Growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, Lina S Germann loved school and excelled in science and math. While her family didn't understand her scholastic aspirations, Germann persisted, eventually moving to the United States and earning a Ph.D in chemistry.
When she founded STEM Santa Fe in 2016, she was dually motivated by her own experiences and accomplishments as a scientist, as well as her direct observations of the need to provide resources to encourage and educate Northern New Mexico students—particularly underrepresented ones.
Today, her organization mounts myriad programs geared at inspiring the next generation to enter science, technology, mathematics and engineering fields.
Germann grew up receiving the message that "you're not pretty enough, you're such a tomboy, you're so defiant, no one will marry you and it's a good thing you're smart because you'll need to support yourself as an old maid," she tells SFR. As it happened, she liked school and her grades in math and science qualified her for a scholarship to the best university in Beirut.
"I wanted to be an engineer, but my dad said, 'that's not for girls.'" When she said she would major in chemistry instead, he asked, "'What will you do with that?' My parents never finished middle school; they didn't know what any of it meant." As her friends began applying to universities in the US, Germann followed suit, eventually receiving a full ride to pursue a doctoral degree in chemistry in Boston. When she explained to her father, again, that doing so would allow her to teach, her parents supported her move, but, she says, it was because they thought, "she'll never get married, we might as well support her to get a better paying job."
Coming to the US and pursuing her education, however, "opened a lot of doors to me. My life changed," she says.
After graduation, Germann met her husband, a fellow scientist, and the two ended up in New Mexico. Raising her children here provided her first-hand observation of the dearth of STEM education for local students, "especially for girls," she says. "I feel like I'm back home."
Her advocacy led her to start STEM Santa Fe.
Through the organization's program at Capital High School, STEM Scaffold, "we work with the average student, students who are the first in the family to potentially go to college." The program is project based—anything from coding to engineering to art—with mentorship from STEM professionals. The organization has approximately 500 volunteers from the national labs, universities and local tech businesses.
"Our mission is to really advocate for the STEM jobs out there, but also to focus on the STEM skills," she says, "because whatever coding language we teach them now might not be needed later, but we teach them problem-solving, and the joy of discovering and learning."
Another program, STEM Pathways for Girls, kicks off with a one-day conference Oct. 5 for 200 fifth-to-eighth grade girls, followed by monthly workshops.
"The girls get to see other girls just like them," Germann says, which counters the isolation they might feel at school. "And all the workshops are presented and led by women in STEM … not only telling them about the project, but also about their journey."
STEM Santa Fe also participates in the national Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival (named after a pioneering female mathematician), where participants explore math problems, games, puzzles and other activities.
This summer, STEM Santa Fe partnered with the Chicago-based Brave Initiatives and brought 18 middle school and high school girls together for a week to focus on app development, and entered their creations into the Congressional App Challenge (congressionalappchallenge.us). The attendees put together proposals for apps ranging from sourcing sustainable building materials to eating healthily to diversity in literature. "I came home so proud of these girls and how much they'd learned in one week and the topics they'd chosen," Germann notes. "They really are inspiring."
The summer camp was new, and Germann says she hopes to run it again, but also always is looking at existing programs elsewhere to try to bring those opportunities here. STEM Santa Fe also provides support to teachers in charge of students competitions, such as the New Mexico Electric Car Challenge and RoboRave International.
"I believe we need to promote more competition in STEM," she says, for team building and goal setting. But also, she notes, "there is a lot of attention to sports competition and I want there to be the same attention given to STEM." She credits the Santa Fe Public Schools for responding to that mission and starting to provide business to the academic clubs for their competitions.
"We're trying to change the culture," she says. "We need to expect kids to rise to a high standard."
STEM Santa Fe will host the 2019 Stem Pathways for Girls Conference, open to Northern New Mexico girls in 5th through 8th grades, on Oct. 5 at Santa Fe Community College. To participate as a presenter, exhibitor or volunteer, go to: http://stemsantafe.org/programs/spfg/2019-spfg-conference/