Even at a young age, Recca was already given the opportunity to explore the field of science through class experiments, and by enrolling in a Science High School and volunteering for the “Tulong Dunong” program, where she is greatly remembered and recognized by young students.
Let’s hear more about what sparked her interest in STEM as well as her advocacies in the field!
My STEM Journey
I can say I owe most of my STEM journey to Pisay as I was surrounded with opportunities in an environment where the people had aligned interests. In my first two years I was part of our school’s science club and was able to attend events of the Philippine Society of Youth Science Clubs (PSYSC), the organization I would be serving later in my college years. One highlight of my high school life that directed me to pursue a laboratory oriented career was our Summer Internship Program when I interned for a month at the Institute of Food Science and Technology in UP Los Banos. During our specialization years in senior high I chose to focus on Biology and Chemistry. This eventually brought me to where I am today, an incoming senior in the Biochemistry program of UP Manila. As much as I love my time in the lab (back when F2F was possible), I equally love working with my organizations, the UP Biochemistry Society and PSYSC. Currently I am interning at the Philippine Genome Center’s Core Facility for Bioinformatics. Upon graduation I plan on taking up research assistant positions as well as taking the Chemistry Licensure Examination. I hope to eventually do my Masters abroad and come back to the Philippines to finish my Return Service Agreement with DOST.
Sparking my interest in STEM
It was really in my specialization years that had brought me close to the fields of Biology and Chemistry. To be honest, most of my high school life I had my mind set on applying for the Molecular Biology and Biotechnology program in UP Diliman. During senior high however, I had found myself being drawn closer to Chemistry as we would always do experiments in the lab. It was always during lab work that I had felt the most comfortable because I loved hands on interactive learning. It was only when I was filling up my UPCAT application form that I found out the UP System also offered Biochemistry. I applied to the degree thinking it would be 50% Biology, 50% Chemistry. This belief was also held by a lot of my blockmates, to which we quickly learned in our first college days that it would be about 90% Chemistry and only 10% Biology. I don’t have any regrets with my degree though as I learned more about what it was and what our graduates were doing, I had felt more and more at home and that this is what I want to be pursuing.
Bringing STEM closer to Filipinos
After evaluating what I had been doing for the past years, I found a pattern that led me to realize all along I was actually unconsciously advocating for making science accessible and for the masses. Our organization’s thrust is PUS TE (Public Understanding of Science, Technology, and the Environment) and likewise I think we should always push for information, education, and communication of STEM, especially to those who aren’t as exposed to it. I think this particularly relevant given the pandemic as talks of RT-PCR, mRNA vaccines, and the like may seem like common topics to those in the scientific community but may seem foreign to others. It is especially critical to keep everyone knowledgeable as we rely on making informed decisions in taking collective action against a public health threat. As fun as it may be to be involved with the high technology aspect of science, we should keep in mind that science is for the masses and that it can still be understood and appreciated without needing an extensive scientific background. Being lucky enough to be surrounded by individuals inclined in STEM, sometimes it makes you forget that a good chunk of the population is not the same, likely due to the lack of opportunities and resources. As I’ve mentioned, Pisay had a large contribution on my STEM journey but actually a large selling point I had entering Pisay was the free tuition and allowance since at the time of my admission my family wasn’t as well off financially as we are now.
I think in terms of awareness and action, surely there has been progress but not as much progress as one would hope to have. A major change I’d like to see is making primary and secondary education more accessible as these are the crucial years in one’s development. I also think on ground action should be emphasized as social media campaigns could only do so much and could only reach those with devices and internet connection.
To my fellow youth
Be steadfast in what you’re pursuing. Remember why you want to do what you’re doing and who you are doing it for. Lastly, be kind to yourself and remember that you’re human and not just a machine.
It is said that one opportunity can open a lot of other doors, yet sometimes, exploring them can be quite a maze! For our featured Pinay of the Month, her journey began as an aspiring high school student, hoping for a place in the sciences. Coming from a science high school, Elgelyn Bardelosa took the admission test to enter into a Civil Engineering course, yet finances were short and she almost lost hope. “Sadly, even if I begged my mother for money, my family’s resources were very limited to even afford the fare to go to UP Los Banos. That day I cried hard because I lost hope–I would not be able to go to my dream school, or even maybe pursue college,” she recounts. Luckily for her, days later, she had found out that she was given a scholarship from the Department of Science and Technology, Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI) after passing their exam.
Although Elgelyn did not pursue the course she initially wanted due to limited course offerings by the DOST-SEI, she went on to pursue her second choice, Electrical Engineering, and has been committed to the field ever since. Currently, she is an Electrical Design Engineer by profession. “I prepare electrical plans for different establishments–from a simple house to commercial living spaces like apartments, to small offices to towers, recreational spaces to malls, and even for industrial plants.” Throughout her career, she has learned to work in different contexts, sometimes preparing plans for buildings in other countries, and work as a team player.
Although skilled in her field, her journey did not come without some setbacks. Initially, not a lot of people were accepting of her course, including her parents who thought she would have had a better career had she chosen Accountancy, a course which many girls had considered. On that note, she has faced some other challenges that came with her being a girl in the sciences. While her male peers and classmates were welcoming of her, it was during her commutes home after late-night groupworks when she felt unsafe. “Most of the time, I ask one of my guy classmates to send me home early!” To this day, she still has her fair share of discrimination. During her stint as the youngest in the project team, it was difficult for her teammates to take her seriously, and she was also sometimes bullied on the project site for being a young, skinny woman. Resilient, Elgelyn still persevered. She bravely states, “I did not let these chances define me as a person, and I took them as chances to strengthen my character. I chose to nurture my technical and people skills to be able to handle those kinds of situations.”
Even though these tough experiences can build character, one doesn’t need to put themselves in these situations to give them strength. Instead. Elgelyn suggests that young Pinays look for opportunities empowering content online. “It is a very interesting time to pursue STEM in general,” she says due to limitations imposed by the community quarantine. While it is hard to spark physical teamwork and collaboration, something ever-present in the field of Electrical Engineering, the internet is still a powerful tool for experts and learners alike, making resources available, even from mentors who are out of the country. In fact, during the quarantine, Elgelyn was able to attend many seminars available online to enhance her engineering knowledge. Aside from educational content, she also mentions looking for motivational words online. “I personally go to TEDx talks of women in STEM on YouTube for a source of inspiration.”
That being said, Elgelyn also offers her own words of wisdom to young aspiring Pinays. “The reason why the STEM field is dominated by men is because mostly known scientists and innovators known before are men. However, we live now in a world that offers a better opportunity for us young women to shine. Choose what battles to fight and what not to. If you don’t believe in yourself, remember that I believe in you!”
Elgelyn Bardelosa is an Electric Design Engineer based in Imus, Cavite. She graduated from the Technological University of the Philippines-Manila with a degree in BS Electrical Engineering, with a scholarship granted by DOST-SEI.
As a continuation of our Girl Gang blog back in October for International Day of the Girl, we’re rounding up another group of special STEM boss babes for your summer club consideration.
Further proving that STEM doesn’t just exist within the labs, these women are also making their way up the ladder with their own brand of leadership, driven by purpose and passion. Hard sciences not for you? Check out the different branches where fellow great women are in charge!
Beng is the CEO and President Of Pointwest Technologies, an Information Technology (IT) firm dedicated to utilizing digital technology at its best. She graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering in the University of Santo Tomas back in 1974, and she’s been dedicated to introducing world-class tech software to the country ever since.
Envisioning a gender-equal future for all, Beng is now also a member of the Board of Trustees for the Center for Integrated STEM Education, or CISTEM.
Clarissa is the current Education Program Lead for a small tech company called, well, Microsoft. Jokes aside, Clarissa has been with Microsoft for a whopping ten years, where she started out as a Partner Development Manager in 2011.
Through her role as Education Program Lead, she focuses on providing an impact for the PH academic sector through specific education technology programs.
COMMAND-HER IN CHIEF
Julia is the current Executive Director of FEU Public Policy Center (FPPC), a private research foundation making a change in policy-making through thorough research and community discussions. She’s been working for the cause almost all her life, as she was even the Head of the Presidential Management Staff from 2010 to 2016, among other government jobs.
Julia achieved her Masters in Public Policy with a concentration in Political and Economic Development at Harvard University.
Linartes is the country’s National Project Coordinator for the Women in STEM Workforce Readiness and Development Program by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Through data-driven research like skills upgrading, job placement, skills gap identification, and more, the program aims to give women a leg up in finding (and thriving) the STEM career field.
In a 2019 interview with ABS-CBN, she stressed that there’s more work to be done in convincing women to join STEM careers “especially now, when we’re moving to the future of work when we’re requiring more STEM-related skills that will be needed to compete in the workplace,” she explained.
Through her work, Linartes ensures that the projects implemented by the ILO are inclusive for all Filipina women to reach their STEM goals.
HOMEGROWN IBM BOSS
Serving as the current President and Country General Manager of IBM Philippines, Aileen is the first Filipina leader of the popular BPO company. As a woman in power, Aileen is dedicated to introducing Filipino talents to not just the international scale, but also to make them stay and serve our home country.
Through IBM’s growing projects in the field, Aileen hopes for a reverse brain drain in the country, or “Brain Gain”. Speaking to ANC’s ‘The Boss’, she explains. “Really, my dream is that [skilled Filipinos] come back. It’s kind of like a reverse brain drain.”
Cara is the co-founder and Executive Director for the For the Women (FTW) Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to change women’s lives by offering free data science and AI training for future leaders, like herself. She graduated as a cum laude in History at Harvard College, and went on to first work in advertising in New York .
Cara’s dream for FTW started during a trip to Milan, where she realized that “there was a lack of promising job opportunities in the Philippines and [women] had to work abroad in order to send money home and support families.” With FTW now helping numerous women all over the country, her dreams have undoubtedly come into fruition.
ACCENTURE’S LEADING WOMAN
Ambe has been a thought leader in Accenture for 30 astounding years, working her way from Senior Managing Director to leading the Accenture Advanced Technology Centers in the Philippines (ATCP). She’s worked on many large-scale systems integration programs and outsourcing engagements, as she also played a key role in driving the company’s delivery innovations.
In an inspiring video titled “Career advice for my 25-year old self”, Ambe shares sage advice for young workers such as creating your own destiny, trying not to please everybody, and more.
Anna is a marine conservationist and the self-proclaimed Chief Mermaid/Executive Director of Save Philippine Seas, a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of Philippine marine life. At 23 years old, she was recognized as one of the seven modern Filipino heroes by Yahoo! Southeast Asia. She’s also the first and youngest awardee of the Netherland’s Future for Nature Award.
A steady advocate for oceanic protection, Anna has also co-authored a workbook to teach young Filipinos about the grave impacts of climate change.
MANILA OBSERVATORY EXEC
Gemma is the Executive Director of the Ateneo de Manila University’s (ADMU) Manila Observatory, which aims to expand scientific research in environmental and pre-disaster science through sustainable development. Before heading the Manila Observatory, she was an Associate Director for Research and the Head of the Regional Climate Systems Program of the Observatory at ADMU.
Equipped with her lifelong expertise in climate change research, Gemma aids communities to prepare for natural disasters.
These women prove that the Philippines isn’t in short supply of STEM women ready to take charge! Aside from taking the lead in their own fields, it’s vital to note that their advocacies don’t stop there, as they’ve taken it upon themselves to give fellow women the opportunity to thrive just like them.
“My journey in Science started as a fortunate stroke of serendipity.”
Although our Pinay of the Month wanted to be a scientist when she was little, her run of luck began when she was offered a scholarship by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). A recipient of the DOST-merit scholarship, Erika Legara originally wanted to take on a different career growing up. “I had always wanted to be an engineer because both my parents are civil engineers,” she recalls, but due to the limited course offerings covered by the scholarship, Erika chose Physics since it was the closest science to civil engineering.
Even then, choosing a science course is totally different from staying in it. Erika reveals what keeps her committed to the field of Physics. “What made me really want to continue pursuing the field were my research mentors,” referring to her instructors at the National Institute of Physics and her days at the Instrumentation Physics Laboratory. It was then she found joy in research and collaboration.
Currently a data scientist, Erika’s days as a Physics student led her to her pursuit of knowledge, specifically writing simulations and algorithms to explore some what-ifs of day-to-day living. In particular, she has quite a number of interesting research projects under her belt. Not a fan of traffic? Data can solve that! Erika has done research on cities and transportation systems to find ways to make them smarter, more efficient, and more reliable. Bothered by the trolls that plague the internet? Data can offer some perspective on that, too! She has also done some work in Computational Social Science, describing how bots and trolls behave online. “With the right information, the right lens, and the right tools, I, together with our research team, get to help enterprises make better decisions that improve both their business processes and products.”
While a successful, self-made Pinay in science, Erika would not be where she is today without a little help from some people. “The four biggest contributing factors in my pursuit of STEM are my parents, the DOST, my research mentors, and the field of Science itself.” It was the first which exposed her to career options related to civil engineering, the second which opened doors for her, and the third which kept her committed to Physics. But at the end of the day, it’s science itself that makes her stay. “Even if we have the most inspiring parents and mentors, if the field of Science were not as interesting and as mind-blowing as it is, I really wouldn’t have stayed in STEM and continued this pursuit. There’s this deep sense of fulfillment in discovering and creating things, and this is what keeps me in the field and in my profession as a scientist and a professor.”
As for young Pinays who would want to explore the same path, Erika mentions that the road doesn’t come without any challenges. In particular, she mentions that the country doesn’t have a deep appreciation for the sciences, which is reflected in how little scientists and researchers get paid here, relative to the years of studying and investment. That being said, while outside factors may be to blame, Pinays themselves have the guts to pursue their dreams. With a little exposure, aspiring scientists can go a long way! Erika hopefully says. “I am not that worried about building the confidence of our young Pinays. We just really need to expose them to the wonders of STEM.” Nowadays, in the midst of a health crisis, there are still opportunities to be found indoors, such as online internships and webinars which Erika recommends. Some examples include gathering scientists to volunteer or take part in mentoring activities and project-based programs where they can guide young girls in building AI models to perform classification tasks or teach them how to write cellular-automata models in order for them to learn more about segregation and/or land-use design, or to figure out how to best represent social interactions through complex networks. With all this excitement and enthusiasm, she hopes to bring STEM closer to the public, especially the Filipino youth.
Her final motivational words for us are about STEM Pinays as more than just inspirational figures. “We are aware that as women in science, we have the responsibility to inspire more women to get into science. But more than information disseminators, we are also very much capable of becoming discoverers and generators of ideas and knowledge—something that I would really love to see more of. Just keep on pushing and persevering. STEM is gender-neutral. Keep on learning, exploring, and creating!”
Knowing the stories of others can truly give us a better look at what options we have, but Herdeline also conversely says that our journeys could help others make sense of theirs as well. “There is no single, best path for girls who want to pursue a career in STEM. It is up to you to find and follow the path where you’ll be most excited. This is not an easy career path, but it is your enthusiasm towards small steps that will lift you towards bigger successes. Always remember that those successes will not only serve you but can also open the doors for the next generation of girls behind you.”
Erika Legara is a data scientist who completed her bachelor’s, master’s, and postgraduate degrees in Physics under the University of the Philippines. Currently, she is the Associate Professor, Aboitiz Chair in Data Science, and the Program Director of MSc Data Science in the Asian Institute of Management.
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.
MPhil Textile Conservation postgraduate student, University of Glasgow
Gracile has been a longtime researcher at the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NCHP), involved in the conservation of tangible heritage in the country. Through her multidisciplinary work, she was able to recognize material and come up with conservation procedures on important artifacts like documents, books, clothes, artworks and furniture found in the 27 museums managed by NHCP. She is now a postgraduate student taking up MPhil Textile Conservation at the University of Glasgow.
Since then, cultural heritage conservation has been her calling. Besides her love for Science and Math, one of the reasons she pursued STEM was because of Philippine history! She strongly advocates for more STEM workers in the field to be able to help manage the country’s resources, address recurring problems, and eventually become truly self-sustaining.
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.’
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.’
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 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.’
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.”’
Noreen “Kubi” Follosco
Coastal Systems researcher, Marine Environment & Resources Foundation, UP Diliman
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.’
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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).
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 others.
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.
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!”
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 (@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 intimidated’ of 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.