A greater percentage of First Gen Latinas in STEM professions is long overdue. But, it’s not because of lack of interest or ability. First Gen Latinas have been navigating two worlds all their lives. They are resourceful, resilient, clever and determined to go after what they want in life. So, why are only 3% of Latinas in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) professions?
Latinas Breaking Barriers for Others
Listen in to Episode 86, Representation Matters for First Gen Latinas in STEM with Amayrani Villegas to hear her personal journey and determination to make it easier for more Latinas to join her. After hearing her story, she hopes that Latinas feel inspired and renewed to fulfill their dreams in STEM.
Amayrani MaryLeen Villegas-Parra is finishing her Masters of Cell and Molecular Biology, at San Francisco State University (SFSU), and continuing her cancer research as she pursues her PhD. It wasn’t a smooth path for Amayrani and if not for two Latino professors acknowledging her talent, she may have never gone after her dream. Still, her immense talent for Science coupled with her compassion for her comunidad are her key traits for success.
Amayrani empathizes with others who are navigating college for the first time in their family. Without experience or guidance, First Gen college students have to fend for themselves through the complexity of a university system. Working full time while studying a STEM degree is too much of a burden to succeed.
It’s that burden that Amayrani identifies as a deal breaker for First Gen Latinas. Yes, there is little representation in the STEM careers for Latinas to identify with. And, yes, there is little guidance available for them to seek out STEM in college. But even after conquering those two barriers, working full time leaves little time to study for intense STEM courses, causing grades to suffer and imposter syndrome to set in.
Fortunately, for Amayrani, her professors informed her of grants, fellowships and scholarships that could pay for tuition, supplies and even a stipend so she wouldn’t have to work while going to school. And now, Amayrani wants to lift that burden for more First Gen Latinas to join her in the STEM professions.
Three Ways to Increase First Gen Latinas in STEM
In order to increase representation for, Amayrani founded the Latinas in STEM organization at San Francisco State University. The organization encourages both college and high school students to seek out STEM careers by introducing the degree options and networking with professionals.
‘Latinas in STEM SFSU’ also provides camaraderie and support to students who may otherwise feel overwhelmed. As Amayrani stated in the episode, “spiritual, mental and emotional health” are imperative to navigating the challenging STEM courses successfully.
Best of all, the organization helps eliminate the financial barrier by assisting students with access to valuable scholarships, grants and internships. They are also open to financial donations to assist students with tuition, expensive books and supplies or basic needs in the country’s most expensive place to live. Valuable time spent studying instead of working raises grades, confidence and belief that STEM professions are within reach.
Amayrani is surely rising into leadership in her field of cancer research and in her community. In her own words:
“¡Hola!, I hope you all feel connected and inspired with my story as a Latina in STEM. I would like to remind you all that la “preserverancia te lleva a los triunfos”. As Latinas, we may encounter limitations and lack of representation, but that perseverance and internal drice from our ancestors help us succeed. I think that a combination of perseverance and self-awareness is key, so we grow as a comunidad unida y saludablemente.” ~ Amayrani
Reach out to Amayrani on the Latinas in STEM SFSU Instagram or directly by email. Join in supporting her efforts to raise funds and become a valuable mentor for Latinas in university STEM courses.