

STEM SPARK: Audrey got fascinated with tech when her elementary Computer teacher strayed from the syllabus and taught them simple coding. This was the first time that she learned that websites were made of lines of code—as just a slight tweak from the country’s typical curriculum could leave a massive impact in a STEM girl’s journey.

How do you envision the future of women in STEM in the Philippines?
I am motivated by a future where all youth, especially in developing countries like the Philippines, have access to technology and can use it to help solve problems within their own communities. Now more than ever, we are seeing how the digital divide limits students’ access to educate in light of school closures. The inability for many schools to not transition online due to not having access to the internet is a barrier for many students reaching their full academic potential. I work towards a future where tech isn’t a barrier, but instead a tool to help contribute to one’s society and achieve an education that everyone has a right to.

What is your message for our young Pinays in STEM?
At WiTech, we believe that helping eliminate gender inequality and tech inaccessibility work hand-in-hand. To us, equality in the tech industry isn’t just 50/50 representation but also ensuring that those in tech represent more than just the upper class. We believe that diversity should come in the form of increased opportunities for all gender and socioeconomic strands so that tech turns into a right instead of a privilege.

Bee Leung, The Forecaster

Bee is sitting in the cockpit of the NASA P3 plane right before they took off; she was the flight scientist for a flight over Metro Manila to sample the atmospheric conditions. This picture was taken during CAMP2Ex, a NASA-sponsored field campaign held in Clark last August-October 2019.

Bee (@thegobidesert) is pursuing her Master’s degree in Atmospheric Sciences at Colorado State University. Her course uses computer models, field campaigns, and satellites to better understand how clouds are formed. Bee plans to bring her studies to the local scale by discovering how pollution and human-made changes affect the Philippines’ humid environment. 

STEM SPARK: Bee’s love for STEM blossomed when she started focusing on improving the lives of the marginalized sector through her work. She first executed projects measuring the exposure of jeepney drivers to air pollution and quantifying how Filipino farmers will become more vulnerable to heat stroke.

How do you envision the future of women in STEM in the Philippines?
I think a lot of it comes down to the details of how we run our organizations and research labs: making sure that people can have enough time to care for their families and other people in their lives, that the workplace and the laboratory are safe places with accommodations for people’s differing needs, that work is being distributed equally and equitably, that everyone is getting the chance to share their ideas and learn from one another.


And of course, I hope that by looking out for one another as we build that kind of positive scientific community, I also hope that Filipina scientists (and all scientists, really) can remember to look out for others and let our compassion fuel the work that we do.


What is your message for our young Pinays in STEM?
I hope you know that you belong here as much as anyone else! Honestly, that’s still something that I have to tell myself too, so it’s okay to feel insecure or like an impostor. I don’t know if that feeling ever goes away, but based on conversations with mentors and other scientists over the years, I don’t think it does, and that’s okay. If you want to go into STEM and you love what you do, then go for it! Science is for everyone.

Hillary Diane Andales, The Space Explorer

Hillary (hillaron.com) started on the map after she won the Breakthrough Junior Challenge in 2017. She soon founded the regional science camp Science Innovations Bootcamp. Now at 21, Hillary studies physics (with minors in astronomy and philosophy) at MIT and regularly holds talks as a science communicator. She has a personal mission to make students excited – instead of intimidatedof STEM.

STEM SPARK: Hillary’s started out when she was just 5 years old after reading an astronomy book that was as tall as she was and completely ‘blew her mind.’ Hillary became even more fascinated with space through the years: jumping from her dream of becoming an astronomer to a now-budding astrophysicist.

How do you envision the future of women in STEM in the Philippines?
I envision a future where women scientists can just be scientists — period. I hope for a future without a gender gap, a future where it’s no longer news when a woman wins a Nobel Prize. For the Philippines specifically, I just hope that the government provides enough support (more research funding, less delay due to bureaucracy, better leadership, and so on) for our Filipino scientists.


What is your message for our young Pinays in STEM?
For young Pinays in STEM, keep dreaming big! Do not let anything limit your dreams. Use the internet and social media to find inspiration, and then take those as fuel for your dreams. Also, as I always say, do not be afraid of failure. When you fail, you don’t really fail. You only learn.

Anne Brigitte Lim, Solar Energy Extraordinaire

Brigitte is a solar energy engineer who completed her masters from Arizona State University. She won the UN’s 2017 Geneva Challenge competition for her team’s Solar N3E invention that aimed to boost employment in the country by training workers in the solar energy field.

She’s currently working with the UN on the project “DREAMS” (Development for Renewable Energy Application Mainstreaming and Market Sustainability.) Due to the pandemic, Brigitte is also taking online classes for her Master’s program in Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
STEM SPARK: Bridgette gained further interest in the renewable energy industry when she realized that almost everything in society, from food production to vehicle power, relies on a stable and longstanding energy supply.

How do you envision the future of women in STEM in the Philippines?
Right now, most jobs in STEM in the country pay very little, so I would like women in STEM not only to show authorities and the public what they can do to solve societies’ problems (to make life more convenient), but I would also like women in STEM to advocate for more government support in funding innovation, and for public and private institutions to give better pay and benefits.


What is your message for our young Pinays in STEM?
If you are passionate about STEM but don’t find the right opportunities to pursue STEM in the Philippines, don’t give up on your passion. There are opportunities everywhere in the world, find it and go for it, because STEM has a way of benefitting all of humanity, no matter where you do it.

Tara Abrina, The Little Mermaid

Tara (@taraabrina) is an environmental economic researcher and founder of the Kapit Sisid project for marine conservation. After graduating from University of the Philippines’ with a Master’s in Development Economics, Tara now works with UP CIDS in studying marine conservation and development trajectory of the country’s coastal communities.

STEM SPARK: As a diver, Tara first fell in love with the ocean. She then dived into STEM after discovering that marine conservation is more about engaging and encouraging people than it is about ‘counting fish’.

How do you envision the future of women in STEM in the Philippines?
I know there’s still much to be done for feminism in our society, but in terms of rankings, we have consistently been in the World Economic Forum’s top ten list of most gender-equal countries in the world for the past decade. If only the same support system privileged to me were available to every young woman in every STEM field out there, I’d say we’d most likely be the most gender-equal STEM sector in the world.


What is your message for our young Pinays in STEM?
The Philippines is and always has been a rich, diverse, and multicultural country. To limit our view of what we consider as science discredits much of our peers and ninúno. Fishers who read tides and currents, women who adjust their marketing strategies according to the suki visiting them that day, and indigenous engineering practices—these are all STEM. Even art and design for me is an important aspect of STEM, for example with data visualization or functional aesthetics, and the reason why STEAM to include the arts is a widely accepted and evolved version of STEM.


There are always going to be questions and problems, and many of them can be answered with methods that we apply from STEAM. Learn from everyone and everything, and then use what you learn to always, always serve the people.


From 15-year old founders to long-time environmental advocates, these girls prove that we don’t need a separate holiday to empower ourselves—we just have to be consistent in empowering our girls

The UN predicts that there are now over 1.1 billion girls all over the world. If given the right kind of access and support—that’s 1.1 billion new ways to change the world.

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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!

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STEMpower

Empowering Pinay Students at Home

With the major shift to online classes, teachers and students alike have been finding ways to adapt to distance learning. This setup offers a wide range of teaching modalities, but online education in the Philippines is not without its limitations. From unreliable internet connectivity to the lack of digital resources, the task of teachers and educators has become more challenging as they strive to provide meaningful learning experiences for their students amidst the pandemic. 

While online education could be overwhelming, teaching in a virtual classroom allows educational institutions to re-examine and innovate ways to transform the Philippine educational system. In more ways than one, teachers address educational challenges through creative solutions and systems innovation which, at its core, is the very nature of STEM education. From incorporating  synchronous and asynchronous modules into online activities to designing digital-based laboratory or experiential learning, STEM educators are continuously exploring new teaching methods. 

Here are some the ways you can effectively teach STEM even during the pandemic and some inspiring words for our Pinays: 


Reinvent the way you teach STEM

Doc Sher Monterola of Center for Integrated STEM Education (CISTEM) shared how STEM teaches us to stay curious, to understand patterns, and to recover from failed experiments. Beyond just the knowledge, the multidimensionality of STEM molds learners’ skills, literacies, and socio-emotional intelligence towards lifelong holistic education. In the UP College of Education, teachers have been offered webinars or capacity-building sessions and innovation workshops to become better equipped to teach STEM online. As part of the college’s Education Resilience and Learning Continuity plan, educators gain various insights and perspectives on remote distance learning. 

Introduce your students to STEM Role Models

Filipina role models and supportive educators pave the way for young girls to gain confidence and conviction in their chosen study and career paths. Teacher Winnie Diola talked about the importance of transforming lessons into relevant and meaningful content that allows for students to relate their lessons to their current contexts. By sharing stories of success and allowing students to experience hands-on activities that involve the work of successful Pinays in STEM,  young girls feel a sense of belonging and gain more interest in STEM.

Provide your students with STEM opportunities

Teacher Milet Estidola believes that exposing young girls to STEM contributes greatly to their aspirations. As a Physics teacher, she ensures that online class activities are designed to encourage student-to-student and teacher-to-student interaction, but more so, to develop young girls’ problem solving skills that put to light the significance of STEM in addressing society’s problems in the areas of Medicine, Research, Engineering, and even in Economics.

Build and nurture STEM learning spaces

At Culiat Elementary School, Teacher Sabs Ongkiko shared that the free Facebook messenger feature has become a viable option to converse with students and maintain close relationships with their students’ families.  Strengthening faculty and student support with the help of local government agencies and organizations has proven to be effective in aiding educators as they provide a holistic learning experience for their students, but also in fostering students’ learning support systems. Young girls appreciate STEM best when it is meaningful to them, and starting this experience at home is vital to their STEM journey.


In the new normal, the role of STEM educators and fellow STEM Pinays is ever-amplified as they inspire young girls not only to pursue STEM but also to be more confident in their chosen study and career paths. Teachers have a crucial role in building a community of learners and this entails cultivating curiosity and an innovation mindset and encouraging students to inquire and brainstorm ideas as they eventually learn to contribute in addressing problems of today.

Dr. Sher Monterola is the Executive Director of the Center for Integrated STEM Education (CISTEM, Inc.) and is currently a professor in the UP Diliman College of Education. Ms. Sabs Ongkiko is a Science teacher in the Culiat Elementary School. Ms. Winnie Diola and Ms. Milet Estidola are both Science teachers at the De La Salle Santiago Zobel school.

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STEMpower

Pinays Can, Pinays Will

To celebrate every Pinay’s skills, capabilities, and dreams.

STEM+PH, a flagship program of Unilab Foundation Inc., partnered with UL Skin Sciences Inc. to launch Pinays Can STEM, an online community that aims to empower and encourage young Filipinas in STEM. UL Skin Sciences encourages women to live a life well-lived by influencing them to pursue their dreams while providing them with opportunities to lead the future and inspiring others to do the same.

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. In fact, only about 1/3 of STEM graduates in the country are females, and studies show that even less work in the STEM field.

Data from SunStar and Esquire

Founded on the belief that all Pinays are able to create life-changing breakthroughs while reimagining a better life for the nation, it is the campaign’s vision to build a community of STEM Pinays believing in their own capabilities by featuring Filipinas in the fields of medicine, technology, engineering, psychology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, astronomy, and marine sciences to name a few. 

We need more women in the sciences, and we need to celebrate those who are in it right now.

Within just a month of its launch, Pinays Can STEM has reached over 50,000 audiences on their site and envisions to engage more students to pursue the STEM track. Breaking barriers and defying gender perceptions, the campaign provides insightful infographics, interactive quizzes, local and international inventions and achievements, and opportunities for all young Pinays.

Find out more on Facebook and Instagram