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No holding her back

When East Ridge High School sophomore Mahima Gupta signs on to her Facebook account, she regularly sees ads for women’s clothing, shoes and jewelry, even if her news feed has nothing to do with that.

Just because she’s a teenage girl doesn’t mean she’s interested in fashion, she said.

For her guy friends on the other hand, they’ll see advertisements on sciences, engineering and technology articles.

“I just find that interesting because you mark down the gender button, they’ll advertise based on the things they think you like,” the Woodbury 15-year-old said.

Gupta recently participated in the international Grace Hopper conference in Minneapolis, where an estimated 5,000 women from around the world took part in the four-day event focusing on women in computing.

Gupta had applied for the conference and was awarded a scholarship as one of a few students from the east metro who were chosen. She was drawn to it because it focuses on women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, where there are often gender stereotypes.

“Girls have had a longstanding stereotype of being bad at science and math in scenarios such as being scared of bugs and insects, finding dissections to be ‘gross’ and not being able to ‘fix’ a computer,” she wrote in her essay. “I have always wanted to make a difference in the world. One accomplishment that I would love to have is to encourage girls to see that they can do anything.”

She also talked about the perception that women may not face barriers in the United States while pursuing careers in engineering and sciences. But through research, she found that the majority of women who have STEM degrees often don’t continue or move up like their male counterparts.

The conference brought together women from various countries where some face even more barriers in societies that don’t encourage education or pursuing highly successful careers in male-dominated work environments.

“(Women) can do as much as men even though they’re a minority in the field,” Gupta said. “They are very outnumbered by men.”

Sheryl Sandberg with her foundation “Lean In,” spoke at the conference encouraging young women like Gupta to get involved in STEM education early on.

The Woodbury community is filled with 3M workers with numerous women involved in science and engineering careers.

One of them is Jayshree Seth, a friend of Gupta’s who recommended the conference.

Seth, who holds a doctorate in chemical engineering, said there isn’t enough encouragement or exposure for girls to be in sciences and math.

The majority of kids in Lego League, Mathletes and robotic clubs are boys, she said.

“There is always very few girls in those types of activities,” she said. “The social aspect is not as prominent as it should be.”

The key to inspiring them and opening their minds to broader views is listening to others fulfilling careers in sciences, technology and engineering through conferences like Grace Hopper, she said.

Gupta is not letting gender barriers or any other social aspects of being involved in sciences and engineering discourage her from pursuing a career in science. She’s involved in Project Lead the Way in school, a four-year long program that will help prep her for college.

And she came back from the annual conference inspired.

“After going to the conference I learned that I’m sure gender won’t hold you back,” she said.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.