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Julia Pona is an iBioMed student and First Year Representative for the McMaster Women in Engineering Society. For International Women’s Day, Julia chose to recognize her 1P10 course instructional assistant, Maria-Juliana Rivera-Madrinan, as her mentor.
When asked by Rivera-Madrinan why she was chose to be her mentor, Pona explained: “I appreciate receiving constant reassurance and support. In engineering classes many women can feel discouraged or shut down due to the small female presence. I feel that as a TA you always encourage and support everyone’s thoughts and ideas equally, which plays a very large role in self-esteem and mental health.”
What is Rivera-Madrinan’s favourite part about being a mentor to students like Pona? “I love seeing how students grow throughout the year and seeing them push the boundaries of their own potential,” she says, “It’s really rewarding to be a part of students’ growth in all skills and see them become more confident in their capabilities. I’m impressed every day by the work ethic and tenacity of students like you and it reminds me that I am also still learning and places I can continue to improve on!”
We sat down with both Pona and Rivera-Madrinan to talk about the importance of International Women’s Day and the impact women in STEM have made on them.
What is the importance of celebrating International Women’s Day?
Pona: International Women’s Day is important for celebrating women’s social, political, and economic achievements throughout history. By doing so we recognize the issue of gender inequality, reflect on progress made towards women’s rights, and realize there is still more work to be done. I believe that by celebrating this day, women and girls will become more empowered to achieve their goals.
Rivera-Madrinan: International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women around the world in their achievements in all aspects of life now and throughout history.
It is also a day to bring awareness to the need for gender equality. Celebrating means a committment to creating a community where women can thrive, acknowledging positive advancements, and recognizing the changes that still need to occur.
Was there a woman in STEM that made a profound impact on you in your life or career?
Pona: I became inspired by Marie Curie after doing a project on her in elementary school. I was truly amazed that she was able to win two Nobel Prizes during a time period where women had very little working rights. She also proved women can do just as much as men by being the first person to win a Nobel Prize in 2 different science categories. Her love for science and innovation, regardless of societal norms, drove me to pursue a degree in engineering.
Rivera-Madrinan: As cheesy as it sounds, my mom! My mom studied engineering in Colombia and was one of the only women in a large class of men. She always showed me that I can do whatever I’m interested in regardless of my gender, and to not let other people dictate my goals for myself. She taught me that being a woman can be what I want it to, made me feel comfortable holding my own in spaces, challenge norms, while still making me proud of my feminine and traditionally female qualities and interests.
What change do you hope to see in the world by celebrating women through initiatives like IWD?
Pona: By continuing to celebrate International Women’s Day, I hope to not only see more women study in STEM fields, but also have more active roles in leading them.
Having women in positions of power is a large step towards bridging the gender gap in male-dominated fields. These women provide a source of inspiration for other women and girls. They also encourage important conversations about equity and equality to take place within their work environment that otherwise may not have happened.
Rivera-Madrinan: I hope that more awareness can be brought to gender-based issues women face not only in our communities but around the world. In my opinion, the first step to change is getting educated on a subject. I hope that days and initiatives like IWD can spark interest, conversation, and research in these topics. Doing so can help make conversations more normalized and lead to more thoughtful action, both in bigger settings but also in everyday interaction.
How does it feel to be viewed as a mentor for other women?
Rivera-Madrinan: I feel very honoured that anyone can feel they can look to me for mentorship! I learn and look to support from all the women in my life, both in my personal life, as well as in the workplace or school. Such an important part of it all is community and I’m grateful that I can be a part of it for others and foster an environment of support and empowerment that those around me have helped create for me. Building and maintaining those communities helps ensure that women reach their full potential and goals.
As part of the future generation of women, what lasting impact do you hope to make?
Pona: I hope to one day make an impact on other young women wanting to pursue a career in STEM. I want to show them that you can be successful in any career, regardless of gender or status. I plan to continue participating in initiatives that recognize and empower women in engineering to promote gender equality and safe workspaces.
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