Miesha Jihan Williamson knows a thing or two about the power of social media. The trailblazing engineer and web developer has developed a social network just for girls that love to code. Born from a need to provide role models for girls seeking careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, the STEM Girl Social Network gives young women a place to connect, learn and grow.
It is the STEM Girl Social Network’s mission to increase the number of socially responsible and confident young women through leadership and mentorship opportunities. When Williamson is not preparing girls to excel in STEM, she is developing educational programs and serving as a role model for future female leaders in math, science and technology. Rolling out spoke with the woman behind inspiring the next generation of women in STEM on establishing the STEM Girl Social Network and how she fell in love with STEM.
When was your interest in math, science, and technology first piqued?
Let’s just say I was “guided” into science. My dad thought that science careers were the highest paid and he exposed us to Black inventors, and scientists, and told us about how Black engineers laid out the U.S. capital, how Africans invented algebra and geometry and bought us books on famous doctors like Ben Carson to read over the summers. I used to take household items like vacuums apart and see if I could put them back together again. My parents bought me erector sets, K’nex science kits and all kinds of toys to feed my curiosity of figuring out how things work.
Who were your role models?
One of my biggest role models was Mae Jemison, the first woman to enter space. She was from the South Side of Chicago, not too far from where I grew up. I read her history and any articles I could find about her. Her story guided a lot of my decision making about majors. She was an engineer and spent a lot of her time giving back and developing programs for underserved communities. It made me analyze the role of giving back to develop the next generation of scientists.
Of course, my parents. My mom was a really hard working woman when we were growing up and did all she could to make sure we had a good education. My dad was and is one of the smartest people I know. He was a Chicago Public School teacher and school improvement consultant for decades. He had a passion for improving the education prospects of kids who normally did not have access to quality education. It is funny because he used quality engineering tools to improve school performance. He tried to teach me these tools when I was young but I didn’t want to listen. I ended up working as a quality engineer for a few years and getting a Six Sigma certification. Ironically, I fell in love with quality later.
What has been your experience as a woman working in science and technology?
Honestly, for me, there has been good and bad. I love engineering. I love process improvement and mechanical systems. I was trained as a mechanical engineer initially. On most teams I have been on, I have been the only female and the only Black engineer. I have worked on teams where the leadership has been super supportive and where I have been able to thrive and contribute meaningfully. I have cumulatively saved companies millions by improving mechanical processes. I would create automated machines and correct quality issues before they caused major damage.
I have also been on teams that were not supportive. The other engineers would outright take credit for my ideas or improvements as their own and go out of their way to make it an uncomfortable work environment for me. It took me a while to learn that some men are intimidated by having a qualified, smart, woman on their team. They don’t want to be shown up by a woman. I at first let it take a hit to my confidence. Now I know that I just have to be strong and stand up for myself. When you put your foot down and document EVERYTHING, people can’t get over on you.
What is so cool about coding and web development? Especially for girls?
I have been working with girls for years teaching them math and technology. My good friend from college had been telling me for years that I need to learn how to code. I had a horrible experience in college with a coding class so I didn’t take his advice until many years later. The parents of the kids I worked with started asking me for coding classes for girls because of the experience their child would have being the only girl in the classroom. Learning to code and do web-development helps build confidence in girls. It teaches you trial and error. How to solve problems systematically, and how to search for information yourself. It teaches you how to be an independent learner almost unlike any other subject that you can teach an elementary or high school student. These are skills that are helpful no matter what career you go into. Of course, there is a lack of women in tech fields. Companies with gender diversity in their development team statistically produce better products. We need to increase the pipeline of girls we are sending into these careers.
How did you develop the STEM Girl Social Network? Why is it so important?
I surveyed a lot of girls I worked with to see why or why hadn’t they considered a STEM career. Most times, career choice came down to role models and exposure for girls. They just couldn’t relate to any women who were in STEM. Also, teachers almost never push girls into these careers. I wanted to create an organization that gave girls role models that they could relate to crushing it in engineering and the hard sciences. Studies show that countries like Sweden and China that have more gender equity in tech and engineering, the production of innovation is top in the world. I think that is a pretty clear connection. Women think differently and add different value to teams. You need people from all different backgrounds developing products so many things can be taken into consideration. Also, STEM careers are the highest paying careers. Women with STEM degrees get paid 30% more than other career fields.
Why does the STEM Girl Social Network rock and why should teens, young women get involved?
It is a place where girls or women interested in learning about engineering or technology can learn in a no pressure and fun environment from women in these fields. We have video classes, coding classes, live webinars, video interviews of women in STEM as well as ACT/SAT prep help.
What are some tips and tricks you offer students looking to improve their ACT scores?
Repetition of completing and grading as many ACT or SAT problems as you can is my best tip. I have a free video course on how I raised my ACT score 12 points on our website that goes into more depth about best practices.
What can a young woman looking to get into a career in STEM expect and what can she do to get started?
I would say make sure you get great in algebra and calculus. Take Calculus 1 and 2 before you go to college. Take summer classes at the community college if you have to. She should expect to start building confidence and determination through activities like sports, learning to code, or being on competitive robotics teams in junior or high school. Of course, do great on ACT and SAT exams focusing on math.
How can you become a part of the STEM girl social network?
Go to our website at www.stemgirlsocialnetwork.com and join our Facebook group. We post events, scholarships, and programming related to girls in STEM. We also have monthly Coding and Cocktails classes for women 21-35, so look out for those on our website.