Launching girls’ STEM careers into space

After graduating from the University of Surrey with an MSc in Science in Microwave and Radiofrequency Engineering, Paola better understood the importance of young girls being exposed to ‘harder’ subjects. Here she tells us more about ‘Chicas Waskiris’ and how the Bolivian Chevening community is empowering young women.

Chevening Alumna from 2016, Bolivian Paola Escobari, is pursuing an exciting career in STEM by working at the Bolivian Space Agency. 

When I applied for the Chevening Scholarship in 2016, I had in mind the desire to pursue a demanding and highly technical program, focused on the physics and electronics that rule wireless communications. I knew that in my heart I always wanted to be a leader in my area when coming back to my home country.

When I applied to the Chevening Scholarship I was working for the Bolivian Space Agency. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to re-join this renowned company upon my return – it is the most technological enterprise in Bolivia, filled with excellent professionals and team-players as engineers.

While I was in university studying my degree, I was always the only girl in my class. This was never a problem for myself nor my classmates, but I couldn’t help but notice that, further on, the more you study and advance your career the fewer women you see around you.

When talking and debating about gender equality, especially in STEM careers, it is impossible for me to not bring up statistics: fewer young women in school are interested in hard subjects like maths, physics, or chemistry. In conclusion, fewer women choose careers related to these subjects and even less keep advancing in their technical career paths. Of course, there are similarities with the situations of many men, but the problem is the presence of men versus women. It is known that women go through more struggles that have nothing to do with their capacity or knowledge, which brings their presence in most STEM sectors to less than 50%. These struggles are normally related to their culture, family obligations, or job opportunities in most cases. Especially in South American countries, as Bolivia, some women still have the stay-at-home role to stay, take care of their children and their husbands.

Chicas Waskiris, sponsored by the Chevening Alumni Programme Fund, is a project that has now been running for two years and is aimed at engaging girls in their last years of school in STEM subjects. Through this initiative, the young girls are taught technology, maths, or engineering in a fun and didactic way, showing them that those are not hard subjects but rather interesting and exciting.

We show and share with them our passion for working and teaching STEM, while also reaching our goals besides the difficulties and adversity. I truly believe that all the selected girls got inspired and motivated by the teachers in such a way, that a high percentage of all the participants chose to pursue a STEM career. The Chicas Waskiris team and I are planning to have the third version of the camp this year, aiming to reach more girls from rural areas, and be able to show them exciting hands-on experiments that they don’t normally have access to.

If we collectively begin thinking that we can make a real impact, then we have a chance to not only fight discouraging statistics, but to achieve an equal gender presence in STEM areas. All efforts could have a multiplying effect in these girls’ lives by making them enjoy STEM during their school years.