Meet this Remarkable 17 Year old Female Founder Who has a Plan to Increase the Amount of Women in STEM
“I always loved STEM, but I also had a passion for public speaking, fashion, and history. Because of this, I did not think I belonged in the STEM fields because I did not fit the mold of what society said a STEM girl was. I began to realize that it was my responsibility to redefine what it meant to be a STEM girl. I am now showing girls that they should be proud of any differences they have, because those are our strengths in the STEM fields, not our weaknesses.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing 17 year old Emily Koehne, the founder and CEO of STEMilyK, an organization dedicated to increasing the amount of women in STEM by highlighting unique STEM careers that girls are often unaware of. Emily accomplishes this by meeting with some of the top women in STEM and interviewing them about their careers, posting all of the interviews on STEMilyK.org so girls can have a panel of women in STEM role models available to them.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Growing up, I was always curious about the world, and asked questions constantly. What I did not know at the time was that the answers to all of these questions were STEM related.
As I continued through my years of grammar school, I realized that I was smart, and I eventually went on to become the valedictorian of my class. However, I knew that if I took pride in my grades, I would be made fun of, so often times I tried to hide them or act dumb to fit in.
This all began to change when I started high school on an academic scholarship in a STEM program. Before this, I did not even know what STEM stood for, but the more classes I took, the more my love for STEM grew.
Being in the program, I began to face a new realization; STEM was not considered “cool” by society’s standards. I did not understand why, and I felt that people would think I was weird for liking STEM. I started to understand the benefits that a STEM education could provide for girls, and was frustrated as to why so few girls were interested in pursuing it.
Around this time, I discovered a competition that called on high school girls interested in STEM to make a video explaining a project they had completed. This grabbed my attention, and even though I knew I probably was not going to win, I still wanted to compete anyways. I started to brainstorm and eventually came up with the idea to create a STEM doll. Barbie and American Girl dolls had a tremendous impact on my childhood, and I could only imagine how much sooner I would have been exposed to STEM if I had a STEM doll to play with. I combined this idea with my love of 3-D printing by 3-D printing the doll.
Although I did not win the competition, I knew that I had found my passion. I named the doll, “STEMily,” which is where I got the name for my website from.
Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company
At one of my first interviews, I almost had a disaster occur. I had my tripod all set up, and I went to go turn on my camera. I had charged my camera the night before, so I did not expect any trouble. However, when I went to press the power button, my camera did not turn on. I was freaking out in my head all while trying to appear calm to my interviewee who was trying to have a conversation with me. Ways of how to not look like an idiot girl who can’t turn on her camera while also thinking about how to deal with the potentially angry reaction I could receive from my interviewee for wasting her time went rushing through my brain.
All of the sudden, after about the fifth time I held down the power button, my camera turned on. I was so relieved, until I looked at the battery percentage and saw that my camera had literally 0% battery. I did not even know how it was possible that the camera had turned on. I had no idea how long the battery was going to last, but I figured I might as well try to get as much of the interview recorded as possible. I rushed to set up my camera and then began the interview immediately.
Throughout the entire interview, I kept thinking “Ok, any minute now this camera is going to shut off and I am going to just pretend like it didn’t happen.” Through some miracle, my camera stayed on long enough to record the entire 16 minute interview, all while on 0% battery.
To this day I have no idea how I survived that interview, however it taught me an important lesson; always make sure your charger is plugged into the wall.
Yitzi: So what exactly do you do?
STEMilyK.org is a website that girls can use as free, educational resource to provide them with a panel of women in STEM role models. I contact women from across the country and interview them about their education, career path, current job and advice for girls. Each interview on STEMilyK.org covers a unique, STEM career that typically does not get highlighted by the media, such as an actuary or a structural engineer. The goal of STEMilyK is to expose girls to these unique STEM careers that they are not taught about in school in hopes that they become intrigued by them and become inspired to go into STEM. STEMilyK breaks the stereotypes girls have about STEM careers being ones in which you sit in a lab all day or in a room doing math problems, but rather teaches them that women in STEM are the ones responsible for changing the world.
Yitzi: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
STEMilyK is unlike any other organization that has a mission to encourage girls to pursue STEM. This is because as a 17 year old girl, I understand what approach is going to be most affective in inspiring the next generation of women in STEM, simply because I am the next generation.
Because my peers and I have grown up in a social-media based society, I understand the negative effect that social media has on increasing the amount of women in STEM. This is because teen girls these days define obtaining perfection as having a flawless Instagram feed. They compare themselves to supermodels and actresses, not Mae Jemison or Sheryl Sandberg. This is a sad reality, but STEMilyK.org realizes that the way to change this is by providing girls with STEM role models so that they realize that these women have accomplished amazing things and that they should want to aspire to be like them too.
STEMilyK breaks down stereotypes prevalent about women in STEM such as that they are quiet “nerds.” STEMilyK demonstrates that women in STEM are leaders, innovators, and activists. STEMilyK.org also interviews women who combine other interests with STEM, such as STEM and community service. STEMilyK uses this approach to spread the messages to girls that there is no one definition of what a STEM girl is and is not. We are showing girls that they can combine any interests they have with STEM into an exciting career, instead of choosing the other interest over STEM.
Yitzi: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I am grateful to all of the women that took a chance on me. When I was just a random 16 year old girl who sent them an email asking for an interview, they had faith in me and not only agreed to allow me to interview them, but often let me visit their offices, meet other employees, and even invite me to additional events after the interview. STEMilyK would not be anything without the interviews from all of these successful women, so I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I always loved STEM, but I also had a passion for public speaking, fashion, and history. Because of this, I did not think I belonged in the STEM fields because I did not fit the mold of what society said a STEM girl was. I began to realize that it was my responsibility to redefine what it meant to be a STEM girl. I am now showing girls that they should be proud of any differences they have, because those are our strengths in the STEM fields, not our weaknesses.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
I would love to answer this in a video!
Yitzi: I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.
I would love to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel. As the first woman to ever lead Germany, and one of the few women world leaders currently in office, I would be beyond honored to chat with her. I feel that sometimes there is a heavy focus on increasing the amount of women in STEM in the United States, but the importance of spreading STEM education to girls worldwide is overlooked. I would ask Chancellor Angela Merkel about the efforts that Germany is currently taking to increase the amount of women in STEM, and also discuss ways in which Germany can improve their efforts and influence other countries to do the same. I would be interested to ask her why she believes the United States has yet to have a female president, and what advice she has for women, including myself, who aspire to break glass ceilings around the world.
Yitzi: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!