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Sunday, March 26, 2023

HBCU Alumna and Scientist Empowers Next Generation of STEM Leaders, Founds Nonprofit

February 11th  has become recognized as The International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It was founded by HRH Princess Dr. Nisreen El-Hashemite, an Iraqi scientist and activist who promotes gender equality.

“We can all do our part to unleash our world’s enormous untapped talent – starting with filling classrooms, laboratories, and boardrooms with women scientists,” according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Sarah Adewumi, 24, is doing just that. The young leader is already challenging stereotypes when it comes to imagining who may work in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Adewumi loves playing tennis as a former Division I collegiate athlete. She has had opportunities to merge her passion for fashion with her technical expertise by using artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning to work with a few brands across the globe.

The eclectic NASA scientist knows firsthand that the world could use more women in STEM. Adewumi is also a STEM advocate who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. She reflected on her journey to become a cybersecurity specialist and nonprofit founder.

Sarah Adewumi, left, shows children a science experiment.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Adewumi

“I became interested in science around the age of seven when my dad brought me to a ‘bring your child to work day.’ That day became a core memory as it was the first time I was ever immersed in the world of technology and engineering. We created rockets out of water bottles, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. It later sparked my interest towards wanting to pursue a career in STEM,” Adewumi said. “I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Science at my illustrious HBCU, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. I received my Master of Science degree in Information Systems from the University of Maryland College Park.”

Adewumi has worked full-time with NASA for two years. In prior times, she completed four internships with NASA during her collegiate career. But Adewumi felt shocked when she realized that she was only one of approximately five women in her major.

“This period of time made me quite unsure if this career path was for me. However, after overcoming uncertainty, I sought to show young women coming after me that there is space for them in the STEM industry,” she said.

Adewumi’s father is an engineer. Her oldest sister inspired her as the first woman in her family to pursue a STEM career. Additionally, locating mentors who supported her as role models and advocates was a strategy Adewumi used to help achieve her career goals.

 “One of my current mentors, the Honorable Richard Healing, has been pivotal in shaping my post-collegiate career not only professionally, but in efforts for my nonprofit organization as well. Having someone who has already ‘been there and done that’ was crucial for me in developing a network and in being advised on my next steps,” Adewumi said.

She created the nonprofit, NextGen in STEM, “to reach back and empower the next generation of girls who desire to pursue careers in STEM.” Since Adewumi was fortunate to find many women role models in the STEM industry, she wanted to help other girls through mentorship, resources, and overall support.

“Women are still very underrepresented in the STEM industry, which is why it’s extremely important to invest in the next generation of STEM leaders. By showing our youth that they have a place in STEM, we can further encourage more girls and women in this space,” she said.

Adewumi said that she would advise girls to look into as many possibilities as they can to learn about STEM and the many careers that exist within the industry. She also helped to make science-learning attainable for K-12 youth across the United States by creating science episodes and communicating technical aspects so that youth can stay engaged and learn.

“Through televised experiments, students can learn about science at home while realizing that STEM can be very fun,” Adewumi explained.

On the official NASA eClips website, https://nasaeclips.arc.nasa.gov, a collection of archived episodes and videos can be located for youth to watch. Adewumi  served as an on-camera host for episodes between 2020-2022, but she now writes scripts.

Adewumi also noted that many online resources can help young girls find out more about careers in the field, including The If/Then Collection via https://www.ifthencollection.org. NextGen in STEM will soon be releasing a monthly newsletter. A ‘Mentor of the Month’ will highlight a phenomenal woman in STEM in each publication. This will enable girls to learn about a variety of career possibilities. The nonprofit will initiate other outreach initiatives, too.

“We really hope to impact twice as many students this year and continue to contribute to the mission of promoting the education of the next generation of leaders in STEM,” Adewumi said.

Visit www.sarahadewumi.com for more information.

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