"Start Breaking Stuff'": Advice From America’s Top Young Women Scientists

What advice do some of the top women scientists and engineers in America have for girls all over the country?

“Go ahead and start breaking stuff,” said researcher Gayle Hagler in the above White House video, because that’s how she got her start. 

Gayle was one of 94 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) who gathered in the East Room of the White House to meet the President earlier this month.  PECASE awardees are selected each year to honor outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers, show exceptional potential for leadership, and have demonstrated a commitment to community service and the advancement of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. 

Gayle, in particular, was recognized for “exceptional research to characterize the effects of traffic-related air pollution,” but there was a time when she didn’t even know the difference between a Phillips and a Flathead screwdriver. That’s why she and a few of her fellow female PECASE recipients took a few minutes out of their busy visit to the White House to send a special video message to girls who might be interested in STEM subjects:  Get hands on experience, and get it now.

Moving America from the middle to the top of the pack in STEM education is a priority championed by President Obama and the First Lady, and making sure girls and other historically underrepresented groups have the tools and support they need to excel in these subjects is part of this effort.  Less than a month ago, the First Lady made this clear in an event at the White House:  “If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, then we have to open doors to everyone.  We can't afford to leave anyone out.  We need all hands on deck.  And that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

And these hurdles are coming down left and right. Thanks to flexible workplace policies like those featured in the National Science Foundation’s recently launched Career-Life Balance Initiative, women researchers are facing an easier path to having careers as innovators while also enjoying rewarding lives as parents. Considering that women in STEM careers earn 33 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts, these steps to retain women in the STEM workforce ensure increased opportunities for women to achieve economic prosperity.

One need only look at this year’s PECASE winners to witness the incredible frontiers that women scientists and engineers are already traversing. As the President noted in his remarks in the East Room, roughly 40 percent of this year’s PECASE winners were women, among them individuals who serve as important role models to girls within their community and beyond. Check out the full list here.

As these women and the winners of the Google Global Science Fair prove, girls are just as capable as boys when it comes to math, science, and technology. So, girls, in the spirit of Gayle Hagler, grab a tool kit and get to work!

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