#226 – STEM Gems, with Stephanie Espy

Unpacking Education October 11, 2023 46 min

In this episode, we are joined by Stephanie Espy, founder of MathSP, cofounder of Knowledge for College, and author and Executive Director of STEM Gems. Stephanie helps us explore pathways that can lead students to careers in STEM fields, including strategies for exposing these opportunities to students who might otherwise not know about them. While our conversation is about STEM-related careers, the concepts and approaches can be applied to nearly any subject area or career field.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

You can’t be what you can’t see.

From the website for the book STEM Gems, by Stephanie Espy


The following resources are available from AVID and on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:

Windows and Mirrors

Early in the episode, Winston points out the importance of having both windows and mirrors in our lives. Windows help us see outside of our normal experience in order to discover new possibilities. Mirrors, on the other hand, let us see representations of ourselves that are self-affirming. Our guest, Stephanie Espy, talks about the importance of both lenses for students entering into STEM fields. Many students are never exposed to potential STEM careers, so they never consider pursuing them. As this episode’s quote states, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Through her work with MathSP and STEM Gems, Stephanie is creating opportunities for students, especially young women and girls, to explore some of these career areas.

Tune in to discover how we can open new doors for students by providing both windows and mirrors into STEM careers. The following are a few highlights from this episode:

  • About Our Guest: Stephanie Espy is a chemical engineer, founder of MathSP, cofounder of Knowledge for College, and author and Executive Director of STEM Gems.
  • A Personal STEM Journey: Stephanie knew that she wanted to be an engineer from an early age. She recalls, “I come from a family of engineers, so growing up in my house was probably different from most because both of my parents are engineers. My dad is an electrical engineer. My mom is an environmental engineer. And both of my parents love math, and both of them are just huge advocates of exposing their kids and the friends of their kids to real-world stuff that relates to STEM.”
  • Mentors: Stephanie believes that it’s important for students to have role models and mentors to help expose them to STEM opportunities. She acknowledges, “I had role models. I had mentors. But not everybody does.”
  • STEM Gems: Over a 3-year time period, Stephanie networked, researched, and wrote her book, titled STEM Gems. She says, “The book is about amazing women in STEM.” She adds, “These are careers that don’t get enough time on mainstream media.”
  • Role Models: Stephanie wanted to use STEM Gems to increase the visibility of women in STEM careers and amplify these leaders as role models. She says, “These are women that I call the Beyoncé or Taylor Swifts of their fields. They are amazing women. . . . They’re changing the world in their space, and so I wanted to share their stories and also share more about the career and how to get into that career.”
  • A Personal Mission: After not seeing enough women in STEM fields, Stephanie asked herself, “What could I do to help more girls see themselves in STEM careers?” STEM Gems evolved from that question.
  • Multiple Interests: Stephanie thinks it’s important for young people to know that engineers are complex, real people who have multiple interests. One of the stories in her book is about a woman who is an engineer by day and a singer in a rock band at night. Stories like this help to humanize those with careers in the STEM fields and potentially make them appeal to a wider audience of students.
  • More Than a Book: “It started as a book, but it has become way more than that, so now STEM Gems is an entire nonprofit,” says Stephanie. “We use the book to center our programming.” This programming includes clubs, summer camps, and a summit around exposing youth to STEM fields.
  • Summer Camp: The STEM Gems Summer Camp is held on the campus of Georgia Tech and is facilitated by engineering doctoral students at the university. The week is filled with hands-on activities that are purposefully connected to careers in engineering. Stephanie wants these experiences to be about doing “something fun and exciting” and then imagining a life that includes a career in a related field.
  • Clubs: STEM Gems Clubs operate year-round, are run by educators in schools, and include activities similar to those offered during summer camps.
  • MathSP Coaching: As an engineer, Stephanie is focused on solving problems. The problem she discovered was that there were not many girls entering STEM programs. “The problem is math,” she says. “There are just too many girls who don’t like math.” Her father suggested, “If you can get more girls interested in math, then perhaps you can get more girls to think about an engineering career.” This jump-started her mission to exposing and recruiting more girls and young women into STEM fields of study and STEM careers. Coaching through MathSP was one of her first efforts to support this mission.
  • College Admission Tests: Stephanie emphasizes the importance of taking practice tests to discover where you are at on your journey to preparing for college entrance exams.
  • Spark Interest: “Nurture the interest, even in students who haven’t expressed interest,” encourages Stephanie. “Introduce them and don’t wait for them to ask. Just give them the experience, and you may then spark the interest.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What are some examples of STEM careers?
  • Why might students not pursue a career in a STEM field?
  • How might educators steer more students toward STEM careers?
  • What is the importance of being exposed to STEM careers?
  • How might educators use a book like STEM Gems with students?
  • How can the conversations in this episode relate to other academic and career fields?

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