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In 5...Women of Power in Print: Interview with Natoshia Anderson, MBA, EdD: STEM Director, Girl Scouts USA of Greater Atlanta

Q.1 You’re an African-American, female Mechanical Engineer; award-winning STEM Advocate and Educator; the STEM Director of a bustling chapter of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious associations for girls; a STEM Women and Girls' Awareness entity Founder; and an in-demand Motivational Speaker on topics regarding the inclusion of Women and Girls in careers, and at all levels of education, in STEM, and Women and Girls of Color in STEM. And yet—you’re a woman of certain age, who hails originally from the Deep, racially-divided South. What was the quality of your school/social experience as a young, Black girl growing up; and who or what opened the doorway in your life, to pursue an entire mission in science? 

I believed at the time, that my education was stellar. It wasn’t until I was at college, did I come to understand how much I did not know, how much I wasn’t taught or that I didn’t have the opportunity for. I met people from all over the world whose education both socially and academically was much more extensive than mine. It was quite eye-opening for me. It did put me at a disadvantage, even though I graduated at the top of my class. I still had to work extra hard to get on the same field as those coming in with me. While my class was the most diverse class the school had ever seen at the time, we clearly missed the mark in terms of a rigorous curriculum and making sure that all students were presented with opportunities for growth and experimentation. 

I’d say that my parents were huge motivators for me and my siblings. Neither one went to college and they stressed the importance of education and that college was important. Going to college was the only option other than the military. My uncles and aunts and church friends were very instrumental in steering my towards college and into a career that would be beneficial to me and to the world. My favorite subjects in high school were physics and math, and I knew nothing about engineering. I only discovered engineering by listening to a speaker that came to the high school to offer the minority students an opportunity to participate in a program called Inroads. Inroads was my opportunity to learn more about engineering, and to intern with an engineering company that had minority engineers. I honestly didn’t even know it was an option. I pursued it with all vigor once I understood what an engineer does.

Q.2 You found yourself in a very nearly, life-ending event, at this very corridor of time—just last year. How has that dark occurrence shed light on your lifelong missions for Women and Girls, and Women and Girls of Color, in STEM?

This time last year I was in a near fatal car accident. I was t-boned by a minivan going 70 mph. The van hit me. We spun around and hit another vehicle. God was with us, as we all walked away from the accident with minor injuries. The driver of the van got out and ran. The police finally caught him later (turns out, he was stealing the van). I had deep bruises all over my body and I hurt like I’ve never hurt before; however, I was still alive. I knew then that God had me still here for a reason. 

So, every day since that accident, I've been a mission to advocate for women and girls in general, but specifically women and girls of color and women of girls in STEM. It is important that we improve the number of women in STEM, minority women in particular. It's not that we aren’t interested in becoming engineers or scientists. It's about equity, diversity, and inclusion in a very real sense. Women are not entering STEM fields AND they are leaving STEM fields in disproportionate levels. Research suggests that there are valid, solid reasons that women aren’t entering the fields AND are leaving these fields. We now need to devise measures that will increase interest, support interest, and support women once they enter these fields. We are missing the contributions that women can make in a multitude of fields within STEM. 

I am but one individual that knows that it is my duty to be a voice for women in this area. That accident was impetus for me to push forward with my advocacy women in this area. I am all the more grateful for that experience, because it brought into focus what it is that I am here to do.

Q.3 In your vast experiences navigating the arenas of education and work, what are the fields in STEM in which you’ve seen the most historical underrepresentation of Women and Girls, and Women and Girls of Color, and what do you believe accounts for those disparities? 

The more historical underrepresentation of Women and Girls (of Color) in STEM are in IT and Engineering. The percentage of women is about 15 to 20% of the workforce, but for minority women that number is in the single digits (approximately 4%). There are many reasons for these disparities that have been discussed again and again. Yet, we need viable solutions that will make a dent in those dismal numbers. Some solutions include rewriting the curriculum so that students can find meaning in it in their everyday lives, having mentorships with women in STEM, sustained STEM activities and events where students are having meaningful interactions and lessons, etc. We must take a long view of the problem in order to solve it. We must think that we are in this for the long haul. It will not be an overnight change. It will be work…by multiple people, across many different platforms, but having the same belief and message. We can do it. 

Q.4 As the new STEM Director for the highly populous, Girls Scouts USA of Greater Atlanta Chapter, how do you envision the role of STEM in the life and work of the 21st Century Girl—especially in this digital/tech-based, innovative, and fast-paced era? 

Well STEM is everywhere already, from your car to your phone to the pencil or pen that you use. Girls are natural explorers and experimenters and I think we do girls a disservice when we don’t indulge a girls' curiosity. When we tell a girl that she can’t or that she shouldn’t do something, we are strangling her inner scientist or engineer. Innovation is oftentimes by accident or error. We have to teach girls to be explorers, to experiment, or to design. STEM education is here to assist girls in discovering themselves through a multitude of arenas, and gives girls the freedom to do anything.

Q.5 You’re also a married Woman in STEM—with children—working outside of the home. What do you understand are some of the most pivotal challenges family Women in STEM face, re: work/life balance, both in the household and on the job, and how have you overcome/endeavored past them? And where can the online world find you, to learn more about your wondrous works, walks, and talks for Women and Girls/Women and Girls of Color, in STEM?

Work/life balance is a very real concern for me. I have family, kids, a husband, and outside interests. How to balance them all? What I’ve found is that it takes time to figure it out for yourself. What works for your family is what works for your family. I have had to learn where my limits are, and to be willing to say no or not right now to some opportunities--but also to have the belief that if these things are for me, that they will come back around when I can do them. The longer I am alive, the more I believe that when you put things in God’s hands, He will make things happen however they are supposed to!

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Facebook: @SmartSTEMATL
Twitter: @toshia11
Instagram: @drtoshia

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