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Be a STEM Fairy Godmother

(Written by The STEM Girl, Jennifer Ladipo, June 1st, 2020,

The world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is often portrayed as a convoluted and complex place with room only for a certain type of person. Someone serious, monotonous and more often than not, male. It is no wonder that both young girls and professional women can find it difficult to navigate their way towards or through a career in STEM.

The lack of women in these fields is no new trend and without intervention, our society may lose out on key innovative ideas. Fortunately there is a wave of brilliant, professional women bursting stereotypes and encouraging young girls to pursue their wildest dreams. Women like Stephanie Thompson; mom, innovator and engineer extraordinaire. Thompson has found a way to bridge the gap between the struggles young women face in their STEM careers by demystifying the unending jargon that often makes the sciences seem more intimidating than they really are.

With a Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Waterloo, Thompson’s hard work led her to the designation of Professional Engineer and she was able to gain over twenty years experience working as a Process Engineer for General Motors Canada. Using her in-depth science knowledge, she created her social enterprise initiative called Women in STEM Experiences (WISE). WISE aims to inspire women to pursue STEM while encouraging resilience and confidence regardless of career choice.

By encouraging both moms and daughters to have fun with STEM, Thompson has created an interesting and exciting avenue for women from all walks of life to bond through sciences and follow a sense of scientific adventure. Through WISE, Thompson is able to collaborate with female researchers, scientists and engineers all showcasing their expertise in subjects like environmental science, robotics and chemistry. These wonderful women bring a passionate new perspective into the STEM environment by showing that you can have fun and gain useful knowledge while creating a sense of belonging. Thompson says “I want girls and women to stop thinking of “retail therapy” and relaxing as prefered methods of bonding with other women. If we can create communities of women who share curiosity and see science in the everyday, then we will have a world where when young women emerging with a passion for STEM, they have the support networks they need to be successful. Exploring STEM, not spas. Pondering mathematics, not manicures. Resiliency instead of retail therapy. We want to help girls not lose the curiosity of the world they know as children when they move to be young adults. Neil Degrasse Tyson says “Kids are not the problem. Kids are born scientists”. We as adults have to help keep the curiosity alive in a way that supports and inspires the next generations to pursue STEM goals.”

To date WISE has held STEM workshops, speaking events and Thompson continues to work with local universities to ensure that young women are being exposed to role models that embody confidence in their ability to succeed. Within the post-Covid world, Thompson is exploring new virtual applications for STEM workshops. “I’m really excited about the world of video gaming, a traditional male dominated hobby. I’ve been speaking both with video game players as well as women who are designing the games themselves - there are amazing opportunities for women to understand this intersectionality of computer science, art, storytelling and strategy.”

Among her many accomplishments, Thompson has paved the way for aspiring female engineers by being a supportive mentor to the many intern students that she has worked with.

“I think one thing that fascinates me about Stephanie is her ability to pass along her confidence to others. She provided so many opportunities for me in the STEM community and although the thought of it was exciting, I doubted my abilities. Every time I spoke with her about it, she never had any worry that I wouldn't be able to accomplish everything I was set out to do. She had such unwavering, high expectations of me, I continued to push forward and strive to accomplish my goals. Looking back, I feel so proud and capable, but I never would've gotten to that point without her teaching me to have that confidence in myself.”- Kathryn Humphreys, 5th Year Industrial Engineering Student

“I have stayed in touch with Stephanie after my internship was done because of her mentality to help others. From presenting me with extra-curricular opportunities to asking about my personal growth updates, it’s truly been a blessing to know Steph!”- Sana Hussein, 3rd Year Mechanical Engineering Student

“I don’t think I could say enough about Steph in just a few sentences. I like to think of her as my Engineering Fairy Godmother. Each time I was unsure of myself, she consistently provided her resolute confidence in my ability to do anything. I can say that without her, I would never have taken the chances on myself that I did. Calling her a role model would be an understatement because she has been essential to my growth as a risk taking entrepreneur and as an engineer. Time and time again she proves to be more than a mentor; she is a friend, a confidant and one of the most genuine people I have ever met.”-Jennifer Ladipo, 5th Year Industrial Engineering Student

Thompson continues to dedicate her time and passion to ensuring that young women can envision themselves in careers that are traditionally male dominated. The world is full of possibility and with initiatives like WISE, we can build a future where every young girl has the confidence to surge ahead into her dreams.

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