Founder of Fems4STEM™ Combines Passion for Art and Science

Orlando, Florida

Aisha Martin a nurturer by nature is a cultured, creative, power house with a youthful spirit and personable demeanor. Raised and educated primarily in Europe she has combined her artistic gifts, global travel and experiences as a seasoned biologist with her heart for inspiring and empowering girls. Aisha’s vision is to close the “gender gap to innovation,” by engaging girls from underserved and historically underrepresented communities through early exposure to STEM education and specialized mentoring. Aisha founded Fems4STEM™ in 2015 to combat the lack of gender diversity in STEM professions by empowering, inspiring and equipping girls with the knowledge, skills and confidence to be global STEM leaders. She has been featured in Connected Woman Magazine, recognized as a Mentoring Star for her passion and dedication to mentoring girls and honored with the Presidential Volunteer Service Award signed by U.S. President Barack Obama. She currently resides in Orlando, FL with her family.

What motivated you or inspired you to go into your field?
I have always enjoyed games such as operation and clue, watching murder mystery shows and just about anything analytical where I had to figure something out. My parents instilled in me that I could achieve anything and that I was destined for greatness. They nurtured my passion for science and the arts and have always been my biggest supporters. When I was a child, there were no shows like Doc McStuffins, Greys Anatomy, NCIS and CSI for example where females were predominately featured in STEM roles. So for movies such as Hidden Figures to showcase women who were vital to historical events, women in STEM are no longer hidden. Girls now have tangible proof in many different forms that they can dominate STEM professions.

What were the first few steps you took to pursue your field in STEM?
My STEM journey began in High School with AP Biology. This class exposed me to the rigor that I would experience in a college Biology class. From there I went on to major in Biology (Pre-Med). Immediately after college, I was blessed with my 1st job in STEM as a Molecular Biologist at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, GA. I’ve also been fortunate to hold positions at Emory University Medical School and the Georgia Public Health Lab in Atlanta and Baylor-Miraca Genetics lab in Houston, TX.

What message do you have for girls who aspire to be like you but don't believe that it's possible?
My message for those girls would be, don’t get discouraged by the obstacles you may face and don’t allow fear and self-doubt to hinder your dream of pursuing a STEM degree and career. Two of my favorite quotes are “A head full of fears has no space for dreams” and “Every dream you have begins with the understanding that you woke up this morning enough. You are smart enough, talented enough, hungry enough, humble enough and worthy enough for this dream to become your reality."(Lisa Nichols)

What has been the most rewarding about your career/interest?
What has been most rewarding for me is seeing the excited sparkle in girls’ eyes and smile on their faces when they find out that I’m a scientist. For many of them, I am not the image that they’re used to seeing. In that moment, I feel like I have given them hope and the courage to pursue their dream. It gives meaning to my invisible STEM “gender/racial bias” battle scars and encourages me to keep going. My journey hasn’t been an easy one, but I can’t give up and settle for less because girls such as my daughter are watching me. So, I consider it my mission as a female in STEM, to inspire the next generation of STEM leaders.

What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Sadly my biggest challenge has primarily come from other women in my field “hazing” me by purposely contaminating or hiding my samples and/or lab reagents to publicly degrading me. Racial bias has also been a major challenge that I’ve had to overcome. I’ve had to defend my education and my experience. In other words, the woman behind the credentials didn’t line up with their perception.

How do you maintain positivity and motivation despite obstacles or barriers?
My serenity and positivity stems from my faith. I believe that God makes all things possible. Because of that, no matter what I may be going through or what the outcome appears to be I know that my steps have been ordered. I’m also very mindful of my circle. I surround myself with men and women who are trailblazers, motivators, entrepreneurs, socially conscious, positive and compassionate game changers. They inspire me to elevate, overcome obstacles and dream big! As you can see I love motivational quotes and this one has seen me through some tough times in this field: “Today, remember to keep walking forward. You will be met with many obstacles in life, but always know you are capable of great things. Keep going on your path. It’s up to you girl, to keep on walking….”

Is it ever too late to enter a STEM field if you've started out on a different path?
Absolutely not! I truly believe that people have been called to do certain things and many don’t realize until later on in life that they haven’t been operating in their calling and using their gifts. It’s never too late to pursue your passion and make your dreams reality. “Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imaginations.” (Mae Jemison)

How have you combated gender/racial stereotypes in STEM
It’s hard enough being a woman in STEM, but to be a woman of color is added pressure. Not only have I had to take my superwoman cape on and off juggling the duties of being a wife, mother and scientist, but I also have to take it a step further by validating my credentials and proving that I belong. “Many people love the idea of you, but lack the maturity to handle the reality of you.” A lot of brilliant minds are graduates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Xavier University of Louisiana is an HBCU that can proudly boast that it has the highest number of black graduates in both the biological and physical sciences and the highest number who go on to complete medical school. However in my opinion even with such an impressive record, a diploma from Xavier isn’t given the same respect as a diploma from Princeton.

What motto or core values do you live by?
I believe in the power of words. Negative words have the ability to kill ones spirit and crush dreams which are distractions from achieving goals. “The words you speak become the house you live in.” I am not in competition with anyone; my mission is to empower others. I don’t apologize for being smart nor do I ask for permission to achieve greatness.

Why is it important to close the gender gap in STEM fields?
Women make up only ¼ of the STEM workforce and for women of color the gap is even larger. Approximately 14% of girls ages 14-17 say a STEM career is their first choice compared to about 57% who believe they’d have to work harder to be taken seriously in a STEM career. Between 2014 and 2024, the number of STEM jobs will grow 17%, as compared with 12% for non-STEM jobs. However, unless we change the mindset that says STEM degrees are unattainable and STEM careers are for men, women will remain underrepresented in those jobs. I believe that deep inside of every girl is a “powerful person who is tired of being told to play small.”

"If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math." - (First Lady Michelle Obama)

Do you have a passion for the Arts or anything involving creativity? What are your thoughts on the integration of art and STEM and if applicable, how do you integrate the Arts with STEM?
As early as primary school, my dream was to be a pediatrician and an actress so I’ve always had an equal love for both science and the arts. I agree that the arts are vital for one to be well-rounded as it has had that effect on me. I am an actress, a singer, a poet, a dancer, a writer and I love fashion. Growing up overseas exposed me to different cultures and how they are expressed in all of these areas and make me who I am today. STEM can be applied to everything from cosmetics, video games to cooking. When I transitioned into teaching science, incorporating the arts into my curriculum was a natural progression. For example, my students were instructed to use their artistic imagination to create amusement park rides using items such as paint, play-doh, straws and toothpicks and they were amazing!

Is there anything else you'd like to share? (anything!)
“Success isn’t just about what you accomplish in your life it’s about what you inspire others to do.” When the playing field is equal for women in STEM and more girls pursue STEM degrees then I know that I’ve done my job inspiring the next generation of global STEM leaders.

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