Photos by Hillary Ehlen
At the kick-off for local nonprofit uCodeGirl’s new initiative aimed at pairing young girls with area women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, Fargo INC! caught up with a mentor and mentee who will be participating in the program.
What It Is
In a recent Fargo INC! roundtable on women in tech, one of the women summarized her mindset when speaking to and working with young girls in STEM, “Be who you needed when you were younger.”
It underscored perfectly what some see as one of the greatest deficiencies within the tech community: a lack of visibility and access to women working in STEM fields. Local nonprofit uCodeGirl, which works to increase the participation of young girls in tech careers, is working to help change that with its new program, “Crack the Code: STEM Mentorship for Girls.” The goal of the program is to nurture and support female students’ pursuit of STEM academic success and career aspirations.
Kicking off last month at Dakota Medical Foundation in South Fargo, the year-long initiative pairs young girls interested in STEM with area women working at organizations such as Microsoft, Intelligent InSites and North Dakota State University.
Meet Liz Cambron
- First-generation student from a Mexican-American family in Chicago
- Earned a bachelor’s degree in health sciences from Aurora University in Chicago area
- Did a summer internship at North Dakota State University and “absolutely loved it” so decided to attend NDSU for graduate school
- Currently working on a PhD in molecular biology
- Graduate research fellow with the National Science Foundation
- Hopes to secure a post-doctorate position in a hospital or work for the government doing diabetes research
Meet Cynthia Mochoge
- Sophomore at FargoDavies High School
- Born in Kenya
- Moved to the U.S. with her family when she was 9 months old
- Moved to Fargo from the Twin Cities area six years ago
- Father is a chemistry professor at NDSU
- Attended uCodeGirl summer camp, which ramped up her interest in STEM
Liz, is this your first experience being involved in a mentorship capacity like this?
Liz Cambron: “For STEM specifically, yes. I haven’t done a program like this where it’s one on one. I also work with the American Association for University Women here in Fargo, and that creates a lot of scholarships for girls in STEM and women in STEM to pursue at NDSU and MSUM.
“That’s been kind of a different side of encouraging more women in STEM, but I’m really excited to go a little bit younger into middle school.”
Did you feel a particular pressure to get involved since you’re a woman going into a STEM field? Is this something you always wanted to get involved with?
Cambron: “I feel like I owe it not only to (Cynthia) but to younger Liz to do this. I didn’t have any female role models to help me in science so I feel like it’s really important now. Because I’ve learned a lot along the way that I really don’t want to just keep to myself. If I can make it easier for another girl, why not?”
Cynthia, why do you want to participate in the program?
Cynthia Mochoge: “I first did the metro tech camp with (uCodeGirl Founder) Betty (Gronneberg), and that was really fun. We made games and did a bunch of other fun things, and then I did the summer camp (this year). At first, I didn’t really know anybody, but by the second week, we made a website, and it was so much fun.
“All of us connected, we made new friendships, and we learned a lot, especially from the people we heard speak about how we can do this and do that.”
How did each of you get interested in STEM?
Cambron: “What really sparked my interest was a lot of family history with science. Hispanics are really susceptible to diabetes and a lot of other health issues so, growing up, I was constantly in the hospital with my family and surrounded by science. I couldn’t really help it. I like to say science chose me. I didn’t really get to choose it.”
Mochoge: “My dad is a chemistry professor at NDSU, but my first (experience with STEM) was at a program at the Fargo Microsoft campus (a couple years ago). My friend was doing it, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ It was three days, and it was so much fun. We were exposed to so many things, computer-wise. You sit there and at the end are like, ‘Whoa, I can do this?'”
Cynthia, of science, technology, engineering, and math, which one is your favorite if you had to pick one?
Mochoge: “I’d say science and math because I’m pretty good at math, and science is everywhere.”
Can both of you tell me about your experience growing up as a girl interested in STEM?
Cambron: “Growing up, there’s definitely a stigma of ‘girls aren’t good at math’ so I naturally thought I wasn’t good at math. It was really helpful, though, to know other girls with similar interests. You kind of get described as being part of the nerd group, but that’s okay because now we’re all really successful.
“We had what was called the ‘gifted program’ so all the students who actually wanted to excel in school all got put together. And that created a really good environment for us to be able to help one another.”
Mochoge: “Peer-wise, I guess we’re kind of secluded. There’s only one other girl in our STEM program, and there’s actually only seven people total. If you do tell a guy, though, ‘I’m part of the STEM program,’ they’re (skeptical). They’re like, ‘Oh … really?’ Or with math classes, for example, especially if they’re higher level, it’s mostly guys.”
Why do you think that is?
Mochoge: “I don’t know. I feel like girls, at a certain point, are scared to overachieve or come off as a know-it-all.”
Liz, what was your experience with that?
Cambron: “Yeah, if you do well, you’re a teacher’s pet. Whereas, guys, they’re supposed to be smart.”
Liz, do you feel like these attitudes have changed much since you were an elementary school student?
Cambron: “I’d say yes and no. There’s now a new attitude of, ‘Oh, you’re in science. You must be super, super smart.’ And then you kind of have to live up to that expectation—though that can be a motivator as well. But no, I don’t feel like I can’t do anything that my male counterparts can do. I’ve never been told otherwise.”
Do you think they view you as an equal?
Cambron: “Oh, definitely.”
Programs like this are great, but if we’re being honest, this only impacts a small number of people. How can we scale programs this?
Cambron: “Well, essentially, we’re creating future mentors. That’s the greatest thing is that, one day, Cynthia is going to mentor someone, and that’s going to continue on and on and on. I also think having more programs like ‘The Magic School Bus’ is really helpful. A lot of it has to do with how girls are portrayed in mass media. It’s important to remind them that they can do math and science and fun things like that as well.”