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10 Female STEM Stars Under 30

Topics: Current Events

Women make up only 24 percent of the STEM workforce in the US, according to the Department of Commerce, and some fields are worse than others. Women represent only 14 percent of the country’s engineers, but make up 47 percent of mathematicians and statisticians, 47 percent of life scientists, and 63 percent of social scientists. But as these rising stars of the tech industry show, women are making an impact on STEM. Given the impressive laundry list of accomplishments already made by all of the women on our list at such a young age, it’s safe to say that both they and their careers are something to watch.

(“Space Woman” | Photo Credit: photographymontreal/Flickr)

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1. Tracy Chou, 27

Company: Pinterest

Role: Software Engineer

Education: B.S. in electrical engineering Stanford; M.S. in computer science (with a focus on artificial intelligence), Stanford. She was also a Mayfield Fellow.

Past Gigs: Chou interned at Google and Facebook, then turned down a position at the latter to become Quora’s second-ever engineer, before moving on to her current position at Pinterest.

Why she matters: Her role as an advocate with cross-generational appeal for female engineers has caught the attention of everyone from Silicon Valley to Vogue. According to the aforementioned 2012 census data, only 14 percent of engineers were women and females in “technical fields” made an average of $16,000 less than men per year. Chou has challenged tech giants, who have been known to pad (or not release) their numbers, to be accountable and transparent about the gender breakdown in employment data by creating a collaborative Github repo to track the numbers. 

“Every company has some way of hiding or muddling the data on women actually in engineering roles,” wrote Chou in a Medium blog post calling for “honest conversations about the issue” of representing gender in her industry. “The actual numbers I’ve seen and experienced in industry are far lower than anybody is willing to admit.” 

2. Alexa Hirschfeld, 30

Company: Paperless Post

Role: Co-founder/Chief Product Officer 

Education: B.A. in Classics, Harvard College

Past Gigs: Editorial Assistant for Katie Couric at CBS.

Why she matters: Hirschfeld took a good idea and executed it well. Alexa and her brother and co-founder, James Hirschfeld, launched the online greeting card company Paperless Post on their own savings in 2007, and had reached 45 million users, 70 full-time employees, and $27.4M in funding by 2014. 

The company has bridged the gap between the old and the new by creating virtual versions of traditional, tangible print invitations and stationary featuring whimsical, customizable designs, and an interactive experience for both the sender and recipient.

The Hirschfelds perfected Paperless’s branding and upped the company’s hipness factor above original electronic greeting sites like Evite, by offering designs from fashion darlings like Kate Spade and Oscar de la Renta, and iconic brands like The New Yorker.

“People don’t use Evite or Facebook events for their weddings,” Alexa told Fast Company in 2011. “But they do use Paperless Post. It’s the sign of a paradigm because it is the most momentous occasion in most people’s lives. It represents the most formal type of offline communication.”

(Incidentally, Paperless has since partnered with the centuries-old stationary giant, Crane & Co. to offer print versions of wedding invitations and other Paperless Post cards). 

Paperless has $32.4M in funding and sent over 85 million cards to date, according to the company, and the brother-sister duo count everyone from Dian von Furstenberg and Zac Posen to Khloe Kardashian and Barack Obama’s office as users.

3. Sophie Milam, 26-27

Company: HI-SEAS

Role: Terrestrial Astronaut

Education: BS/BA in Astronomy and Physics, University of Hawaii at Hilo; MS in Mechanical Engineering, University of Idaho

Past Gigs: Fellow, NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium

Why she matters: Last October, Milam and five colleagues entered a white 1,200-square foot vinyl dome in Hawaii to set what The New Yorker described as the “North American record for a study of the effects of isolation and confinement.” — a 273-day NASA-funded simulation of a mission to Mars called HI-SEAS III. Conditions of the space-simulating experience, which ended in June, included water rations, eight minutes a week to shower, and 20-minute communication delays with the outside world. 

The mission was a social experiment in addition to a study in space travel. The final participants (three men and three women), were selected from a competitive pool of approximately 700 international applicants chosen based on a specific set of attributes that included: “educated” and “spunky,” “aspiring astronauts,” between the ages of 26-34, with solid social skills; they also needed to have “a thick skin, a long fuse, an optimistic outlook, and a tolerance for low stimulation,” according to The New Yorker.

For Milam, the mission was a way to pursue her lifelong passion in space even though having Celiac disease was a deterrent to becoming an astronaut. Milam kept the public updated on the mission on her blog, where she continues to discuss other work, including STEM outreach with elementary and middle school students.

4. Julia Kaganskiy, 28

Company: The New Museum 

Role: Director of NEW INC. 

Education: Emerson College, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Magazine Publishing

Past Gigs: Editor-at-Large, The Creators Project / VICE; Co-Founder/Director, Blue Box Gallery; Founder/Organizer, Arts, Culture and Technology Meetup (present); Intern, MOMA

Why she matters: For finding thoughtful ways to fuse tech, art, design, journalism, and new media via innovative projects like The Creator’s Project, and her current role leading NEW INC., a not-for-profit incubator led by the New Museum in downtown Manhattan. 

5. Meredith Perry, 26 

Company: uBeam

Role: CEO/Founder

Education: BA in Paleobiology (with a focus on Astrobiology), University of Pennsylvania

Past Gigs: Astrobiology Researcher, NASA Ames Research Center

Why she matters: For inventing a transmitter that would effectively replace the need for electrical outlets. “uBeam wireless transmits electricity through the air to charge electronic gadgets remotely. It’s like WiFi for energy,” Perry explains on her LinkedIn page. Perry began developing the prototype while she was still in college and is in the process of making it consumer-ready, using her company uBeam as the business umbrella for her invention. The company has raised 13.2M in funding so far. 

6. Adda Birnir

Company: Skillcrush

Role: Founder / CEO

Education: B.A. in Photography and African American Studies, Yale University 

Past Gigs: Associate Producer, MTV; Partner, Balance Media; Multimedia Content Producer/Photo Editor, Flavorpill 

Why she matters: Like Chou, Birnir is a respected advocate for women in tech, in part for founding Skillcrush, a website that sells online classes in “design, coding, and other tech skills to women to help them get high-paying jobs. “Our challenge is actually not convincing people that tech skills are really important,” Birnir told Mashable. “It’s convincing people that getting tech skills is something that they can do.”

7. Carly Strife, Age 29

Company: BarkBox

Role: Co-founder

Past Gigs: Operations Manager, Uber

Why she matters: Strife co-founded BarkBox, a monthly dog food delivery service (Think BirchBox for pets). The e-commerce company has raised $21.7M in funding since it launched in 2011.

8. Grace Garey, 25 

Company: Watsi

Role: Co-founder

Education: B.A. in Political Science and Global and International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

Past Gigs: Founder,

Why she matters: For utilizing a combination of technology, finance, philanthropy, and healthcare to provide health care to people in the developing world. Since 2012, Garey’s non-profit (the first to ever be accepted by Y Combinator), has served as a vehicle for more than 11,000 people to directly donate money to more than 4,000 patients around the world, many of whose stories are documented on the site. Watsi has raised $1.2M in funding so far.

9. Aminatou Sow, 29

Companies: Google and Tech LadyMafia

Roles: Head of Politics and Social Impact Marketing for Google’s Brand team; Co-founder, Tech LadyMafia; Co-host, Call Your Girlfriend

Education: University of Texas – Austin (Major unknown)

Past Gigs: Digital Engagement Director, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)

Why she matters: Among other accomplishments, Sow co-founded Tech LadyMafia, an international listserv that brings together women “in and around the internet,” including “astrophysicists and developers, writers and digital strategists.” Sow also currently co-hosts Call Your Girlfriend, a bi-weekly podcast “for long distance besties everywhere.” The show, which counts Entertainment Weekly and Hello Giggles as fans, has at least 10,000 listeners and the smorgasbord of topics cover include “Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the beauty of caftans, menstruation news, Kimye, Pitbull, Hillary Rodham Clinton, casual racism, emoji, straight people, California, rom-coms, Lorde lipstick, and so much more.”

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Do you or a woman you know have an incredible career in STEM? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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