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Women in STEM: A Step towards Parity and Opportunity

Article by: Lea Ysabel Evangelista and Reine Amabel Jaruda

Graphics by: Marianne Lois M. Boncolmo

The narrative the that the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are fields meant only for men still pervades through modern society. Fortunately, the increasing empowerment of women and movements for equality has led them to gain greater opportunities in both career and education. Over the past decades, several strong and capable Filipinas have proven the that the industry is a place for intelligence and skills – not of gender. In celebration of International Women’s Day, here are some of the notable Juanas who proved that STEM is not just a field for men.

Maria Orosa

Maria Ylagan Orosa is most notable for being the inventor of the legendary banana ketchup. What others may have missed was that she was also a heroine during World War II. While resistance movements fought in the frontlines, she stayed back to provide aid as she knew the importance of food supplies in these times. Orosa made use of different techniques and created recipes that preserved food longer and required minimal ingredients that still had sufficient nutrients. The humanitarian chemist also used her own savings and snuck into internment camps to feed prisoners of war.

Her skills in the field of food technology resulted in many other useful inventions like the palayok, calamansi juice powder, and soyalac – a powdered soybean product rich with protein. She studied in the US and earned three degrees: in pharmaceutical chemistry, food chemistry, and pharmacy – in that order within 5 years. Because of Orosa’s talent, she was sent to various parts of the world but ultimately decided to go back to the Philippines.

In 1945, a shrapnel hit her as she worked in her laboratory. She was sent to the hospital but was unfortunately included in the shelling that killed more than 400 people. Orosa died as a scientist who served her country.

Fe del Mundo

A woman such as Fe Villanueva del Mundo did not stop at the idea of motherhood in caring for children. No, she went above and beyond to revolutionize the pediatric health care system in the Philippines, after being exposed to the harsh realities of health risks for children. She proved to be a rose among the thorns as she did more than what was expected of her.

After furthering her education in the US and being the first female to ever be admitted in Harvard University, del Mundo returned to the Philippines. The pediatrician served in internment camps and hospitals before she established her own pediatrics hospital, the Children’s Medical Center – yet another first for her and the country. She even exchanged most of her assets and took out loans for this hospital to materialize.

The renowned scientist authored numerous textbooks and medical resources that tackled infectious diseases, dengue, maternal and childcare, that are still being used many years after their publication. Many may recognize her as the inventor of the bamboo incubator, a technology still being used today. In 1980, she was recognized as a National Scientist in the country, being the first woman to be dubbed as such.

Reinabelle Reyes

Always having been fascinated by the cosmos, planets, and black holes, Dr. Reinabelle Reyes is an astrophysicist-turned-data scientist whose research showed observations that matched predictions from Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. Because of this, she had been known as the woman who had “proved Einstein right.”

Upon being given this title, the astrophysicist who finished her PhD at Princeton University, had first felt uncomfortable but later recognized that it was a powerful way to showcase that science is very much alive and accessible - that it is a field that anyone can pursue.

As a result of her multidisciplinary background, Reyes’ expertise goes beyond math and sciences; it extends towards psychology, disaster control, economics, and engineering. Currently, Reyes works with statistics to analyze the different aspects of Philippine society. Her goal is to gain insight into inner dwellings of the country for greater scientific discourse on socially relevant issues.

Josephine Santiago-Bond

Jospehine Santiago-Bond is an Electronics and Communications Engineering (ECE) graduate from the University of the Philippines (UP) who is currently a department head at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Unlike most, Santagio-Bond did not have a particular profession in mind at a young age. She only wanted to get her degree and earn enough for her needs and wants. It was only up until her older schoolmate had swayed her to take up ECE at UP that her path had concretized.

The Filipina-American engineer had shared in a past interview that her difficulties with mathematics had accelerated as she advanced towards finishing her program. Still, she did not give up just because of a few bad grades.

Her work at NASA has helped her blossom into a leader, as she helps facilitate a healthy environment for her employees to work and innovate. An example of the fruit of the work environment she fostered is the development of the Electrodynamic Dust Shield (EDS) – a technology that is designed to mitigate dust problems for both humans and robots in space and is well on its way to playing a bigger role in future missions to outer space.

Even in a male-dominated environment, Santiago-Bond does not feel the gender and racial segregation that most would expect. In fact, according to her, most of her coworkers at the agency are advocates of the advancement of women in the field.

Cynthia Saloma

Cynthia Saloma beelined towards the scientific path when she decided on accepting a scholarship for BS Fisheries and later expanded her education with two master’s degrees and a PhD. She currently works as a professor and principal investigator at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in University of the Philippines Diliman. Saloma is also one of the founders of the Philippine Genome Center (PGC).

Together with colleagues and students, the molecular biologist has worked on sequences and analysis of genomes of bacteria found in shrimps, rice and carabaos. Through this cause, people will be able to better understand the development and diseases of flora and fauna, respectively. Currently, her team is focusing on making neuroactive drugs through sequencing genes from poisonous marine snails.

Saloma is also taking part in COVID-19 prevention efforts as part of her role in the PGC. In a recent zoom session with the DOH, she talked about the difference between the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 and the UK variant that came up during the last part of 2020.

As March celebrates Women’s Month, let this serve as a reminder that gender does not hinder one’s ability to be a functioning member of society that provides better living conditions to humanity. Women can thrive in a male-dominated profession and accomplish as much, if not more, than what men can achieve.

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