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“By not advocating for more girls to go into STEM careers, the US is missing out on new innovation and creations” with Bia Hamed and Penny Bauder

I have been researching and advocating for youth and STEM for almost 10 years. Over the past 4 years I have been working on my PhD researching the topic of underserved minorities in STEM. For the most part, the US is missing a large portion of the population pursuing STEM. By not advocating for more […]


I have been researching and advocating for youth and STEM for almost 10 years. Over the past 4 years I have been working on my PhD researching the topic of underserved minorities in STEM. For the most part, the US is missing a large portion of the population pursuing STEM. By not advocating for more girls to go into STEM careers, the US is missing out on new innovation and creations. More diversity is needed in most STEM fields. Although I am not a computer scientist or a biochemical engineer, it does not stop me from advocating for these majors and careers.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bia Hamed, Coordinator of the Office of Student Success at Eastern Michigan University. Bia is an advocate for Girls in STEM. During her time at Eastern Michigan University, she has helped to build and continually develop programming for middle school and high school students and STEM, such as camps and conferences. One of her programs, Digital Divas, has served middle and high school girls from SE Michigan for almost 10 years. She has single-handedly managed the Digital Divas program while serving students at Eastern Michigan University in her role as coordinator of student services for the College of Engineering & Technology. Bia is working on her doctorate degree in Educational Leadership, researching better ways higher education can serve minority women in STEM majors. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, traveling and gardening. Bia lives in Canton, Michigan with her son Yacoub, who is a senior at Canton High School.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

It was purely serendipity! A professor of Eastern Michigan University’s Cyber Security program noticed a lack of females in his classes about 9 years ago. He asked if I would assist with putting together a conference to bring in some high school girls to campus to visit some technology majors to expose girls to STEM. Upon working on this project and researching the topic of girls and STEM, I was shocked to find that so few girls were not taking advantage of some of the great STEM majors, which lead to high-demand, high-paying careers. Along the way, the female students who helped me on the conference soon graduated and became the “Women of STEM” for major organizations. They come back to the conference every year and bring their colleagues with them to help, as well. This became my mission, passion, and focus since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most interesting story that happened to me is how widely successful Digital Divas, a bi-annual, daylong program introducing young women to careers and college programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), turned out to be since its inception. In our first few years of offering Digital Divas, a team of Eastern Michigan University students and I had to go out to the local schools to recruit high school girls to come to the program. In fact, I remember worrying about being able to fill the seats for the program. But once the program took off, we could not supply enough seats for the demand. We actually had to offer a second program to off-set the demand, but we still end up with a waiting list. I must say it is the hottest ticket out there for school programming.

In fact,I was once working at a freshman orientation for my college: The College of Engineering and Technology at Eastern Michigan University. In one of the advising sessions, I was helping students individually. I came upon a girl who needed assistance. When I asked her what her major was, and she responded “Computer Engineering,” I was delighted. When I asked her why she chose computer engineering, she said it was because she learned about it at Digital Divas and thought it would be cool to study. I was head over heels excited! It may be a small thing; Digital Divas changed one girls’ path, but this had a major impact on me and reconfirmed my mission to expose and involve more girls in STEM.

This year we are offering a Digital Dude program for middle school boys from inner city and rural areas. If this takes off, we will be doing this program twice a year as well.

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This was a few decades ago. During a job interview, I pretended I knew a computer program (Lotus 1–2–3). I said ‘I know Lotus 1 not 2 or 3.’ Simply put, I knew nothing of this software and should have done my homework on what knowledge was needed for the job. But really, I should have been honest with them and told them that I did not know the software.

Needless to say, I did not get the job — and I totally agreed with their decision.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am now working on a rollout of a boys STEM program called Digital Dudes. This program has been in the works for a long time. The purpose of this program is to introduce STEM to middle and high school underserved boys from inner city and rural areas. Detroit has a wealth of potential in its people, but we need to put in place a system that would help its citizens receive training and job placement. However, the first step in doing so is the introduction: a planting of the seed, capturing them at a young age to discuss the possibilities of a STEM career and the expectations and benefits that come along with it.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?

I have been researching and advocating for youth and STEM for almost 10 years. Over the past 4 years I have been working on my PhD researching the topic of underserved minorities in STEM. For the most part, the US is missing a large portion of the population pursuing STEM. By not advocating for more girls to go into STEM careers, the US is missing out on new innovation and creations. More diversity is needed in most STEM fields. Although I am not a computer scientist or a biochemical engineer, it does not stop me from advocating for these majors and careers.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

We are failing when it comes to girls and minorities. We are not giving them equal opportunities.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

  • More people now than any other time in history are pursuing a college degree.
  • More women than men are enrolled and graduating from college.
  • With the use of technology, learning is more adaptable and accessible.
  • Limitless learning is here-anyone can learn from just about anywhere with the use of just a cell phone.

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

We need to work on making a more level playing field for men and women. Women are the vast minority in most STEM majors, limiting innovation and leaving an untapped resource on the table.

More work needs to be done to promote math and science in the classrooms starting at a very young age.

There is a need for curriculum that teaches and trains students from a young age about technology know-how necessary for the 21st century and to breed more students ready to take on STEM as a career. Curriculum such as coding, networking, robotics, virtual reality, engineering, and so on.

Integration of STEM needs to be in every classroom and at the student’s home. This will help to bridge the learning gap for underserved populations.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

Going back to girls and STEM, we need to capture more girls even before middle school to change popular culture of how we see them. If you close your eyes and picture a doctor, scientist, engineer, or pilot, you will probably see a man in those roles. Promotion of women in these types of roles need to be ingrained in how we see women. We need to change how we see women in the workplace-any workplace.

Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?

Knowledge and skills in STEM are pivotal for developing society and the economy, bolstering the United States’ capacity for innovation, and further establishing the means by which the nation can compete in the global marketplace. STEM education is an important piece in creating the next generation of critical thinkers and innovators who will help the U.S. become an economic world leader through scientific innovation. Moreover, women continue to be underrepresented when compared to men in STEM fields in the United States. More women than men were enrolled in college, at 74% versus 65% respectively; women earned more than half of all bachelor’s degree (57.1%), master’s degrees (59.9%), and doctorate degrees (51.8%) (in an academic year 2013–2014). Despite women’s progress in enrollment and degree attainment, their representation in many STEM fields has not increased since the 1980’s and may be declining in some engineering fields. Only 25% of women in the workforce are employed in technology jobs.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

To increase girls and women’s engagement in STEM subjects we need to:

  • increase programming and funding to programs, such as Digital Divas, to bring women and STEM to the forefront by developing a culture of women and STEM
  • increase the representation of women in pop culture, the classroom and workplace. This way both boys and girls can see women belong in various capacities.
  • combat the isolation that girls feel in the classrooms by hiring more female faculty/teachers and encouraging more girls to study STEM subjects by enticing them with scholarships. In addition, organizations need to focus on hiring and promoting more females in nontraditional career roles.

As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?

All subjects are important! But for this moment in time, we need to do more to encourage science, technology, engineering, and math. Women representation in these areas are drastically low and this needs to change by giving all our focus to this problem until it is rectified.

If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Education in the US should be equal for all — no matter your race, gender, nationality, socio-economic status or anything else. Education needs to offer the same content, cost and opportunities for everyone. Growing up in a culture where males are favored and given the opportunities to succeed made my struggle so much more challenging than it needed to be. If we give students access to education without barriers, there would be unbelievable achievements taking place.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Earning college credit is better than money in the bank. It’s always there and never goes away.” Even if you stop going to college, when you decide to come back those college credits will be there waiting for you.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to have a discussion with Mulala Yousafzai. She has overcome so much and experienced such darkness in the name of education. I believe we have a lot in common with our mission of empowering girls with education.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/bia-hamed-a2600945

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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