Building encouragement for careers in science and technology

Abby Tejera Rocha wants young people around the world to feel empowered to pursue careers in STEM subjects. One way to do that is by increasing the visibility of contemporary scientists and technology leaders — including women like you.

Tejera, a second-year dual physics and computer science major, is a finalist who was voted a “Rising Star” in the Women that Build Awards program sponsored by international technology company Globant. The award recognizes and nurtures talented female technology leaders. The Rising Star category recognizes young women who are starting a STEM career and making a positive impact on society.

Tejera is from Maldonado, Uruguay, and a GeneXus Analyst who completed Plan Ceibal, a free training program sponsored by the Uruguayan government. She did so well that she was hired to teach an introductory programming course to more than 400 students between the ages of 18 and 30. Then came an offer to work for Globant, where she trained as an Android and app developer and learned other programming languages.

Tejera was 16 when she started an outreach project called Physically Possible. Their goal was to spread knowledge about science and technology in an accessible and fun way. She interviewed scientists from around the world, including the 2017 Nobel Prize winner
Physics laureates credited with discovering gravitational waves.

She was invited by the Uruguayan Ministry of Education and Culture and other organizations to take part in a series of video conference interviews highlighting the opportunities for studying and working in science and technology, with the aim of encouraging young people – especially girls to venture into these areas.

Tejera was admitted to Oberlin as an early decision applicant, making her dream of attending Oberlin College a reality. Her commitment to service and mentoring continues at Oberlin, where she is a Bonn Scholar, America Counts Leader, STRONG Scholar, and Student Researcher in Associate Professor Jillian Scudder’s lab, as well as a Peer Advising Leader, member of the Student Leadership Committee, and a peer tutor .

In the following Q&A, she discusses the importance of nurturing vocations, motivating and supporting other young students, and providing visibility to contemporary role models in STEM.

How did you hear about the Women that Build awards program? What would this recognition mean to you?

I found out about the program when I received an email saying I was nominated in the Rising Star category of the awards. It was a big surprise and I was interested in the great work Globant is doing to recognize and highlight many women in STEM and ICT.

It is a great pleasure to have been nominated – and later to learn, thanks to a referendum, that I am a finalist – and I am very grateful to all the people who support me unconditionally. It is very rewarding and at the same time challenging to keep learning and improving every day. I am also very grateful to the entire educational community at Oberlin College.

You started volunteering at a young age, and in your first two years at Oberlin you have selected experiences and accepted positions that demonstrate your commitment to leadership and mentoring. What motivates you to help fellow students?

In my country, a program called Plan Ceibal was implemented to bridge the existing digital divide in primary schools. My parents were volunteers and I accompanied them to give out free computers running Linux and taught students how to use them. I will never forget the first smiles that children – my peers – have when they see a computer for the first time.

I have attended science camps with people from several countries and have developed an app that makes it easier for young people to find opportunities for science education. I also volunteered with an organization called Ceautismo that works with and raises awareness of children and young people with autism.

When I arrived at Oberlin, I found an incredible educational community that values ​​the work of all students who contribute to society in one way or another. I have had the great pleasure of being selected to participate in the Bonn Scholar Program which not only allows me to volunteer in various organizations but also trains us to do so in the best possible way. I would also like to highlight the great work the Peer Advising Leaders Program (PAL) is doing to support all students in our freshman year at Oberlin and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be a PAL and a member of this wonderful team of leaders us.

What do you think are the biggest barriers to STEM education for young students and what can be done to improve them?

If we ask young people about their favorite athlete, they certainly have a role model or someone who inspires them. On the other hand, if you ask them to name a scientist they know or who inspires them, they will most likely name scientists like Albert Einstein or Marie Curie. In general, most young people cannot identify or identify with contemporary women scientists, although there are many and they are doing great things. For this reason, making visible the work of contemporary scientists helps to inspire, motivate and awaken vocations in students who believe that this is unattainable.

Much work remains to be done to close the racial and gender gaps that exist in some sectors. Just looking at the proportion of women in management positions in research teams shows that it is necessary to start raising awareness and education at a young age.

At Oberlin, I have found an academic community that offers students many amazing opportunities to prepare for professional experiences and thrive in STEM. For example, the STRONG Scholars program, the Office of Undergraduate Research, the Student Leadership Committee, and various resources and groups that contribute to STEM education and inclusion and equity in these areas.

What appeals to you about studying physics and computer science?

Physics, although we’re not always aware of it, is immersed in every activity we do on a daily basis. The discipline contributes to the conservation and conservation of resources through the approach of scientific investigation of matter, energy, time, space and the interactions of their components. The analysis of these interactions makes it possible to explain the properties and behavior of matter and to gain a deeper understanding of nature.

Personally, I am very interested in astrophysics, a field that studies the bodies found in space, their movements, properties and phenomena, but I am also interested in quantum mechanics and atomic physics.

I also enjoy doing research in these areas and I am very grateful to all my professors, who, with their dedication and commitment, enable the students to have an excellent academic experience. I am currently a student researcher with my mentor, Professor Jillian Scudder in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Oberlin, who is giving me the opportunity to be a researcher for her lab and I am truly grateful for this opportunity. This is great motivation and a daily learning experience that I can use to prepare myself optimally.

I am also excited about the future of computer science and how this profession can have a positive impact on society. It’s important to educate people to be creative agents of the digital world, not just consumers.

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